I came across this video just this morning: (warning: it is half an hour long, but good to watch. If you don’t have that long, here’s the synopsis, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] abduct children for their army, mutilate, kill, rape, plunder, etc. Invisible Children is working to pressure the American government to intervene and arrest Kony to bring him to justice. Under President Obama 100 American military advisors have been sent to help Uganda track him down, but they may pull them out this year).
I haven’t drawn any conclusions yet on how to respond. Obviously it’s sickening to see and hear what has been happening. But many lingering questions remain as to how best to respond.
Visible Children (a blog begun a student at Acadia University) points several key concerns pertaining to military intervention in this situation, and the general work of Invisible Children. How many children would die during a campaign to capture him? Should Western armies support armies like those in Uganda with an ugly track record of atrocities similar in nature, but perhaps less in extent than the LRA? Kony’s exact location is not certain, but the LRA movements are more focused in Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, not Uganda (No sign of Kony in Uganda since 2006!).
Invisible Children’s financials are mentioned at Visible Children, with links to (Charity Navigator, which gives IC a 2/4 in terms of accountability and transparency) and are disconcerting. In particular the salaries of the leaders (their CEO and two co-founders each make close to $90 000- the American household median for 2010 was $49 445, according to this article from Business Week, $26 364 individual median income in 2010 according to Huffington Post).
Also problematic is the rhetoric used. Is Kony a war criminal? Absolutely. But he is part of a bigger problem in Africa. The LRA is associated with Acholi Nationalism, which is a longstnding problem in Uganda, as the Ugandan government displaced Acholi people in the wake of conflicts following the removal of Tito Okello in the 1980s. There are atrocities on both sides of this conflict (to the tune of 1000 unnecessary deaths in Acholi regions per week according the the World Health Organization in 2005). Invisible Children is giving part of the story. This does not excuse Kony in any way. His actions are of the most reprehensible kind of filth imaginable.
So what should Western powers do? I am seriously uncomfortable with the US being the police of the globe. The US cannot and should not be called upon to end every single conflict in the world. Calling on US government to act is suggesting the US has the right to be referee in all situations. Should outside forces assist? Absolutely. But the constant assumption that the US is to be responsible is problematic. I like this quote given by Oyston from Chris Blattman (Yale Political Scientist):
There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.
Invisible Children as an American organization is primarily focused on pressuring US policy makers. I’m not sure I like their tactics of guilt and single mission mindedness. US politicians have to field countless pressures from lobbyists and advocacy groups. Bringing an end to the LRA is a valid cause, but to imply that politicians focusing elsewhere are reprehensible, or don’t care- that is simply not fair.
The other problem which I have, that I haven’t caught anywhere else (yet- I seriously doubt I’m the first to have this thought) is the issue of focusing on the person of Kony. Kony is one of many likeminded folk. We have this habit of focusing on a single person as the root cause of all the problems. Yes, movements typically have a charismatic leader, but that leader is supported by a whole cast of die hard supporters of the cause who may even be more radical and dangerous. Hitler had a whole group of “nastyites” (as a prof of mine used to call folk like these guys) behind him. Bin Laden didn’t invent the Al-Qaeda agenda. The fact is anti-Semitism was very present in Germany before Hitler grabbed power. The sentiment of hatred of America was around long before bin Laden. Killing/arresting the leader won’t always end the movement. It may cause it to stumble or in some cases fizzle out over time. But focusing on Kony himself won’t end child abductions and heinous crimes against humanity in the region. Kony doesn’t work alone. Nor is he and LRA the only horrific offenders in Uganda, Sudan and DRC. Kony 2012 suggests that Kony is the cause of the problem. He is a major player in a systemic problem with no easy solution. The problem goes well beyond the child abductions in Northern Uganda.
The LRA is an organization with a dangerous ideology. A fusion of tribalism, terrible theology, and militant aggression. They claim Christian values. Rush Limbaugh even once denounced Obama for sending American advisors to assist in finding Kony, saying, “Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan…” (find the transcript of that radio program here. For a better rundown on the events, this article is helpful.) Obviously Limbaugh is misinformed.
Would the world be better without Kony? Yes. Does that mean we send in troops to assassinate him? No. Should we advocate for his surrender and arrest? Definitely. But is outside military intervention the way to end conflicts like these that have plagued so many African nations? I don’t think so. The Scriptures calls us to be ministers of reconciliation. Is that possible in Uganda, DRC and Sudan? Time will tell. The point of this post is not to advocate for one response or another, but a call to think critically before we throw our support behind a cause. Before we buy a t shirt from Invisible Children, throw up their posters, sign the pledge, etc., we need to wade through all the information. Think it over, critically. It’s tempting to jump into a movement, join the hype, and holler the chants based on their presentation. But folks like Kony count on that same response to hype to rally their support too.
Ammendment: Check out this post by someone more familiar with the realities on the ground: Taking Kony 2012 Down a Notch by Mark Kersten