So you’ve probably seen the Kony 2012 video, or at least heard of it. I only got around to watching it this morning, and to be honest it made me feel rather uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable because of Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (although clearly he and it are thoroughly unpleasant), but rather because of the style and presentation of the film. There are a few things which irked me, but my main problem is that it spends more time showing the film maker (and his son) and showing all the stuff he’s doing, than it does explaining what’s happening and why.
Here’s part of an article from Foreign Affairs magazine a few months ago (emphasis added):
“During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”
I think what mostly made me uncomfortable about the video is not that the film makers simplified the situation, it’s that they barely try to talk about it at all. Kony may be a terrible person, but history has shown that when powerful states intervene in a region to remove one person, the likelihood is that someone else will step into the power vacuum. To quote Foreign Affairs again (emphasis added):
“Beyond the ins and outs of dealing with Kony, the political challenges in the region are simply too massive for Obama’s new operation to yield much fruit. The violence in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan has been the most devastating — anywhere in the world — since the mid-1990s. Even conservative estimates place the death toll in the millions. And the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.
Until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace. Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require engagement of a much larger order. A huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clearly recognized legal mandate would have to be part of it. Those forces would need to be highly trained, have an effective command structure, be closely monitored, and be appropriately equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment and helicopters, among other things. It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA. Moreover, it would make the protection of the local populations a key priority. Finally, the deployment of such a force would need to have emerged from concerted efforts in international diplomacy[...] not as a knee-jerk reaction to the most recent media splash.“
I’m not trying to say that it’s a bad idea to get rid of Kony, I’m saying that I don’t know enough about the situation to be able to form an opinion. And it unnerves me that people can form an opinion based upon just seeing that film, that they’re so willing to jump on a bandwagon seemingly without question. Because to my mind, to be able to form an opinion on something like this would take a lot of time and effort to learn about the complexities of what’s going on in the region; watching a 30 minute propaganda film just isn’t enough to allow anyone to say what should or shouldn’t be done.
P.S. This blog post by a Ugandan journalist makes some other very excellent points:
“Many African critics unsurprisingly are crying neo-colonialism. This is because these campaigns are disempowering of their own voices. After all the conflict and suffering is affecting them directly regardless of if they hit the re-tweet button or not. At the end of the day the Kony2012 campaign will not make Joseph Kony more famous but it will make Invisible Children famous.”
And… Oh, basically go and read all these links if you’re at all interested in this issue. You’d do much better to spend half an hour reading through some of those, than to spend it watching the video.