Invisible Children and Kony 2012

My personal reactions and criticisms…

From this whole situation there were several issues I want to point out.

First, this a non-profit directly advocating and lobbying for military intervention in a foreign country. This alone should be cause for grave concern.

When I watched this video I was incredibly shocked that this was the work of a non-profit organization ostensibly aimed at helping people. When going about support raising or raising awareness, most non-profits share what they are about and explain how they directly help people through your donations and ask for your contributions or support.

For example I expect non-profits to communicate messages like: “Domestic violence and abuse is a huge issue in the U.S.  (Here are the stats) Our organization runs homes for women and children escaping domestic violence.  If you give us money, it will help us pay for the operation of these houses.” or “Starvation is a huge issue in the world. (Here are the stats) Our organization feeds people who could not feed themselves and invests in sustainable agricultural practices in the developing world.  If you give us money, it will help us feed the poor and resolve the larger issues contributing to their hunger.”

In contrast to this, with Kony 2012 IC has sent a disturbing message that blends activism, “compassion,” lobbying activities, “justice,” indirect awareness campaigns and military intervention. The message is: “Joseph Kony is an evil man responsible for a lot of problems in Uganda.  Give us money and raise awareness about him so the U.S. will continue to help the Ugandan military kill him.”

Second, going back to the TED video, in this case “compassion” is very literally killing people. Pursing Kony and supporting and training the Ugandan military will lead to more death, and most likely more war crimes.

This inconsistency apparently escapes IC. IC has used images youth proudly standing up to make a difference, holding forward peace signs, as part of their awareness campaign…to support the unnecessary militarization of another African country and continued U.S. military intervention.

These youth are confusingly for peace *and* for increased military presence and activity in Uganda.

This to me is just as inconsistent as the motto of the U.S. Special Forces which is De oppresso liber or “to liberate the oppressed.” This is just a small example of the way in which the U.S. has a habit of cloaking and justifying our foreign policy under the guise of helping or liberating people. The inconsistent narrative Kony 2012 presents sounds like a quest for revenge akin to the simplistic stories told by action movies or nationalistic propaganda from the U.S. government. The narrative told in Kony 2012 does not sound like people seriously considering the intersection of justice, development, restitution and compassion for people who live in post-colonial countries in Africa.

Third, all of the people killed in this situation will be Ugandans. Joseph Kony is a Ugandan.  The soldiers who will die finding and capturing or killing him are Ugandan.  Perhaps most alarmingly, as one critic also pointed out, any military “solution” will undoubtedly involve the killing of some of the child soldiers that Kony has captured. This means that if IC achieves their goals, more Ugandans will die, including the very child soldiers that they are concerned with helping.  For those of you who have watched the movie, this means the death of children who were not as lucky as Jacob.

Fourth, I have a personal issue with “awareness” campaigns in general. I can understand the idea that if you change people’s minds you can change behavior but I have always respected the SPCA way more than PETA (who spends reportedly 95% of their money on advertising). I believe IC spent/spends way too much on marketing and awareness. Kony 2012 used home video shots, clips from their original movie, file footage and some new action shots primarily from rallies they held in the U.S.  This video was then released online for free. How much money did that really cost? In a viral age is it really necessary to send people around the U.S. on tours to raise awareness?

Fifth, this video was also admittedly marketed directly to a highly impressionable young audience and given all the other issues at play this borders on propaganda not informed activism. Jedediah Jenkins from IC has directly said, “Our films are made for high school children…Our films weren’t made to be scrutinized by the Guardian. They were made to get young people involved in some of the world’s worst crimes.”  This is in keeping with IC’s tendency to market towards consistently younger and more impressionable audiences. They began with college students, then went to high school students, and now are looking at making films for middle schoolers. Now marketing to youth is always a wise financial decision because youth have disposable cash and are easily impressionable. However, while this may be good business it produces bad aid.  While some youth may have been empowered and aware of world world affairs, I must ask at what cost? They paid money to participate in an awareness campaign, they feel better about themselves, they are slightly more informed about world affairs but have participated in something that passively reinforces a neo-colonial mentality towards Africa and black people in general. Do we really want people navigating puberty to be addressing geo-political realities barely understood by adults?

Additionally admitting that their video was marketed towards youth and balking at the criticism of a newspaper I believe IC tacitly admitted that they have in fact oversimplified the problems in Uganda. Even if one agrees that the content could be dumbed down for the sake of a target audience this is very dangerous territory.  The line between marketing towards a simple audience and misrepresenting facts is a very dangerous one to be blurring.

Also, it is also not impossible to educate people in a short format. For those of you wanting an educated and informed message about some of the geo-political realities behind the Kony 2012 situation I could not find any better resource than this excellent video, which is only ten minutes.

Sixth, from a practical and historical perspective, a US military intervention in Uganda is a very bad idea. (At least, it’s a bad idea for everyone not interested in militarizing sub-Saharan Africa to exploit Africa’s resources for the West.)  Sending in advisors is a bad idea (Vietnam). Militarizing Uganda and propping up the local military is a bad idea (they have committed war crimes too and their activities in northern Uganda created the environment in which the LRA developed). Sending in U.S. troops to kill an African warlord is also a bad idea (Somalia). Additionally, even if we send in troops to capture or kill Kony, it will probably take many years fighting in the jungle to get him, and it will not end the issues in Uganda any more than killing Osama Bin Laden ended terrorism or trying and executing Saddam Hussein righted every issue in Iraq.

Seventh, while Kony 2012 suggests Kony has used peace talks as a ruse, it should be noted that this is also an over-simplification.  The LRA has been willing in the past to end their activities and come out of the jungle if Kony and his second in command Vincent Otti were not tried for war crimes. Any sort of military intervention takes any hope for a political solution off the table, yet a political solution is the most viable and desirable way forward considering all the issues at play because a peaceful solution would avoid more Ugandan’s being killed and does not involve the militarization of Uganda.

Forgive Kony?

I want to slow down and make myself absolutely clear at this point:

My hope for Uganda is that Joseph Kony can be forgiven, that he will be offered a pardon, that he and his army of victims will be reintegrated back into society, that no Western military bases will be set up in Uganda, that the Ugandan soldiers responsible for war crimes will be forgiven and that the various ethnic groups in Uganda will be reconciled to one another and move forward rebuilding their nation and their communities.

Some of you might find my suggestion of seeking reconciliation instead of justice/vengeance against Kony to be offensive. “But what,” you might say, “of Kony’s crimes?  Is he not to be brought to justice? What about all the people he mutilated? How could you ever not charge him for what he has done?”

What about all the South Africans who committed atrocities who received amnesty in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa?  What about the Rwandan’s who participated in the genocide who are being reintegrated into the society instead of being killed by foreign troops or executed by the Rwandan government?  For my Christian readers, what about Jesus commandment (not suggestion) to love our enemies and His example of forgiving the people who unjustly crucified Him, even as they crucified him?

Many individuals and countries are learning how painful forgiveness and reconciliation are and at what a high price they come. Sometimes reconciliation and rebuilding after horrible crimes means murderers, torturers, rapists, and people admittedly guilty of heinous crimes against their neighbors are not jailed or killed. I fear many of those in the U.S. have a very simple black and white understanding of justice. We would do well to learn from Ugandans, Rwandans, and South Africans what forgiveness, justice, reconciliation and reintegration mean.

On a more practical level, the U.S. (government and people) turns a blind eye to corruption, genocide, and brutal crackdowns when it is in our favor. When a puppet dictator is propped up by the U.S. and continues to control their country in our favor we do not care what means they employ. If we can turn a blind eye when it is in our own selfish interests, why can’t we do this one more time not out of apathy or for selfish gain but for the purposes of peace and restoration?  Kony and all of his victims are sons and daughters of Uganda.  If there is a chance there can be reconciliation and reintegration, certainly this is a better option than them being killed in the jungle by foreign soldiers.

Who is really an idealist here…

I want to close on what irritates me the most in this entire situation. It involves what I have mentioned before, the fact that some people are IC claiming that IC’s actions are covered over by their idealism. They cry, “How dare you criticize IC you cynics?  At least IC is doing something and they still believe that people can change the world?” I have already commented how idealism is not a defense but my point here is that it is incomprehensible to me why IC is being labeled as idealistic given their actions.

IC has given up on Kony and reconciliation and is advocating for using military intervention to kill him.

How is that idealism?

I fear IC believes what most Christians I know believe: that there is an abstract line out there of evils or sins one can commit and if one crosses that line, one no longer has a right to live. There is no longer any hope for you, and people can kill you with no qualms. In many cases it is believed that if you commit certain sins people should seek to kill you for your behavior.

How is that idealism? How is that in line with the teachings, ministry and life of Jesus? Idealism faithful to the ways of Jesus Christ would be holding out hope for justice and reconciliation even if it costs us our lives. Advocating for more war by the empire in the name of “justice” is not idealism. That is just the status quo and the pattern of this world.

About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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