After its first few days metastasizing across the internet, the Stop Kony movement has shown itself to be a campaign with questionable motives. A concise and engaging article by Ben Whipp has already been published on the Wessex Scene, and without stepping on his toes, I believe further issues can be raised regarding the Invisible Children charity and its attempts to end Joseph Kony’s atrocities in Central Africa.
First of all, the video spearheading the campaign needs to be examined. The biggest problem is that it reduces a very complex issue into an almost cartoon-like battle for good over evil, where the valiant but apathetic West is called on to save Uganda from itself. It relies mainly on emotional reaction and largely irrelevant historical examples in communicating its message. This is clearly evident when filmmaker Jason Russell asks his son what his father does, the nervous young boy answering that daddy “stops the bad guys being mean”, reducing the supposed seriousness of his campaign to a kind of soap-opera morality, clearly intended to appeal to a young demographic.
“It reduces a very complex issue into an almost cartoon-like battle for good over evil, where the valiant but apathetic West is called on to save Uganda from itself.”
This young demographic seems to be at the heart of the movement. The narrator explains that an “army of young people” (a misconceived collective noun given the subject) has donated what little money they have to fund the charity. Mr. Russell, it would seem, has admiration and respect for young people when it comes to them making informed decisions and being able to think critically. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. In an interview with Australia’s Today program this week, he attacked a blog which simply collects information offering an alternative view of the Invisible Children charity, dismissing its owner as a “high school student”. Mr. Russell’s ad hominem attack suggests his opinion regarding the mental capacity of young people isn’t as admirable as he makes out.
The video also states that Joseph Kony is carrying out his brutal war for no other reason than to retain power. This is simply a lie. Kony is after all the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. He is a “self-proclaimed prophet” whose aim is to force a society into place “based on the ten commandments”. The myth perpetuated by Invisible Children that Kony’s actions are driven solely by his lust for power is not only misinformed but misleading.
Why is it misleading? You might ask how Kony came to hold his extreme religious beliefs, and why Uganda hasn’t already brought him to justice. One of the reasons is that Ugandan society has for years been sown with the seeds of hatred, superstition and intolerance that allow people like Kony to thrive. And the truth is that it’s often Western influence that has contributed to such bigotry.
Rick Warren, an American evangelical Christian minister and “friend”of President Obama (he was controversially asked by Obama to lead the prayers at the President’s inauguration), has been repeatedly criticized for his interventions in Uganda over the years. To be clear, I’m not accusing of him with any involvement with Jospeh Kony, but his help in spreading Christian fundamentalism in the country in no way helps dissuade people like Kony from acting as he does. Warren insists his association with Ugandan politics is confined to a personal relationship with the country’s archbishop, Kapya Kaoma. Unfortunately for Mr. Warren, Kaomo has revealed that the American has an “immense influence among Uganda’s political élite”.
And how has Warren chosen to exert this influence? Kaomo says that Warren preaches to Ugandans that “homosexuality is not a normal way of life”, and that the Bible should be the only rule of law. The U.S. pastor later expressed his shock at a proposed Anti-Homosexuality law in the country, obviously clueless to the fact that his preaching, and the preaching of other despicable theocrats had by then contributed to lynch mobs and the public shaming of homosexuals. Uganda at this point has become what the New York Times describes as a “magnet for American evangelical groups“.
Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, even granted Warren at least $90,000 during his time in power for “abstinence promotion” in the East African country. This abstinence promotion is basically the religiously-sponsored rejection of condoms, something which has decimated many African communities, and helped the spread of AIDS across the continent.
You might think this is off-topic, but what it shows is that American intervention in Uganda has already taken place, contrary to the claims of Russell and his group. This intervention has promoted superstition and violence in Ugandan society on the basis of religious doctrine, a doctrine that for over 20 years Kony has wished to make law.
And what about Kony himself? To their credit, Invisible Children do admit that he isn’t only active in Uganda. The truth is that he’s operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Does this justify American intervention in each of those countries? Or perhaps an increase in the number of ‘Army advisors’ currently deployed? The debate for intervention in Libya was fiercely contested by politicians, journalists and the international community as a whole. Are we to reject this form of decision-making, and propose that what we need are interventions based on the capricious nature of an online social network which looks to Rhianna and P. Diddy as its representatives?
Of course altruism is praiseworthy, and online altruism, if expressed sincerely and intelligently, is no different. The recent explosion in the online demand for justice in Uganda is a welcome indicator of the power the average human being holds in the digital age. This becomes dangerous however when justice is allowed to become mob rule, and where the old colonial dichotomy of heroic West and unruly ‘Other’ is smuggled in by a questionable charity.