For over six years, a man who embodies everything evil has evaded justice. Prior to that, for 20 years this man tormented an entire people. He perfected the use of child soldiers and mastered the craft of sexual warfare. His shadow was cast over a nation. Whether you've ever heard of this man or not, chances are, you soon will. His name is Joseph Kony.
Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group of fierce and brutal fighters, many of them children, that terrorized the people of Northern Uganda, South Sudan, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity; a man who lived in the bush went even deeper.
In the past two days, millions upon millions of people around the world have pledged to do all they can to arrest him. People are angry and determined. Fackebook is filled with status updates like "OMG! Cannot believe this happened!", "Do Something!", "Let's Arrest Kony NOW!".
On one hand, it's kind of impressive. A mostly anonymous war criminal has become one of the most talked about people on the internet in 48 hours.
The flood of all things Kony is thanks to the American NGO, Invisible Children, and a 30 minute film that it produced and posted online March 5. As of Thursday morning it had been watched over 30 million times.
Invisible Children wants to make Kony a household name in 2012 and have his image plastered around the world in an attempt to raise awareness, bracelets and all, and to hasten his arrest and handover to the ICC; hence the campaign, Kony2012. They will stop at nothing to achieve this.
"We have reached a crucial time in history where everything we do or don't do right now will affect every generation to come," narrates Jason Russel, founder of Invisible Children. "We are not just studying human history, we are shaping it."
And the Oscar goes to...
This was after the scene in the film where Jason is with his very young son Gavin, who we are told likes jumping on the trampoline. He shows Gavin a picture of Joseph Kony and tells him that he "takes kids from parents, gives them a gun, and makes them shoot other people."
"What do you think about that," he asks the stricken-looking child.
"Sad," says the boy.
Sad! Mad! Bad!
A "we are the world"-let's rescue the poor Africans from themselves sap fest continues. It plays on one's emotions with moving visuals that switch between scenes of Ugandan children talking about giving up the will to live, American students making human peace signs, and self-congratulating facts and statements about Invisible Children, like "we started something." The emotional climax is assisted by the music of the British band Mumford & Sons, who never fail to rile me to save the globe's downtrodden.
I see it now, planeloads of students on March break will land in the Entebbe airport boarding buses for northern Uganda to set off on foot into the jungle with a Google Map in search of Kony while sending each other iMessages and BBMs to keep track of where each group has looked. Just think of the Facebook albums.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm no fan of Joseph Kony and would love to see him arrested. But what bothers is the symbolism of this campaign. In 2012, are we really still stuck on ignorant advocacy, on manipulation through emotion? Is there no room for facts or reason?
After watching Invisible Children's video you would think that northern Uganda was a wasteland, controlled by swaths of child soldiers, the living dead. That is not the case. Violence has ended and nearly-deserted Internally Displaced Persons camps began closing in 2007. Kony has been pushed out and is on the run with a small force, likely in the Central African Republic or Congo. You would also think that the Ugandan military was fighting heroically, a knight in shining armour, protecting innocent Ugandans from the LRA and all nations should fight alongside it as it looks to finish Kony. That is also not the case. Under the pretext of fighting the LRA, Uganda's military has committed gross human rights violations against its own people, including torture, rape, and summary executions, and must be subject to the same scrutiny and calls for justice as the LRA, something Invisible Children seems unwilling to do.
The situation in Uganda is incredibly serious and complex. It demands a level of engagement and awareness that will not come to an attention span that lasts the click of a mouse. We must find a way to empower ourselves with facts and reason, not just transitory emotion.
Kony2012, and the momentary success it's enjoying, is an important teachable moment for advocacy. It has, at least until the next fad, figured out how to do something that other movements haven't. Now that it has everyone's attention, it must act with the responsibly and integrity demanded by the gravity of the situation, otherwise, there's no way I'm campaigning for Bashir in 2016.
If you had to think about that reference, therein lies the point.