Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions

Musa Okwonga

Kony1 300x225 Stop Kony, yes.  But dont stop asking questionsMy mother’s family are members of the Acholi tribe, and they hail from Gulu, a town in Northern Uganda. Northern Uganda is a place which has experienced significant ups and downs in recent decades, but all the same I was very surprised to come home last night to find talk of it all over Twitter.  And the hashtags continued this morning – #stopkony, #Kony2012, #stopKony2012, #InvisibleChildren, #MakeKonyFamous, #CoverTheNight, #LRA, #Uganda.  All of a sudden, my family’s region was famous – or, at least, trending on Twitter.  What was all this about?

The previous afternoon, I had received a message from a friend, the Nigerian poet and playwright Inua Ellams, asking if I had seen a video with a very moving message.  I clicked on the link that he’d sent through, and what emerged was a painfully familiar tale.  The video, created by Invisible Children, an American NGO, tells the story of Joseph Kony, and his horrific activities in Northern Uganda.  For over twenty years, he and his Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) have been abducting children from villages there – boys so they can fight as soldiers in his army, girls so they can be subjected to rape and sexual enslavement.  The video is part of a campaign, coming to a head this year, which aims to use a series of vigils to raise awareness of Kony’s atrocities.  In doing so, Invisible Children aim to encourage the powers that be to stop this brutality and blood-letting.

Invisible Children has had some success already: late last year, President Barack Obama committed 100 US troops to provide “advice and assistance” to the Ugandan army in removing Joseph Kony from the battlefield.  The President’s move came in part due to the NGO’s tremendous advocacy efforts.  Everyone agrees that this a hugely important issue, but Invisible Children’s methods have come in for searing criticism; most scathingly, they have been attacked as “neo-liberal, do-good Whiteness”.  Elsewhere, Foreign Affairs has provided some important context on this matter, in relation to Uganda’s strategic importance to the USA.  I would also recommend the  Twitter feed of Laura Seay, who was moved to comment this morning that “[Solomme Lemma] is tweeting links to great community-based organizations working in Northern Uganda.  Give there if you really want to help.

I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism.  I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots.  On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue.  Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered.  For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.

The thing is that Joseph Kony has been doing this for a very, very, very long time.  He emerged about a quarter of a century, which is about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power.  As a result the fates of these two leaders must, I think, be viewed together.  Yet, though President Museveni must be integral to any solution to this problem, I didn’t hear him mentioned once in the 30-minute video.  I thought that this was a crucial omission. Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora.  It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.

About ten minutes into the video, the narrator asks his young son who “the bad guy” in Uganda is; when his young son hesitates, he informs him that Joseph Kony is the bad guy.  In a sense, he let Kony off lightly: he is a monster.  But what the narrator also failed to do was mention to his son that when a bad guy like Kony is running riot for years on end, raping and slashing and seizing and shooting, then there is most likely another host of bad guys out there letting him get on with it.  He probably should have told him that, too.

I don’t think that Invisible Children are naïve.  I don’t think that President Obama was ever blind to this matter either: his own father, a Kenyan, hails from the Luo, the same tribal group that has suffered so much at the hands of Kony.  My hunch – and hope – is that they see this campaign as a way to encourage wider and deeper questions about wholly  inadequate governance in this area of Africa.

And as far as President Museveni is concerned, my thoughts are these: if thousands of British children were being kidnapped from their towns each year and recruited into an army, you can bet that David Cameron would be facing some very, very serious questions in the Commons.  You can bet that he would be grilled on why, years after the conflict began, there were still about a million of his citizens slowly dying in squalor in ill-equipped refugee camps.  You can also bet that, after twenty-odd years of this happening on his watch, he wouldn’t still be running the country.

Picture credit: Getty Images

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  • Gus S. Calabrese

    Sophont2.0s around the world will ask the bad people to stop and stop supporting Kony… and repeat that message over and over…  don’t adopt the tactics of Kony….. don’t push more military troops into action…. noise is good… things change  99guspuppet

  • YamalDodgyData

     Think about it Lefties,

    1. In February 2012 The US and EU threaten economic sanctions against Uganda if it passes the very popular Anti-Homosexuality law (described by Barack Obama as “odious” ).

    2. In March 2012 the Kony2012 viral marketing campaign starts calling for more economic assistance and military advisors to “stop Kony” and to “save the children”.

    3. Obviously if sanctions are enacted against Uganda, Obama will be seen (in an election year) as having sacrificed black children to appease the gay lobby.

    “InvisibleChildren” are a front organization for Evangelical Pentecostal Christians. It’s leader Jason Russell is … yes you guessed it a pentecostal christian.

    Utterly brilliant tactic though,
    the political religious right-wingers get the useful idiots of the affluent undergraduate leftwing “elite” to create a the perfect wedge issue in the Obama’s 2012 election campaign.

    PS: Here’s a clue ..
    Ask Jason Russell what he thinks about Uganda’s anti-gay laws

  • will

    Museveni is a US sponsored dictator but he’s getting very old and there’s no concrete succession plans. To add spice, they’re about to start mass oil extraction (in the NE in the DRC border where LRA have operated before), and they can’t risk the LRA making any ground once Museveni dies. Not that Kony’s to be supported, of course, but it seems like this might be the justification for another trumped up Responsibility to Protect operation. 
    I suspect the film has received funding and communication strategy support by corporations (I’d like to see if Tullow Oil gave this campaign any money) and quangos affiliated to states who would benefit from increased securitisation in Uganda. This requires a pretext and, following Iraq and Afghanistan, public support. An exaggeration of his impact, a invocation of the past, a small fib about where he is, and suddenly Kony plays the part very well. He is a threat, but I don’t think to hundreds of thousands of children any more- he is a threat to seamless regime change and national stability needed for oil extraction.

  • Andrew Tucker

    Please stop using the term ‘Lefties’ or we will have to reply with its opposite; ‘Twats’.

  • Andrew Tucker

    If nothing else, it is a resounding success for social media that the whole world is now discussing this issue.

  • tinwatchman

    Can I just thank you, sir, for one of the more reasonable reactions to this video that I’ve seen online?

  • Joe Kony


  • Rick Stevens

    Do you have any idea how HARD it was to find this blog post? I think the whole discussion has pretty-much pushed African sentiment out the door and locked it.  Even us white guys bitching and complaining about the “white savior complex” cannot by mere fact evade the irony of their fingers touching the keys…

    THIS needs to be viral as well. And all your compatriots in Africa need a voice in Their issue. 

  • ki

    It is terrifying how quickly hundreds of thousands of people will leap onto a bandwagon with heart and soul, convinced of the righteousness of their cause just because they have watched a carefully prepared video. Kony is one of many, many lunatic ‘warlords’ in the world. It is alarming that so many people are now actively encouraging military action on the back of a video they saw on the internet.

    If you don’t find that worrying then go back to sleep.

  • timberanddamp

    Why dont people wake up and smell the coffee, why has there been no conserted international action against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe ? or for that matter no real material gain for the people of South Africa after the overthrow of the south african government by the congress party of Nelson Mandella,. this was followed by Mbeki, who openly supported Mugabe in his murderous oppression of both the white, and black people of Zimbabwe since independence, it also seems like the same policy is being continued by the up to date congress president, Motlanthe, the corruption in Africa is on going and historical, this includes Idi Amin, and every dictator before, and away from him, no government has ever been clean in this world region from Cecil Rhodes onwards, its the mineral wealth that creates the injustice and the exploitation of this wealth, that keeps the corruption in place at every level, nothing has changed and nothing will, there is no will for change, by the people in power.

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