Military plans to capture LRA leader will trigger retaliatory attacks on civilians and endanger child soldiers, say NGOs
Three weeks ago, a small group of idealistic 20- and 30-somethings in San Diego tried to spark a national conversation about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Their video campaign, Kony 2012, got millions of Americans talking, but about something different. The conversation that people ended up having wasn’t about the video’s message, which turned out to be misguided, but about the ideas and assumptions behind the video.
On news sites, in newspapers, and even on TV, Americans have been grappling with concepts that normally don’t get mentioned outside of a comparative literature class or liberal arts college symposium: neocolonialism, white man’s burden, paternalism. Bowing to popular pressure, the NGO’s website now has a “critiques” page, which includes an entire section titled, “RE: PERPETUATING THE ‘WHITE MAN’S BURDEN’ AND THE SAVIOR COMPLEX.” […]
Talking about neocolonialism and white man’s burden is not easy in America. The peculiarities of American nationalism — not just our view of ourselves, but our deepest assumptions about what America does for the world and what it means for all us to participate in that — make these two interconnected topics remarkably sensitive. To even bring them up is to threaten the very foundation of our self-conception as a country. The debate itself is painful enough on the surface: some of our noblest impulses to help the needy in Africa might be counterproductive, self-aggrandizing, and driven by some ugly race-based assumptions; that it’s all just a form of subtle exploitation. But the implications of this debate, the ideas beneath its surface, are even more difficult. This may explain both why the conversation has been so hard to have and why we’re finally having it now.
Joseph Kony and the Moral Ambiguity of the Modern World
The backlash against the backlash against the backlash. The film everyone’s talking about reminds us that hardly anything is black and white anymore.
Who is a person interested in making the world better supposed to believe: the do-gooders, or the naysayers attempting to do good by exposing the do-gooders as frauds? It’s a difficult question, not to mention an increasingly relevant one. Kony 2012 and the dialogue it’s created can symbolize a variety of different things, from neo-colonialism to the power of social media. But in their immediate wake, what they seem to most starkly represent is the dizzying moral ambiguity of the modern world, and the frustration to which that ambiguity can lead.
Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army have been terrorizing civilians in central Africa for more than 25 years. But their crimes have suddenly received prominence due to one of the most successful social media campaigns in history.
On Monday, a nonprofit group called Invisible Children uploaded a video onto the Internet that has already been viewed nearly 40 million times on YouTube. Many viewers are young people, and the topic is dominating discussion on social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit.
There’s no question the video has directed wider attention to a far-away matter like Kony and the LRA than any congressional debate or set of policy papers.
“It’s had a dramatic effect,” says Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “We’ve been talking about him for a long time, without anything like this response.”
But Invisible Children has been criticized for oversimplifying the issues involved. Capturing Kony – which has been the goal of multiple governments for years – is going to take a lot more than sharing a video online or putting up posters and purchasing bracelets from the group, as the video suggests.
“Activism always involves sparking attention –- getting people to take up and notice this problem, as opposed to the six million other problems they could be mad about,” says Jeremi Suri, author ofLiberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building From the Founders to Obama.
But awareness and activism aren’t always enough to achieve the outcomes desired in a complex, real-world situation.
“This video is making a moral plea, but it doesn’t leave much space for the unintended consequences that might result from intervening,” Suri says.
‘Evil In This World’
The LRA was one of the armed rebel groups that emerged in northern Uganda following the rise to power in 1986 of Yoweri Museveni, who remains the country’s president.
The LRA has committed countless atrocities, hacking off limbs, noses, ears and lips from its victims in order to instill fear. More than 400,000 people were displaced or living as refugees last year as a result of the LRA’s activities, according to groups that have tracked the organization.Over the years, the LRA has metastasized from a group resisting the government to a force that seems to have little purpose outside its own survival. As the video points out, the group has killed and disfigured thousands of people and abducted thousands of children.
“If you ever had any question if there’s evil in this world, it’s resident in the person of Joseph Kony,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, said last year.
Getting Kony Was Already A Policy
The capture or killing of Kony is already official U.S. policy. Prodded by Invisible Children and other human rights groups, Congress in 2010 passed a law requiring the president to devise a strategy to eliminate the LRA.
Last October, President Obama detailed the administration’s plans for doing so, including the announcement that 100 U.S. troops would be deployed to Uganda to provide intelligence and logistical support.
There are still snags. The LRA now roams through densely-forested land along the borders of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republican of the Congo.
The U.S. is trying to work with all those armies, but they have failed to come together in an organized or effective way, says Mark Schneider, a former Peace Corps director who is now with the International Crisis Group, which supports conflict-prevention efforts.
After a huge success comes the inevitable backlash. You probably watched the Joseph Kony movie yesterday. Now some critics are saying it’s not as good as it appears to be, but Invisible Children is fighting back.
Invisible Children’s mission is to stop LRA violence and support the war-affected communities in Central Africa. These are the three ways we achieve this mission; each is essential:
1: Make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring these films around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people.