Sunday, March 11, 2012

A word regarding KONY 2012.

Dear people I know,

I’m not going to debate about this anymore. I’m sick of the whole thing, but since right up to this morning it’s still warranted argument and accusing me of not caring about geopolitical crises (really? do you know me?), I’ll say this one thing and then shut up. However, don't even try to accuse me of lacking compassion. If your understanding of the world is so limited as to include only "not caring" or "supporting a terrible, destructive plan," then the problem is yours, not mine.

Now, if you're still with me...

I want to get one very basic point off my chest regarding this Kony 2012 business: at the very least, those of you supporting this crusade need to admit to yourselves and the world that you are advocating for war. I know that's not how you choose to think of it, and it’s certainly not how the Invisible Children organization wants to characterize itself, but saying, “We just wanna get this guy to the Hague” is nonsense on a level so absurd that it embarrasses me that I feel the need to explain this. There is no nonviolent way to depose and capture a warlord. Unless that video was so touching that Joseph Kony’s going to just turn himself in, there needs to be military action; and when your team’s knights in shining armor go in to end child suffering, guess who will be manning the front lines of defense? That’s right: child soldiers.

Maybe that doesn’t bother you. Maybe you’re saying to yourself that unfortunately a few lives need to be sacrificed to save the thousands more. Cracking eggs to make omelets, and all that. Except that there aren’t thousands suffering under Joseph Kony; there are hundreds at most (and not all children). You see, that high number from the video was an estimate of the total number of victims over several decades. So if we’re talking about the present situation, Joseph Kony is less like Hitler than, say, a more violent and enduring Warren Jeffs; and the main resemblance he currently bears to Osama bin Laden is that he’s been chased out of his home nation and is hiding out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, dying, surrounded by what’s left of his supporters.

That’s right, he’s not in Uganda. So you’re not just advocating for war, you’re supporting a movement that proposes to get behind the Ugandan government’s incursion (with US military aid and direction) into another country altogether. All to catch one guy. That’s a government, by the way, that’s guilty of its own human rights abuses (surprise!). And believe me, there are plenty of people who will be happy to cooperate so they can fill the power vacuum left open by this one guy whom a bunch of formerly apolitical facebookers are suddenly convinced is such an important representative of a worldwide problem that we should all train our focus strictly on him because some American traveler made a very specific promise a few years ago.

So I’m glad you’ve been made aware that this is a problem, and Invisible Children is to be commended for bringing this to your attention, but it's a mistake to commend the Kony 2012 campaign past that very first step. If you think that this one guy is the problem, and that the answer to that problem is to uncritically go along with a plan hatched up by a few Americans living out some White Man’s Burden fantasy in league with the Ugandan government, and to ignore the objections of better established aid organizations and the Ugandan people themselves, then Kony 2012 has already done plenty of harm in its own right.

There are better ways of helping Kony’s victims, and once they’ve been addressed, I hope you don’t need sleek videos and rubber bracelets to raise awareness about the plight of “invisible children”—paramilitary or not—in the DRC, Liberia, Chad, Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Burma, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Chechnya, Haiti, Colombia, El Salvador, and so on down the long list of places and people who won’t be affected one bit by this sudden enthusiasm for myopic international heroics. This is a much bigger and far more complex problem than can be conveyed in a half hour-long video; its solutions must be worked out by the people directly impacted rather than externally by European and American crusaders; and we should consider that the incredibly sudden explosion of this particular “solution” after a decade of this charity's operation comes suspiciously close on the heels of the discovery of oil in Uganda (plus a recent push to loosen up restrictions on extracting foreign chemicals, including cobalt, found in the Congo).

And once all these questions have been carefully examined, you will still have barely scratched the surface. As you develop this new awareness of a horrible problem, it's important to also remain aware of the fact that there are many, many forms of aid that hurt more than they help. 

There are better charities than Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 campaign, ones that assist afflicted people without limiting their self-determination, and base their actions on reasoned considerations of facts on the ground rather than emotional reaction to exploitative media campaigns. Below are some links, in case you’re really interested in helping. 








5 comments:

Andrew said...

Invisible Children is releasing another video to "answer their critics." Basically, a big "thanks for all your donations! we're making another pointless video!"

BJG. said...

It's only pointless if you look at it from the perspective of helping people. If you look at it as a way of garnering support for an American mission into an oil and chemical-rich region, there's a point. The main demographics for that original video are 13-24 year-olds. People who don't remember the build-up to Afghanistan and Iraq and how "necessary" those wars were circa 2002. And a video doesn't just go viral to the tune of tens of millions in a couple of days. They had lots of employees. They had a recent injection of capital.

Robert Morgan said...

Watching the IC response to Jason's melt-down was downright scary - he kept repeating the words "Stop at nothing", with the very clear context that the objective was, in reality, whatever the IC core leadership decides that it is - for the moment, taking down Kony in any form.

I can only assume that, since they've made such a public commitment to the outcome, that "stop at nothing" includes the local populations, as well as the armed children that protect Kony. This is getting beyond inadvisable, IC's actions and leadership should be viewed as international criminals (unless protected by their own incompetence to act and be effective).

Frightening.

BJG. said...

Exactly, and that's why I cringe when I hear people defend this on the grounds that any awareness is good. "At least now we know," they say. No, in fact, romanticization of a movement that casts a complex situation in Manichean terms and calls for a crusade is not better than leaving millions of gullible fools in the dark.
I hadn't even heard the "Stop at nothing" line, but it's frightening how Kurtz-like these people actually are with their altruism. It's a short hop from "Stop at nothing" to "Exterminate all the brutes."
The horror, indeed.

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