As my work colleagues will no doubt happily confirm a number of issues this last week have managed to elicit responses from me that would be unprintable in any mainstream media. Aside the usual frustrations of monotonous office life, I have found myself aggravated by the seemingly endless number of overnight activists who have suddenly popped up out of nowhere and found a cause célèbre hours after watching one piece of emotive propaganda. Despite the majority having done no further research, millions of people have still felt the need to share their newly acquired moral compass and cause with the rest of the connected, mainly Western world – in the process clogging up my newsfeed with their tiresome and often fake words of support for a popular cause. Or as American President Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘jumping on the band wagon.’
I am of course referring to the viral video and subsequent internet phenomenon that is ‘Kony 2012.’ Produced by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, the Kony 2012 video and campaign has the explicit aim of stopping Joseph Kony – the real life villain of the film and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Desperate for Uganda to adopt the biblical Ten Commandments as the constitution, the LRA under Joseph Kony are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for various crimes against humanity; including being responsible for the kidnapping of an estimated 60’000 Ugandan children since 1985. Used as child soldiers and sexual slaves, these children have been deprived of a childhood and forced to commit acts of murder, brutality and facial disfigurement against millions of ordinary Ugandans in pursuit of LRA objectives.
Before I start venting my frustrations and to avoid being lynched by an internet savvy and idealistic mob, I should probably make it clear that I am not against the very worthwhile aim of naming and shaming Joseph Kony. By raising his profile and making him recognisable to millions Jason Russell has shone light on the dark and underreported world of Ugandan affairs. This blog here briefly explains why ‘#stopKony’ is so powerful and potentially worthwhile. However, this is where my support for the campaign ends.
Whilst the events in recent years in Uganda are impossible to defend and the LRA’s actions inexcusable, it is clear that the majority of people sharing ‘Kony 2012’ have done little or no further research since watching the very well written, directed and intentionally emotive 30 minute YouTube video. Within hours, the world now suddenly has millions of armchair generals and Ugandan domestic and foreign policy ‘experts’ despite the video containing little factual information. By simply sharing and watching one part of a link, many feel that they have done their bit towards making the world a better place. Worryingly, many believe they are fully informed.
Blissfully unaware of other repressed people in the world and indeed Africa, many of these social media activists naively think that a successful social media campaign fought through a shady organisation and conflicting facts will enable Kony to be found and brought before the ICC. Even more naively, some believe that the capture of Joseph Kony is the single key to unlocking the successful future of Uganda as an independent and stable country. Sadly however, this is not the case.
Formerly a British Protectorate, Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. Bordered by Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda is a melting pot of different ethnic groups; none of which are sizeable enough to form a majority of the population. Suffering from continued armed internal resistance, Uganda has been ruled by no fewer than 11 presidents since independence in 1962; the most recent being Yoweri Museveni who has held power uninterrupted since 1986. Famed for bringing stability and economic growth to the dusty nation, Museveni has recently been criticised for harassing democratic opponents and lifting the Presidential term limit to enable him to remain in office indefinitely. Add to this the fact that Joseph Kony and the LRA are rumoured to have fewer than 1000 members (not even in Uganda anymore), and it soon becomes clear that Uganda’s problems will not stop with the arrest, extradition and imprisonment of one man and his child army.
Simply sharing a video and a desire to remove Kony from the equation will not change any of these things. Infact, all the attention that is currently being showered on Joseph Kony has enabled the problems with Museveni and the current Ugandan administration to be overlooked. There is even evidence to suggest that it may even make the situation worse. Whilst I have briefly mentioned Museveni ushering himself into a fourth Presidential term, it should also be noted that under Museveni Uganda has developed into one of the most corrupt countries on earth where social services are minimal and human rights abuses well documented. Indeed, recently proposed legislation by Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati has called for homosexuality (already illegal and punishable by a prison sentence) to be met with either the death penalty or life imprisonment.
A recent groundswell of support for the Ugandan government may provide Museveni with additional funds, support and military hardware that is likely to only exacerbate civil rights abuses within the country. Endorsed by major celebrities, the #stopKony campaign looks set to grow stronger despite concerns over the transparency and integrity of Invisible Children. And already viral, the video is likely to top 100 million views within the next week.
Let’s hope that people start to see the bigger picture.