Madonna, Bono… Josesph Kony. Well, have you heard of Joseph Kony? Is he a household name yet? That’s the goal of Invisible Children’s (IC) Kony 2012 campaign: to make Joseph Kony famous. Who is this Kony? And why should we care?
Joesph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Uganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Oh, and he’s been trending on twitter and causing quite a cry of outrage among America’s youth. While the wrist-band-wearing, sticker-wielding youth have pledged to drive Kony from the depths of the bush in East Africa to stop him from recruiting child soldiers to slaughter others, I wonder when this trend will end.
Social media allows IC to reach millions of people and garner support – and they do this well. But what if they harnessed this energy and put it towards something greater than simply advocacy (which has its place) and took a step past asking do-gooders to appease their guilt (buy a bracelet!) out of obligation of now being informed of atrocities (you can’t un-know it now, so take the pledge)?
There are many reasons uninformed and oversimplified advocacy can cause trouble, and Siena Antsis catalogues some of them here, noting that Invisible Children expertly “commodifies white man’s burden on the African continent.” Buy a bracelet, soothe some guilt. (Source: Foreign Policy)
Now, let me be clear. If I sound snarky, it’s because I am. The truth is, I had that idealistic streak in me at one time. I was one of the Invisible Children groupies. I pledged to stand in solidarity with my Ugandan brothers and sisters who were forced to endure a terrible reality far beyond my own comprehension. I took to the streets with the “Displace Me” campaign in 2007. I wrote letters to then President Bush, urging for support to war-torn northern Uganda. I had a google alert for “LRA” and “Uganda” set to daily email me news updates. I subscribed to the IC approach of advocacy and education to reach my generation through riveting documentaries. Then, something changed.
Internally Displaced Persons Camp, Lira, Uganda
Internally Displaced Persons Camp, Lira, Uganda
I went to Uganda and met men, women and children. I witnessed poverty. I saw the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps where people fled for safety. I learned resilience and beauty. I saw strength and disease; need and fear. Above all, I found hope. And I came home changed – and not in the “let me tell you stories and show you pictures of me and 117 little babies who are just so cute and happy” kind of way. No, I was pissed off at the world. What good was a $30 bracelet now? Woe to you if you were in my way.
I was filled with rage, angry at everything and everyone that was not pointing towards a larger reality outside of their own. Angry at anyone who talked about “those poor people” as if they were passive animals in a petting zoo without dreams and creativity. Angry at myself for my ignorance and indulgences. My reality had been pierced with the reality of another people living thousands of miles away, and I was unable to reconcile that these two worlds existed within some greater whole.
What do you tell a woman who is living with HIV/AIDS? What do you tell a child who has fled from her home? What do you tell a mother who is being exploited? And how do I hop on an airplane, knowing I have a warm bed and three Starbucks within five miles of my home?
While I didn’t handle well the culture shock that ensued upon my return home, I do think that I’ve learned from the process. Anger is justifiable and can be used towards promoting justice. But it must not be anger that is leading you. You will shrivel up and lead a very bitter life if that is the case. You cannot do life alone.
So what now? And what’s life like after Kony 2012? Does America sweep in riding our bald eagles and bomb Kony’s camp because the 14-year-olds who can afford $30 for a wrist bracelet raise a raucous? I don’t think it works like that.
I wish I had answers, but what I offer are suggestions. Everything begins with listening. Listen to the needs and desires of others and work alongside each other in conjunction with existing grassroots organizations who have formed relationships with local citizens. I think article said it best:
Perhaps worst of all are the unexplored assumptions underpinning the awareness argument, which reduce people in conflict situations to two broad categories: mass-murderers like Joseph Kony and passive victims so helpless that they must wait around to be saved by a bunch of American college students with stickers. No Ugandans or other Africans are shown offering policy suggestions in the film, and it is implied that local governments were ineffective in combating the LRA simply because they didn’t have enough American assistance.
None of us who actually work with populations affected by mass atrocity believe this to be a truthful or helpful representation. Even under horrific circumstances, people are endlessly resourceful, and local actors understand their needs better than outsiders. It’s good that Americans want to help, but ignoring the role and authority of local leaders and activists isn’t just insulting and arrogant, it neglects the people who are the most likely to come up with a solution to the conflict.
The LRA is a problem worth solving, but how to do so is a complicated question with no easy answers. Americans are right to care but we need to stop kidding ourselves that spending $30 plus shipping and handling for a Kony 2012 action kit makes us part of the solution to anything. (Source: The Atlantic)
Please note: I am no scholar or expert. I write to make sense of what comes across my computer screen, in hopes to be another voice urging people to question the approach to justice and change. This is not a comprehensive approach towards a solution. This is not a one-dimensional issue that can be “solved,” but rather a string of complexities etched in a history of colonialism, fear, war, poverty and systemic issues. If you are so compelled to see change, visit Charity Navigator for reports on not-for-profit organizations. I have plenty of humanizing pictures of Ugandans whom I met; however, I do not want to publish these without their permission.
Madonna Picture: Source
Bono Picture: Souce
Joseph Kony Picture: Source