KONY 2012 – who are the real cynics here?


Joseph Kony, Lords Resistance Army
© Joram Jojo/Flickr  Global/IRIN

“On 30 September [2011], the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the LRA has carried out 240 attacks so far this year, resulting in 130 deaths and 327 abductions, including 113 children in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. An estimated 440,000 civilians continue to be displaced or living as refugees in the affected areas.”

Before last week, the above report did not inspire 100 million people from around the world to collectively consider what they could do to end this violence. In the past week, if you have been living under a technological rock and haven’t seen it, there has been a flurry of such engagement through Twitter hash tags, Facebook links and Youtube alerts for KONY 2012.  Created by US-based charity, Invisible Children, the 27 minute video argues (essentially) three things:

1)       Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), operates a guerilla style war in Northern Uganda, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.  He has escaped arrest for 25 years.   The LRA, originally a secessionist movement, has become a messianic cult devoted to keeping Kony in power and avoiding arrest by Ugandan authorities.  There is no political agenda to the LRA’s continued existence.

2)       Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – in fact he was the first individual to face indictment by the ICC – for crimes against humanity and war crimes.  It is believed Kony has kidnapped, over the course of the conflict, between 25 000-60 000 children. Young children are murdered to frighten other children into becoming child soldiers in Kony’s LRA; others are forced to commit heinous crimes such as killing their parents and siblings; and thousands of girls have been forced into sexual slavery for the LRA soldiers.

3)       The United States government, under President Obama’s administration, agreed in late October 2011 to send 100 special operations ‘combat-ready’ troops to assist the Ugandan military to find and arrest Kony.  The Invisible Children KONY 2012 campaign is directed at alerting people to this mission, ensuring that the Obama administration knows that the world supports this mission, and make Kony an ‘infamous’ figure to ensure that by the end of 2012 as many people as possible know who he is, what crimes he has committed and why every possible means should be engaged to ensure his capture.

It is easy to view this campaign with skepticism.  To argue, as others have done, that Invisible Children exaggerates the cause, the campaign is misleading and construes the situation to further the advocacy agenda of Invisible Children.  Others propose that supporting the Ugandan military is support for a military that should face serious questions about its own conduct.  Moreover, it has been argued that the removal of Kony will not see the end of the LRA, the end of abject poverty in the region where he resides, nor will it remove the guerilla warfare tactics that has plagued the Great Lakes region for too long.

Much of the dissention plays on the notion that Invisible Children is a cynical operation that serves its own interests above anyone else.  Perhaps most misleading of all though is the notion that such cynics of KONY 2012 are basing their critique on ‘real fact’ while Invisible Children deploys phony numbers and arguments.  There is no doubt Invisible Children goes for a simple message and a simple solution.  But does this mean we shouldn’t support the objective of KONY 2012 – to capture Kony? I consider some flaws in the cynics’ argument below. Continue reading “KONY 2012 – who are the real cynics here?”

Amidst the Carnage, Hope.

A billboard promoting peace in Kotido District in Uganda
© Khristopher Carlson/IRIN

Amidst the Carnage, Hope.

“Scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history” was how one of the judges on the international criminal tribunal set up to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during Yugoslavia’s wars of dissolution described the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica. Over 7,500 unarmed men and boys were slaughtered there.  A year earlier “scenes from hell” were written right across the small African country ofRwanda, where around 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days: a rate of killing higher than the Holocaust, achieved with Kalashnikovs, machetes and improvised methods of brutality. Shortly after the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region erupted in 2003, characterised by mass killing, widespread and systematic rape and ethnic cleansing, the then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, sharply criticised the world’s inaction.  “We have learned nothing fromRwanda” he complained.  More recently, the brief hope that the solidarity and determination exhibited by the UN Security Council when Gaddafi’s forces in Libya threatened to overrun the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and root out the ‘cockroaches’ (incidentally, the term used by Rwanda’s Hutu extremists to incite genocidal violence against the Tutsis in 1994) signalled a change of thinking about how the world should respond to acts of unconscionable and systematic inhumanity has quickly been replaced by cynicism as a result of the Council’s inability to reach a consensus on Syria.

It is easy to look at the carnage being unleashed on the civilians in the Baba Amr district of Homs, the children indiscriminately killed in their homes, the fate of thirteen year old Hamza Ali al’Khateeb who was tortured to death by the security forces, and come to the conclusion that we have indeed learned nothing.  Learned nothing and changed nothing. According to this logic, regimes that can, will use extreme violence to preserve their privileges and the rest of the world will stand aside and accept it unless powerful outsiders have other interests at stake. From this cynical vantage point, it would be easy to criticise the efforts of those who champion the UN and its principles of human rights and the responsibility to protect as naïve idealists or, worse, as vain glory-seekers spouting fashionable hot air that signifies nothing. It would be easy to think like this, but wrong.

Wrong not just because the cynical belief that humanity can do no better breeds the very sort of behaviour it purports to condemn. If no good can be done, the logic goes, better not to try; the perfect rules out pursuit of the good. The cynical view holds that it is better to stand and watch from the moral high ground than to get dirty hands trying to make things better.

This kind of thinking is also wrong empirically. Although it may not seem it at times, things have actually improved in the past few decades and international institutions, primarily the UN, have played a significant role in that. The simple fact of the matter is that there are fewer wars; when wars do happen they are shorter and fewer people tend to die; and fewer, not more, civilians are dying as a result of mass atrocities.  None of this happened by chance. Continue reading “Amidst the Carnage, Hope.”

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Very best, Alex.