The recent 30 minute documentary by a organisation called Invisible Children highlighted the activities of the organisation to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army. In quick time, the video went viral, being reposted across the net, as people passionately urged others to spread the 'awareness' and to 'stop Kony'... 'the World's worst war criminal'. By the fourth day over 21 million people had viewed the video that was uploaded onto the internet. Much of the video showed how the Invisible Children's organisation rallied support for the cause of child soldiers, drawing upon the testimony of former LRA soldier Jacob to push the cause. With a emotionally charged narrative of poverty, child suffering and tribal war, it tells a story of mass mobilization, political advocacy, fund raising, and a heart-wrenching 'victory' in the form of a letter from US president Obama in late 2011 officially authorizing 100 combat-ready military 'advisors' to help track down Kony and the LRA.
The first issue is the distorted and one-dimensional analysis in the video, where Joseph Kony is the overarching bad guy in Uganda who must be stopped. The documentary was actually filmed in 2003, almost ten years ago. Since then, the Ugandan Government and the United States military have led assaults against the LRA that have weakened it, with some commentators observing that LRA is not as much a threat as in past years, having fled to neighboring countries. The video is also deceptive because it gives the impression that the US only became involved in the campaign recently when in fact the United States has long had a presence in Uganda through Africom (United States Africa Command) and their LRA operation titled Lighting Thunder. For more read: Obama Takes on the LRA
The situation in Uganda is a lot more complicated than Bad Guy Kony: Both Kony and Yoweri Museveni, the current President of Uganda, have been implicated in gross human rights abuses: with the US backed Museveni launching a brutal counter-insurgency against the rebels and forced masses of people into camps to 'protect' them without adequate food, water, sanitation, health care, education, or security causing thousands of deaths according to a 2005 WHO study (Health and mortality survey among internally displaced persons in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts, northern Uganda PDF). Thus Invisible Children organisation's support of and collaboration with the present government and their silence on the abuses of Museveni adds to the suffering in Africa.
While Kony may very well be bad, he is by no means the worst of the bunch to be named the Worst War Criminal in the world. There seems to be racism in how war criminals are identified and inscribed in the global consciousness. For all the abuses and war crimes of Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Bush (x2), Clinton, and all those multi-national companies such as Halliburton, Monsanto etc, — they will never be seen as in the same negative light as African abusers whose crimes pale in comparison to some of those mentioned above. The video contributes to these racist notions: there is one part of the video (12:28) where the camera rolls over a list of names and pictures of war criminals being investigated by the International Criminal Court as the narrator reads the following: "Although there are a lot of warlords, murderers and dictators in the world, the perversity of Kony's crimes made him first (on the ICC's list). All of the persons shown in the list were African: are there only African persons who commit crimes against humanity?
The most disturbing aspect of the video is that the narrative it presents fits well into the traditional one of barbaric Africa, suffering children and tribal war and, of course, the noble white saviors to make it better. Very much in line with such white savior movies as Avatar, Dancing with the Wolves, Dangerous Minds and most recently Machine Gun Preacher. In Kony 2012, behind the images of hordes of white people coming together for a cause is the typical white racism and privilege that are the reasons why all these apparent efforts to aid Africa (Bono, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie etc) have done far more to harm Africa than anything else. If it is one thing the video reveals is the great danger in all these 'save Africa and Africans' activities. Even apart from the unaddressed privilege and white racism is the effect of solidifying of the hegemonic military, political and economic power structures that are responsible for so much ongoing suffering in Africa.
One blogger had this to say:
"White folk have for centuries built industries on saving Black people in Africa. In creating images of what Africans look like, in order to justify saving them. Is it any coincidence that all of the filmmakers and subsequent heads of the NGO are white? Is it any coincidence that, despite 'partnering' with local people, on Invisible Children's website, in a colonial-esque era division, that the White people involved in the organization are framed in a modern, neutral (White) room in 'hip' fashion while the Africans all have straw huts in the background? No, the ideal African still lives in huts! They're exotic and poor." (Invisible Children and Joseph Kony)
Questions also arise about the Invisible Children organisation. Their website has a page where persons can contribute money or buy Kony bracelets, t-shirts, posters, stickers, necklaces, buttons and action guides. Where does all this money go? While wearing Kony 2012 t-shirts saying 'stop the war' may be trendy and fashionable and fits into the feel-goodism of the movement, there is little evidence that it is leading to any benefit for African children. The highly offensive and self-glorifying Kony 2012 video is more about making Jason Russell and his Invisible Children famous and wealthy than the issues that are facing Ugandan children. This blog has a discussion and link to the group's questionable financial accounts: http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/
The focus on Kony simplifies Uganda's problems and does not address the complex historical factors, the continued impact of US imperialism (including the activities of Africom) and the general debilitating effect of Capitalism and forced free-marketism that has left Africa's people and resources vulnerable. For all their 'save the world' activism and 'awareness raising', Jason Russell and his Invisible Children organisation could only muster up the solution of sending the most murderous, abusive and imperial army into Uganda to make everything right. With the presence of Ugandan oil and a concern about Chinese's increasing grip on African resources the United States have deep interests in the region:
(Strings attached: US in Uganda)
"In the end, 'Kony 2012? falls prey to the obfuscating, simplified and wildly erroneous narrative of a legitimate, terror-fighting, innocent partner of the West (the Government of Uganda) seeking to eliminate a band of lunatic, child-thieving, machine-gun wielding mystics (the LRA). The main beneficiary of this narrative is, once again, the Ugandan Government of Yoweri Museveni, whose legitimacy is bolstered and — if the 'Kony 2012' campaign is 'successful' — will receive more military funding and support from the US."
(Taking 'Kony 2012? Down A Notch)
In a world where African issues and realities are very much distorted and absent from the global consciousness, it is easy for this obscene video to pass for change and raising awareness, and this is precisely the problem. The millions and millions of people who uncritically spread and promote the misinformation and racism of Kony 2012 shows that the bigger problem than Kony is the ignorance of the world's citizens of African issues even in the face of better information. People are far too enthusiastic and prone to promote stereotypical and inaccurate depictions of Africa rather than solid historical or analytical pieces.
If persons are concerned for the children in Africa they should be trying to spread awareness about Africom, the pillage of Libya, the African land issues, forced free-marketism, the imposition of genetically modified crops, the sanctions against Zimbabwe and the continued imperial adventures of US, China and European nations in Africa and across the world, and the web of power relations that continue to skew our understanding of the world. At the end of the day, Africa needs justice and not stereotypes and misguided charity.
Established in 2007, the United States African Command (AFRICOM) has been at the heart of the US agenda to secure the continent and its resources America's supposed enemies. Now, many are questioning AFRICOM's role on the continent at all.
Find out more about the race for Africa's riches in this week's GRTV Feature Interview with former congresswoman and 2008 presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney.