The pros and cons of Kony 2012

Ayame Ulrich

In 1985, the world’s trendiest part-time activists advertised and effected an awareness campaign, LiveAid, garnered massive public support, incurred a critical intellectual backlash, peaked and fell into history.

From beginning to end the process took about a year.

In this brave new age of social networking its modern counterpart - KONY 2012 - accomplished the same over the course of 48 hours.

Progress of a kind.

I won’t waste words describing the video - it’s already more famous than LOLcats and most of you can probably spare 30 minutes of Internet time to watch it.

The critical response to the film has ranged from the superficial to the substantive.

I agree wholly with the former camp, the director/founder is hipsterdom personified, and the “interview” with his six-year-old son is nauseatingly saccharine.

However, the latter camp objects to the film’s message, motives and intent.

Here is where I take issue.

Much has been made over Invisible Children, their corporate structure, their investment in the Ugandan army and their sanguinary mission to bring Joseph Kony to justice.

It’s true that the film’s director brings home a cool $90,000 a year. However, this last campaign has raised millions of dollars within days of its release, and dominated the social media from YouTube to Twitter, so one could argue that he’s worth it.

While all released figures show that the group only sends 32 per cent of their take back to central Africa, they clearly identify and advertise their mission as one of awareness and profile raising, which is where the bulk of their money indeed goes.

Their investment in the Ugandan army is more troublesome.

By all accounts there is a culture of looting, exploitation and rape occurring on the frontlines of this army’s activities, both in their expeditionary work in the Central African Republic (Kony’s likely current hiding ground) and their supposed protective work of the internally displaced refugee camps in Northern Uganda.

While there is some truth that it takes a thief to catch a thief, one should hardly look to that strategy when hunting child rapists.

That being said, even the most damning reports fail to demonstrate moral equivalency between the government army and the LRA.

While the video undoubtedly glosses over government atrocities and takes the upper bound of most estimates of the rebels’ crimes, even the international criminal court, who investigated the Ugandan army, considers the crimes of the LRA to be of “dramatically higher gravity.”

Should we fund and advocate for armed force, led by the West, to put down a multinational, terrorist organization?

So lastly, there lies the objections to the mission itself.

Should we fund and advocate for armed force, led by the West, to put down a multinational, terrorist organization? For many, this reeks of neocolonialism, and the references to the White Man’s Burden have been flying thick and fast.

It is important to note that the United States is not a (ratified) signatory to the International Criminal Court, they are under no compulsion to attempt to take Kony alive, as signatory members are.

This is worrisome, as is the failure of the 2009 U.S.-led offensive against the rebels, which led to violent reprisals.

The committed troops that the video brags about amount to no more than 100 training specialists, not even enough to keep up with the Ugandan army attrition rates.

Clearly when the video claims to be asking for continued support, it also is asking for increased support - increased by several orders of magnitude.

There is certainly a lingering imperialism in sending marines to resolve by bloodshed a war in Acholiland with roots anywhere from 20 to 200 years old.

But should that sense of Western guilt be enough to dissuade us?

If so, we would be listening more closely to the nagging voice of vague discomfort than to the screams of thousands of mutilated, raped and enslaved boys, girls, men and women, many of whom (though not, admittedly, the clergy) are begging for our help.

Steve Currie realizes that this issue is too popular and widespread to be represented in 600 words. He welcomes comments and counter-arguments on his blog,

Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)

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