Stop Kony 2012, victim of its own success?

By Simon Youel

© Invisible Children

It seems that the latest submission to the internet realm to go truly viral is not an unintentionally bad music video or commercial marketing strategy, but a humanitarian cause.  Or that’s how it would appear at first.

The viral piece I am talking about is of course the so called ‘Kony 2012’ video, produced by the American charity Invisible Children, that we have all seen flood the homepages of our favourite social networking sites.

Let me first make it clear that I believe upholding international justice and engaging in humanitarian intervention as an international community are worthy causes. I do like the fundamental idea proliferated by Kony 2012: that we could set a precedent for citizens petitioning their governments to take humanitarian action. Such a development could potentially redefine the disputed concept of the ‘national interest’ in international relations, and be positive progress for humanity as a global society.

However, I must take issue with the way this Kony 2012 campaign has been conducted. The film makers have no doubt simplified the issue for mass consumption. As is the case with many portrayals of political issues, the ‘story’ of Uganda is packaged into a simple ‘good vs. evil’ narrative.

The same story that is told to film maker Jason Russell’s six year old son is given to supposed adults as an explanation for the conflict in Uganda. This is not only somewhat insulting, but also an insufficient account of the problem. It is definitely not satisfactory for a campaign which expects us to fund it through donations, and raise awareness on its behalf.

Naturally, Kony is portrayed as the ‘bad guy’ (and justifiably so); but the Ugandan Military who oppose him are cast as the fundamentally ‘good guys’. This obviously glosses over the human rights abuses that the Uganda People’s Defence Force is alleged to have committed.

UPDF soldiers have raped and prostituted Congolese refugees, illegally plundered resources, and slaughtered children. It must also not be overlooked that the UPDF has itself recruited child soldiers, which is somewhat disharmonious with the aims of Invisible Children’s campaign. This certainly questions moral issues surrounding a charity that holds blatant support for such a military organisation, seemingly ignoring its alleged crimes.

If Invisible Children are going to raise awareness and educate us about the troubles in Uganda, we must at least expect them to give us a comprehensive and objective description of the context of the cause. But of course this would not have the same persuasive effect on the general public.

These are the same people who had no interest in the problems of Uganda, or any kind of humanitarian cause, until they saw that their peers had been sharing a Youtube video. Now suddenly Kony 2012 is top of the agenda for the internet generation. More than anything, this viral campaign has shown to be a perfect exercise in group conformity.

Although Joseph Kony’s violent campaign has been crippled and no longer poses much of a threat to Uganda (a country in which the man no longer resides in), he has now been misrepresented as a greater threat to human security than the even more widespread and perhaps even more disgusting, yet still underreported atrocities that are occurring in other African nations, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. It seems all it takes to unite the masses behind a cause is to virally promote a perfectly crafted fresh piece of melodrama which appeals to Generation Y. Unfortunately the oppressed men, women and children outside of Uganda have not yet received such treatment.

But this is not to say I don’t support action in Uganda. The West does need to get more involved in Africa. We are seeing Western hegemony slipping away in many parts of Africa, and countries such as China, India, and Russia leading in this regard. Africa is once again a figurative battleground for resources, due to its rich reserves of fossil fuels and minerals, and the West needs to re-establish influence in the region if they wish to make gains from this.

I am not necessarily advocating the inherently tarnished and unpopular idea of neo-colonialism in Africa, but I believe that in helping these countries we can see reciprocated benefits. In return for fostering development, we could receive trade contracts that could benefit both the African sellers and Western investors.

But in terms of Kony 2012 bringing positive outcomes for Africa, I do not hold much hope for its supporters to continue their ‘enthusiasm’ for the cause into April.

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