With 70 million views in the last five days, if you’ve somehow missed the online controversy about the Kony2012 video you must have been orbiting a distant planet . . .
The 30 minute film, produced by Jason Russell, co-founder of the Organisation Invisible Children, describes the use of child soldiers and other harrowing aspects of the ongoing conflict in central Africa. In particular it takes aim at Joseph Kony, indicted war criminal and leader of the armed group The Lord’s Resistance Army. The video campaigns for the ongoing support of the current US military mission to Uganda, with a view to enabling the capture of Joseph Kony, in order to prevent his ongoing abduction and killing of children.
If you haven’t yet seen the video it is a very impressive piece of film making and well worth 30 minutes of your time.
The video’s popularity has resulted in a significant backlash and controversy.
Critics variously claim that: Invisible Children is simplistic regarding the complexity of the conflict; that they’ve selectively chosen to focus on Kony – even though many others, including the current Ugandan regime, are believed complicit in atrocities, that they are naive to promote a desire for peace by supporting the involvement of US military advisers, that the West has no right to get involved in Africa’s conflicts or disenfranchise Africans from decision making on their behalf, and that only limited percentage of donations given actually goes to fund work in Africa.
Opinion across the web now seems sharply divided, with many organisations, individuals and celebrities now expressing a range of views: The Guardian, The Telegraph, the BBC, Daily Mail, Black Star News, CNN, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, Justin Bieber, Will Smith, Rihanna,Katie Couric, Stephen Fry, Chris Blattman and President Obama.
Invisible Children have also respond to their critics on their website.
Like everyone else, when I first saw the Kony2012 video I was faced with an immediate decision – do I share and promote this across my social media, and perhaps support it further, by donating etc - Or not ?
Unless we’re intimately connected or knowledgeable about any given issue, when encountering it for the first time we don’t have the full facts available to us. We are unaware of the ‘backstory’, don’t know the motives of those involved, have only a limited grasp of the wider context, haven’t considered issues of president, practicality, cost, or the likely consequences, or possible unintended consequences . . . the world is complicated, and has complicated problems. Rarely are simple solutions available. A point I make in this site’s manifesto.
So what should we do ?
Mostly we turn to our search engines, and quickly discover there is another side to the issue, and more often than not several. But it’s impossible to read everything that exists, the shear abundance of information on the web mean nobody can be fully informed, only partly informed, based on the limited information we’ve read . . . and this applies as much to issues like climate change and the occupy movement, as it does to the Kony2012 campaign !
I’ve no detailed knowledge of the situation in central Africa. Like most of us, all I can do is read as widely around the issue as I can, educate myself, and attempt to form an opinion. Inevitably this limits the degree of confidence I can have that my own interpretation is the ‘right’ one.
But I believe strongly that we shouldn’t let such doubt and lack of certainty drive us into becoming detached observers.
Of course we should do our research and check our facts, but having done so I’m of the view that in most cases it’s far better to work towards an imperfect solution, than sitting back waiting for a perfect solution to emerge. Analysis and research are great, but by themselves they won’t change anything.
So this said where do I stand on Kony2012 ?
It seems clear that some of the criticisms of the campaign have some merit – there is an over-simplified, and fairly one sided presentation of a complex situation. The campaign does give the impression that the West can and should dictate solutions to Africans when in reality the West’s historic involvement in the region have created some of the conditions for the conflict. There is also a significant moral question about encouraging the world’s youth to campaign for the continuation of US military presence in Uganda, and the ambition to achieve what some might suggest is ‘peace via war’.
But we mustn’t loose sight of the key issues – Joseph Kony and his group are clearly some of the world’s bad guys, they are responsible for a catalogue of appalling atrocities, have been indicted by theInternational Criminal Court and unarguably should be brought to justice (as of course should other equally guilty parties engaged in the conflict).
The Kony2012 campaign has managed to shine a spotlight onto a remote conflict forgotten by most of the world, and has made tens of millions of people, in particular young people, debate peacemaking in Africa, child soldiers, the role of the West, poverty and development. It has managed to do in five days what the rest of the world’s humanitarian organisations have struggled to do in the last twenty years !
It might not be perfect, and it’s fundamental objectives - to help and protect those in need by raising awareness, lobbying democratic decision makers and raising funds to continue to do both – might be naive, but are surely not so very controversial !
My considered view is that the campaign seems a worthy thing to support – at least as far as promoting the video, and encouraging further debate of the issues.
There might be better alternatives to achieve a lasting and just peace on the ground in Central Africa, but from my armchair and laptop it would be arrogant in the extreme of me to suggest I knew what they were. We are all vulnerable to misinformation, propaganda, and manipulation – but we must think carefully how much we risk letting our reasonable questioning and skepticism, turn into cynicism and ultimately detachment.
For me, like most of us, the choice is not between voicing qualified and nuanced support of the Kony2012 campaign, and some other alternative solution, but between qualified and nuanced support of Kony2012, and doing nothing.
While writing this I found myself thinking of the words of the last line in guitarist and activist Tom Morello’s song Maximum Firepower; “You’ve got three more seconds to choose sides”.
It somehow seemed apt.
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Photo from Invisible Children