08 March 2012

KONY 2012... a reality check

If you haven't caught it yet, there's a video that's gone viral on the interwebs called "KONY 2012". The rather lengthy video explains the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, and makes a case for how Kony can be brought to justice.

Now, there's no disputing that Joseph Kony is a horrible person. He has allegedly kidnapped 30,000 children in his military campaign, turning them into child soldiers and forcing them to kill their friends and families. Children in Uganda live in constant fear of being kidnapped or killed. It's easy to be moved by the video because we can all sympathize with the plight of those children.

But this kind of campaign smacks of naivete. The military conflicts in Uganda are decades-old and underpinned by complex cultural and political conflicts. It's the height of ignorance to think that capturing one person, no matter how nasty he may be, is really going to change anything. Kony is not in this alone; he's not single-handedly running a military campaign or kidnapping children all by himself. Once he's captured, what's to make anyone think that someone else won't step in to take his place?

Much like Osama Bin Laden, it's easy to zero in on Joseph Kony because he makes a great villain. He's a vile and evil person who will kill anyone and use anyone he has to in order to achieve his ambitions. But he's the product of a decades-old cultural and political conflict, not the sole instigator or mastermind. And just as Al Queda didn't fizzle out with Bin Laden's death, Kony's arrest is not going to magically bring an end to the LRA or to the conflicts and atrocities in Uganda.

The KONY 2012 campaign is also derelict in its benign treatment of the Ugandan government. Part of the problem in this complex conflict is that the UDPF (the Ugandan army) has itself been responsible for a litany of atrocities, including raping and murdering the people they were supposed to be protecting. From the Foreign Affairs:
During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.
The KONY 2012 campaign is easy to get behind because it makes us feel like we're making a difference – we're trying to help children by bringing a monster to justice. Who wouldn't want to get behind something like that? But in reality, this is likely a waste of time and resources. The way to stop people like Joseph Kony is to resolve the cultural and political conflicts that give rise to people like him in the first place. But that's a vastly more complex and difficult goal, and not one that can be easily spread on social media.

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