Recently an issue called Kony 2012 has been trending on Facebook on Twitter. It’s an emotive video by the charity Invisible Children, drawing attention to a dictator’s evil ways in Uganda, involving child soldiers, child trafficking, pillage & rape. In case you haven’t caught it yet, you can view it here.
Of course, such atrocities experienced in civil wars are not new to the continent of Africa, one need only to look at Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone as past references.
So, what do all the political-activist students who’ve picked up on this trend intend to do about these atrocities? Set up a charity? Perhaps a network of shelters? Provide aid? No, apparently the answer is to put up posters all over town, regardless of the fact that posting flyers is illegal and will have to be cleared up with taxpayers’ money. Laughably, the posters which are to be put up to raise awareness depict Kony alongside Osama Bin Laden and Hitler. Whilst all three are dictators, this is where the parallels end. Hitler and Osama did not use guerrilla warfare in the African bush; have child soldiers or traffic children. In fact they were far worse, both carrying widespread genocide under acknowledged governments, and threatening global stability. A more appropriate figure to portray Kony alongside would be Charles Taylor, the man who instigated the uprising which led to an 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone where child soldiers were used and almost everyone suffered limb amputations to ensure they couldn’t vote for a new government or run away from the terrorising rebel army; but as Taylor is nowhere nearly as widely recognised as Osama and Hitler, perhaps that would be less convenient for Invisible Children’s propaganda.
Yet another problem with Invisible Children is that 68% of the so-called charity’s budget goes on travel, video-making and salaries, I’m pretty sure that the point in working for a charity is that you volunteer. Furthermore, Kony’s rebel army have been active for the past 10 years; and by the charity’s own admission, Kony himself has in fact been in hiding for the previous 6 years. As such, it seems that the campaign is too little, too late. Venting his frustration, a friend of mine pointed out that if people are so concerned about civil war atrocities, they ought to donate to charities such as War Child, or the Red Cross, which actually takes aid into the countries to ensure it reaches the people; as opposed to charities such as Oxfam which simply send your cash to ‘rebuilding’ countries such as Uganda, only for it to be stuffed into the government’s back pocket.
Yet when something trends on the internet, people pay little attention to the facts, as supporting it is the thing to do, in this case showing that you’re politically involved, and a caring person to boot. The problem with bandwagons, and yes that is how I view the current trend, is that people don’t know what it is they’re campaigning for; they have no concrete belief, just vague notions of bringing justice to a faraway country run by an evil little man. Unfortunately this vagueness will result in Kony 2012 being just another failed social network campaign when the next big thing comes along; Feed the World anyone?
Clearly then, it seems that many students don’t know what it is they’re fighting for. If they really had a problem with Kony, they would oppose autocracies as a whole and would be drawing attention to other countries such as Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and North Korea, where similar abuses of human rights are committed. Instead, they latch onto Kony and make a caricature out of him, portraying him as ‘that nasty evil man in Africa’. Clicking a like button on Facebook or following a trend on Twitter is not going to make a difference, that is simply the lazy way of feeling that you have somehow contributed to making a change. Commonly referred to as ‘keyboard warriors’, these people cannot believe they aren’t somehow able to fix the world’s problems. Their optimism and well-meaning actions are often fuelled by youthful idealism. Yet, much of the campaign also seems to be about feeding one’s own ego, with those publicly voicing their opposition to the campaign being roundly criticised and even verbally abused, ironic when you consider that what these students are arguing for, a free country like our own, involves free speech.
Perhaps this desire to create ‘a free country like ours’ is a problem in itself. Time and again the argument of ‘the white man’s burden’ has been trotted out, and yet it is undeniably true. There is something of the moral self-righteousness about this campaign, the idea that the West can go into African countries and solve all their problems, when past experience shows us this is not the case, problems in Africa need to be solved by the people of Africa, rather than us taking the approach of marching in and treating them like incompetent children. In fact, Invisible Children advocates the use of military force; after conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, many people voiced their disapproval at our involvement in Libya, why should this conflict be any different? The truth is, governments are not going to send their troops and resources to countries experiencing conflict and human rights abuses unless it is in their own interests. If the case were otherwise, Robert Mugabe ought to have been assassinated years ago.
Ultimately, this campaign appears to have been driven by people with good intentions, but the majority are unfortunately ignorant to both sides of the coin (I wouldn’t say story; there’s no way Kony’s actions can be condoned). The Ugandan army itself is little better than the rebel army; ok so they don’t traffic children or build up child armies, but when you consider that many of their numbers are made up of Kony’s reclaimed child soldiers, are they really a much better alternative? The Ugandan army is just as capable of corrupt behaviour, including rape and pillaging villages. Just because one option is a lesser of two evils, that doesn’t make it the right option. You’ve watched the video, now I recommend that you read this blog, whatever you decide to make your opinion, make it an informed one.