Almost a month since going viral online, the Kony 2012 video, released by the charity Invisible Children, has caused a storm over Facebook and Twitter. The charity has been active for some eight years, campaigning for an end to the use of child soldiers in Central Africa by the Christian fundamentalist rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Largely unheard of until now, Invisible Children has provoked a storm of debate online following the release of its controversial ‘Kony 2012’ video in early March.
The 30-minute campaign video, which has gathered almost ninety million views on YouTube, promotes Kony 2012, a campaign for the arrest of the leader of the LRA, Josef Kony. The video begins by celebrating the power of social media and initially appears as though it could be a bizarre set-up by Mark Zuckerburg to promote Facebook’s new Timeline feature. The narrator, founder Jason Russell, continues to explain his personal story of meeting child victims of the LRA in Uganda and setting-up Invisible Children, incorporating his cute kid into the video, presumably for because everyone loves a cute kid. A brief explanation of the LRA is put across, made out as a simple good-guy/bad-guy story that the average American teenager can appreciate and relate to. The aim of the video is to engage the world’s youth in a struggle to ‘make famous’ the African warlord for his crimes against humanity. However, the good intentions of the campaign come into question about two-thirds of the way through the video when the aims of the organisation are made explicit- to get military intervention to stop the group. In fact, last October Barack Obama sent a hundred advisers from the US Army to support the Ugandan Army in tracking down Kony, something that went largely unnoticed by the public but was hugely celebrated by Invisible Children’s supporters.
But should this organisation really be preaching military involvement in a complex and politically unstable area of the world to impressionable viewers? Millions of young people watching this video will be impressed by its slick production, strong message and its call for a mass movement, and will undoubtedly want to get involved. Inspiring young people to change the world is fantastic, but Invisible Children are manipulating its viewers into supporting the wrong solution.
There are many reasons why supporting US military intervention in Uganda and neighbouring countries is wrong. Firstly, the Ugandan Army, which Invisible Children supports, is corrupt itself, responsible for similar atrocities as Kony’s rebel army, including rape and child abduction. Secondly, a practical matter; that trying to arrest a warlord protected by an army of child soldiers, in the name of defending children from him, is contradictory at best. The conflict this would result in is disturbing to consider. But moreover, we should oppose military intervention by imperialist countries on principle. The USA has a bloody record of destroying other countries in the name of freedom, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. By now we should have learnt that the self-appointed World Police do nothing but worsen the problems of the countries they invade. Sadly, there is no easy solution to the Kony problem. The Kony 2012 video does nothing to explain why Uganda is unstable and violent, simplifying the problem of the LRA down to something that can be solved quickly and cleanly by US guns. But as long as western countries keep African countries under crippling debt, while simultaneously getting rich by selling arms to groups just like the LRA, Uganda will always be burdened with poverty, political corruption and threat from rebel groups.
As for the Kony 2012 campaign, it looks likely to wear itself into the ground. Information has been widely shared about the expenses of Invisible Children, of which only around a third is spent on charitable programmes in Uganda. The rest is spent on promotion through films. This brings into question the motives of the founders, most of whom are aspiring film-makers. Indeed, Invisible Children has a catalogue of videos created to promote themselves, often irrelevant to the issues in Uganda. And with news coming out recently of founder Russell being found vandalising cars and masturbating in public in San Diego, (he is now recovering in hospital from ‘brief reactive psychosis’), we can expect endless jokes and memes.
It’s a shame to see a campaign that raised awareness of an important issue and encouraged people to learn about the history of Central Africa potentially go to waste, but perhaps this is a good thing, as the message of the campaign was not one to be supported. In all likelihood, the US advisers will eventually be removed as their mission is almost impossible. Until then, we should focus our energy on criticising and building practical opposition to the activities of the imperialist nations that have caused this destruction of African countries and continue to exploit them for their own wealth.