Kony 2012 redux

Wow, that post on the Kony 2012 campaign really went a bit crazy. 150,000 hits and hundreds of comments. Whilst I had expected people to have a knee jerk reaction to my post I wasn’t expecting quite that level of venom. From reading a lot of the comments I feel that a lot of people either didn’t read the post or didn’t understand it. If it’s the latter then it is totally my fault for not being clear enough. I’ll try and rectify this here and will expand on some points from the original post and bring in some things that came up in the “discussion” in the comments thread.
Thanks by the way to all the people who commented constructively, whether in agreement or disagreement, and to those who didn’t post in anything approaching a rational manner. Well.. (click here)
I’m going to split this post into 9 sections to try and make it easy to follow and refer to in the comments. It will also allow me to keep track of all the points I want to make so please bear with me.

Military Humanitarianism

An oxymoronic phrase if ever there was one. I want to start out with the strangeness of a humanitarian campaign calling for military intervention. This doesn’t just go for Uganda but anywhere. If you claim to be wanting to protect people you don’t do that by shooting them to safety. A humanitarian campaign, by its very nature, seeks a humanitarian goal by humanitarian means. Military action, which will always result in death and injury(to humans), is the antithesis of humanitarianism. It really makes me think of the mantra from 1984.
War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.
I wanted to point that out up front as it is one of the most glaring inconsistencies of the campaign.

Is Kony the Biggest Problem in Uganda?

No one is denying that Kony is evil(a word I am not prone to use often). The actions carried out by him and the Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA) are some of the worst atrocities many people will have ever heard of. Especially if they don’t follow world politics and history, which unfortunately is most people I feel.
Uganda was in a state of civil war in the north ever since the Lord’s Resistance Army were formed in 1987 but a war has two sides remember and the enemy of the LRA is the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni. Museveni is known to be extremely racist particularly towards the Acholi people. He used the war as an excuse to carry out a slow genocide against the Acholi people as he herded over a million of them into ‘displacement’ camps in the north. In these camps people were forced to live in conditions that were a terrible insult to them. Disease was rampant and spread like wild fire as living conditions are so cramped. People were commonly abused by the military including rapes and mutilations. The death toll in the camps is horrific with around 1,000 people a week dying. 1,000 a week. For 20 years. You do the maths.
When you add to this government brutality and genocide the actions of the LRA then we get a feeling for the immense suffering this war has caused the people of Northern Uganda. A suffering that is, thankfully, unimaginable to most people who will read this and to pretty much everyone that has been sharing the Kony 2012 video.
Since the cessation of hostilities in 2006 the people of Northern Uganda have begun the long and arduous task of, if not returning to normality, then figuring out what their new normality will look like now that after all this time the violence has stopped. They are rebuilding their communities, ploughing their farms and trying to heal themselves of the harm that has been wrought upon them by both the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Kony is presently not in Uganda. He is not attacking the Alochi people and stealing their children for soldiers and slaves, something he learned from the Ugandan military of President Museveni by the way. So he simply isn’t a problem for these people and they have a long task ahead of them recovering from this war. A task that presents a multitude of problems which they are facing.

Now people will be screaming SAUCE over this. So I suggest they watch this wee documentary from 2008 about the situation in Uganda. None of the snazzy production of the Kony 2012 video but a far greater connection to reality. I should warn you that there are some traumatising scenes in the film.

Update: Just saw this on Youtube and followers of Kony 2012 should listen to this woman.

White Man’s Burden

A lot of people took umbrage with my description of the Kony 2012 campaign as a modern liberal manifestation of the White Man’s Burden. I think this is a perfectly fitting description and if you are offended by it then you should maybe take a moment to reflect how your actions could be perceived in such a way.
The full poem can be found here but I am going to quote a few verses from it just here for reference.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

So you can see that the poem is a call for white people to bring civilisation to those ‘without’. A paternalistic attitude towards ‘lesser races’ who can not achieve the heights of European civilisation by themselves, who must be guided by the white man as they are but “Half-devil and half-child”.
This perfectly fits with the narrative created by Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 campaign. The people of Uganda can not rid themselves of Kony(let’s ignore the fact that he hasn’t been in the country for 5+ years) so they need the paternalistic assistance of those with the money and resources to do so. Regardless of whether or not the ‘white man’ has been asked to lend assistance he knows best. This is an attitude that was repeated over and over in the comments on my previous post and will probably continue to be espoused by followers of the campaign.
It is patronising and outright insulting to the people of Uganda and of Africa in general.

Invisible Children/Kony 2012

I don’t want to talk too much about the group themselves or their past interventions in Uganda. This has been covered perfectly eloquently and adequately elsewhere.
What I do want to mention however is the dishonesty in the video and the way that it plays on people’s basic humanity and sense of compassion to get them to support it.
The video uses footage from before the LRA left Uganda in order to imply that the situation there is the same now. Whilst they do say in the video that Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda they confuse this with the shocking visual images of the conflict. The video also implies that Kony is a singularly evil person and the responsibility for all the atrocities rests on his shoulders. It completely ignores the genocide and brutality meted out by the ruling regime and in fact wishes to get people to support it in reinstigating hostilities with the LRA.
This is extremely dishonest and Invisible Children should be condemned for playing with people’s emotions to coerce them into supporting their call for military intervention in the region. That’s the sort of trick warmongering governments play and it is never acceptable.

Military Action

The call from Kony 2012 is to highlight the man’s existence to the world in order to hopefully put pressure on the world’s governments to take action in bringing him to justice. Ideally they want him caught and put on trial for war crimes. That’s not the attitude of the followers of the campaign. I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve seen, both in the comments here and elsewhere on the net, calling for him to be summarily executed like Osama Bin Laden.
Let’s assume that Kony 2012 is successful and we see a military initiative put into play to capture Joseph Kony. What would happen?
Firstly we would see the militarisation of Northern Uganda and the resultant horrors that will come from this, the murders, the rapes and the mutilations that happened before.
Secondly we would see the Lord’s Resistance Army forced to mobilise to defend itself and it’s leader. This would require more troops for starters and so more kidnappings, more pain and suffering. It would also mean the LRA again beginning to act in Uganda which had been free of them since 2006.
Now let’s assume that the military operation is successful in finding Kony wherever he has crawled under a rock. He will be defended by soldiers. Many of these soldiers will be children. Fighting will break out and children will die. I have mentioned this many times in the comments section of my previous post and have been sickened by the amount of people who see this as acceptable losses in order to catch a monster. I really think these people need to look in the mirror if they are looking to catch a monster.
Now let’s assume that the operation is again successful in capturing Kony, unlike previous attempts which have just ended up leaving the LRA better armed, and he is either taken to incarceration or murdered ala Bin Laden.
What happens next?
Do the members of the LRA all put down their guns and head home to become integrated members of society? Or does a new person assume leadership of the LRA? Do we then end up with a completely smashed peace and an armed rebel army out for revenge. The result. More abductions to get meat for the grinder. More dead children. More burned villages. More suffering.
This is what Invisible Children are calling for. This is what the Kony 2012 campaign seeks to achieve. This isn’t what they want but it is what they will get which is why I call them and their campaign both naïve and dangerous.


Justice is a strange word. It seems so simple in its meaning but there are many different ways of achieving justice and as many forms for that justice to take. A lot of people also seem to confuse vengeance with justice. Vengeance is the seeking of retribution for a wrong. Justice seeks to make right that wrong as best as possible. Justice should be for healing, for improving the world. You may argue that the world would be a better place with Joseph Kony not in it and I would have to agree, the world being one bastard lighter is always a good thing. However Kony is just one man and his actions, along with those of Yoweri Museveni, have affected millions. That is a lot of justice. Would an execution really be enough?
I believe that justice is best achieved when it is the people who were wronged who decide, with the support of their friends, what they want to see as justice. In this case that would be the people wronged by both parties in the hostilities. They must dictate what they want and those who support them should do all that is asked of them to achieve that end.
In all the ways of achieving justice the focus must be on the person or people that were wronged rather than on punishing the perpetrator. The survivor of an injustice is the person who needs our help and attention, not the perp.
If the Kony 2012 campaign supporters really want to help the people affected by the utter scum that is Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni then they must first listen to what the people of Uganda want. Not what a group of people not connected want in their call for revenge.

On Doing Nothing

Another common theme in the comments of my previous post was that of accusing those who challenge the Kony 2012 campaign of asking people to do nothing rather than participate in this campaign. That was often coupled with the apparent truism that “Doing something is always better than doing nothing”. Something with which I fundamentally disagree. As I have outlined above, if this campaign is successful then all these people “doing something rather than nothing” will have blood on their hands. They probably won’t notice however as this may well be a year or two down the line and they will have long moved onto other campaigns.
This accusation of asking people to do nothing whilst these atrocities that aren’t happening any more continue to not happen is also patently untrue. I have repeatedly advised people to investigate the situation and to seek ways of offering help. I even suggested a couple of projects that need exposure and aid.
No one has been saying “Do nothing”, what we are saying is “Don’t do this” which is completely different.
I enthusiastically encourage people to go out, take action and improve our world. But to do that you need the right tools and the right information. You need to learn about the world and the way it works. You need to learn about social movements, where they have succeeded and where they have failed. You need to talk to people about how they see the world improving and listen to what it is that they, and you, want to achieve.

Changing the World, one click at a time

This new wave of ‘Facebooktivism’ seems to have been fuelled, in part, by the “Arab Spring” or as certain lazy pundits described it “the Facebook revolution”. One of the facets of the various uprisings that the media seized upon was the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as media like Youtube and blogging to spread information about what was going on. Social media, for the media, seemed to define the events in the various countries like Tunisia and Egypt.
Whilst it is true that these new forms of communication helped facilitate communication they were but one facet of a broader movement that took place, primarily, on the streets of towns and cities across the region. However as most of us who live an embarrassing amount of our lives hooked up to Facebook and the like these events were mediated by social media. Social media being a dialectic experience we felt like we were participating, that we were one step closer to what was happening as we retweeted and shared information coming out of the revolts. This has led us to associate clicking the ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ button with actual concrete action. Unfortunately this is not the case.
All you are doing when you click that button is spreading information as a substitute for actual action. We don’t change the world one click at a time we change the world by engaging with it, by being actors in the drama that is the world and by trying to change the script so that we might find a happy ending, or at least a more interesting story.
The internet is like a library and community centre rolled into one. You can find information on the world in almost unlimited supply, you can find notices of things that are happening around the world and in your neighbourhood. But it isn’t the place where we change the world. We change the world when we become political.
Politics is in the street, in your neighbourhood and in your place of work or study.
If seeing that video produced by Invisible Children has enraged you, has made you want to make a difference, to make the world a better place then I salute you. But to do that you have to move beyond the virtual world into the actual. Move beyond ‘spreading awareness’ into taking action.
Please don’t think that I am writing off electronic means of spreading information. The internet, and especially social media, has become a powerful tool to spread information and to call people to action. The Kony 2012 campaign is a terrific example of that if it is nothing else. But it can’t be a substitute for being active in your community and at work or school. It is merely a tool to help you be more effective at those activities.

Click Here [/irony]

I’ve already suggested a couple of places where you could donate money, and encourage others to do the same, but what about getting active? What about making the world a better place?
Wars and genocide have caused the world to be flooded with refugees, only a minority of whom ever make it so far as Europe or the USA despite what the press may claim. It may seem like there is little you can do to stop these wars and whilst it is a daunting task it is not an insurmountable one. Because of these wars people have been forced to respond to aid those who have fled the fighting and murder.
In refugee camps around the world Medecins Sans Frontiers provide free health care and support. They always need support and donating to them means that you make a real and practical difference and improve people’s lives.
In countries throughout Europe refugees, the people that flee scum like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni, are treated like second or third class citizens and denied even the most basic of human rights. But there are, as ever, good people trying to help their fellows. People like the Unity Centre in Glasgow who for the last 6 years have been providing much needed support for refugees going through the nightmarish process of claiming asylum with the ever present threat of being forcibly sent to the place from which they fled.
Elsewhere in the UK the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns networks groups around the country to help one another in stopping the brutal treatment of refugees in Britain. I’m assuming that there are other such organisations in other countries but I’m only familiar with the ones in Britain.
If you want to learn about the history of various social movements, including social revolutions, then the library at Libcom.org is a great place to start. It has an extensive catalogue of books and articles that date from a record of the first recorded strike in history, 5,000 years ago in Egypt, to events that are happening now around the world.
The website also has a handy section on organising with tips and advice for people new to all this.
If you do want to make the world a better place then there is nothing wrong with your journey beginning with a click of a ‘share’ button or a retweet of something that has got your dander up. But change is made by boots on the ground, as it were, and by, more than anything else, organising with the people around you to force change to happen.
There is a Margaret Mead quote that is often liked by activists.

Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

This is patently untrue. The only thing that has ever changed the world is a fuck lot of people working together for a common goal. To achieve this we don’t need to shy away from criticism but to embrace it. For it is criticism, dialogue and education that help to ensure that when there are a fuck load of us working towards a common goal we don’t accidentally make a mess of things. That’s why I speak out against Invisible Children and Kony 2012. Because I want a better world for me, for the people of Uganda, the people of the USA and every other person on the planet. It’s our world after all, we should damn well all be able to enjoy it.

27 thoughts on “Kony 2012 redux

  1. Thanks for this informative and balanced piece. Balanced in the sense that you explain the situation in Northern Korea succinctly and with clarity, while offering ways of working against problems in Northern Uganda and the world in general in donating to more appropriate organisations than IC and in learning how to take Direct Action.
    I was duped by the IC vid, firstly as a father, and then as someone who was thrilled by the organising potential. I was, even on watching the vid, concerned by the US military prescence, but admit that I suppressed this concern out of sheer emotional concern for child soldiers and can see how this has spread through social media. People now have to step back from thevinitial emotional cocktail of anger, sadness and thrill (at the thought of an international solidarity) and see the true picture beneath the one the IC has artfully painted.
    Again, thanks for this piece.


  2. Thanks for this. It puts what I think what a lot of less knowledgable and articulate individuals into have been trying to convey into perspective.


  3. THANK YOU for being an island of reason and intelligence in the sea of mindless stupidity that is this whole Kony 2012 thing.


      1. Some people are just incredibly arrogant. They don’t like it when they root for something out of a gut feeling without really thinking about it and are then proven wrong by a thoroughly informed critical analysis. They’d rather go for aggressive denial than have their self-indulging I’m-doing-something-to-make-the-world-a-better-place buzz get killed by facts and reason. In other words, your post was ruining their party! lol They were just trying to bully you out of the venue so they could go back to enjoying their pseudo-humanitarian fest without a guilty conscience or having to ask themselves too many questions…


      2. Aye, I figured that and I’m used to being called names for being the voice of reason(in my opinion) but that furore was totally unexpected. So thank you again 🙂


      3. great analysis- also sympathy seems to have become a product. Buy into Kony video, spread the status, buy the tshirt and you’ve done your bit with regards to child soldiers and prostitution. Also with money/time spent on the kony t-shirt, the money or effort will not be going to help build schools,in Uganda, it is will just fill up multinational companies bank accounts.


  4. Pingback: Kony 2012 « WHIT?
  5. More NGOs and organizations doing real work in Uganda: Oxfam and IRC. Lacor Hospital, Caritas Uganda, The Refugee Law Project, Christian Counseling Fellowship, and African Youth Initiative Network.


  6. Very nice piece, well done. It won’t stop their fame and fortune sadly. Oprah is tweeting that they’re going to get them on show ASAP. Talking about being nominated for “An Oscar”. says “Pixar of documentary film making” “Not going to make boring video of Africa” all quotes in here http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/world/africa/online-joseph-kony-and-a-ugandan-conflict-soar-to-topic-no-1.html?ref=jdavidgoodman

    Must keep up the push. Many major news organizations are now basically calling them out as fraudsters, open to making a quick buck and fame. Rightfully so, on the backs of Africans.


  7. Don’t know if you’re aware but you’ve got yourself a follower here in Portugal. Very well written and elluminating. Thank you very much.


  8. Very thoughtful piece. I was linked and given Kony 2012 Invisible Children by a 12 year old who was very moved by the video. I will link your piece and hopefully he will see that it is important to look at things from different perspectives. I know you do not rate the Kony 2012 but it has captured the interest of youngsters who otherwise would be ignorant of the happenings in Uganda, so for that reason I think it has value.


  9. Morning. I come in peace but have some questions. I’m a high school teacher in Australia and I’m trying to help students place KONY 2012 in context, same with the backlash, media storm and their confused feelings of moral outrage and dismay at the perceived cynicism of mainstream media at youth-led global activism. Your blogs have been really useful in giving another perspective, so I thank you for that.

    Can I query one aspect of your response though – the idea of IC’s call for a military intervention. My reading of the film and their website is that they do not support an armed US military intervention, rather that they wish to lobby for the US govt. to maintain the current advisory presence to support regional attempts to find and capture Kony. Your section here seems to suggest that you believe otherwise – could you clarify the reasons/sources for this belief?

    I’ve read elsewhere that the bill that was passed give significant military autonomy to Obama, clearly a cause for concern, but has IC directly lobbied for an upscaling of the intervention? You said yourself “That’s not the attitude of the followers of the campaign. I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve seen, both in the comments here and elsewhere on the net, calling for him to be summarily executed like Osama Bin Laden.” Is it really IC’s fault if others respond with less peaceful intentions? Can they be held responsible for every response to the film? That seems unduly harsh to me.

    Thank you again for contribution to the discussion.


    1. Hi Ads, sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been busy with studies and have been trying to avoid the internet for obvious reasons. 😉
      With regards military intervention. I don’t think I implied that it was the US military that would be getting involved but the Ugandan military. The Ugandan military are responsible for waging a genocidal campaign against the people of Northern Uganda. A renewed military campaign against Kony would be a retrograde step for the people of Northern Uganda who are still trying to rebuild following the cessation of hostilities in the region in 2006.
      I feel that it is entirely the responsibility of IC that people are calling for blood and murder in this case, and even more sickeningly seeing children as acceptable losses when it comes to capturing Kony. They made a manipulative video that misleads people and obfuscates the situation in Northern Uganda.
      I don’t believe that a person should be judged by the colour of their skin, their gender, sexuality or sex. The only thing that we should be held to account for are our words and actions as these are the things that have an effect in the real world and over which we have control.
      I hope my reply hasn’t come too late to be of any use in your classes and thanks a lot for using my posts in your lessons. You won’t believe how honoured I feel right now. 🙂
      I would also appreciate it if you pointed out to your students that this isn’t cynicism at youth-led global revolt. I’m all in favour of people going out and changing the world but in order to do so you need knowledge and tools. You need to learn about the history of revolt. About what works and what doesn’t. About the actual state of affairs in the world and how we came to be in this situation. You don’t need to have read Das kapital or Fields, Factories and Workplaces to understand the reasons behind global inequality(though I’m sure it helps) but you do need t realise that horrific things like the LRA and Joseph Kony do not happen in isolation and that there is an economic and political cause. Something that can’t be solved by sending in John Rambo to kick ass and break heads.


  10. Thanks for taking the time to reply Andy. And don’t worry, we’ve had enough debate about the whole issue this week for it all to last a bit longer I reckon, despite the fact that it seems to have evaporated from the facebook/twitter world almost as quickly as it came.
    The clarification of the intervention helps. I must admit the film and IC’s website remain vague in their concrete understanding of exactly how they see Kony being captured. Their stated aim seems to be urging the US administration to keep the military support there. Who knows what the reality could lead to if this doesn’t bring results. There are clearly delicate issues of sovereignty involved in the Ugandan Army crossing borders into DRC, CAR or South Sudan chasing rumours of sightings. And their history of, at best, questionable actions of their own is disconcerting to say the least, as is their reported skill at not finding Kony, but finding diamonds and god knows what else. Would we end end up with the Rambo scenario – I suspect more likely the unmanned drone and we all know how accurate they have proved recently.
    Undoubtedly the video is manipulative (what film isn’t?), it misleads and misrepresents. I have been actively encouraging my classes to be critical in their response to its techniques. Likewise I have encouraged them to be equally critical in their analysis of the response to the film. To be aware of agendas and to openly question wherever they can. That’s what literacy is all about to mind, whether we are discussing great works of literature, news broadcasts, 30 minute charity marketing material or blogs 😉
    And therefore you find no complaints from me regarding the need for people to ‘tool up’ in their response to the problems the world faces, and to seek to understand on their own terms the complexities of such issues. It is a constant source of pride and hope for me that some of the kids I work with seek to do just that – off their own back, because they care, about others, justice and the truth.
    Once again, thank you for providing a reasoned and substantiated response. Many others have not and I find that equally as frustrating and problematic as I do some aspects of the film and IC’s work.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s