Kony 2012 — Most of us involved with social media have heard of it. For some, learning of Kony and his atrocities is new information. However, my students and I are well aware of the situation; last year we raised over $22,000 dollars to help rebuild schools in Uganda that were destroyed during the war between the LRA and the government. Many people know my heart for this issue, which is likely why I started to receive email.
What do you think about what’s happening? Have you heard the backlash? To be honest, I wanted to say nothing. That’s easier. Definitely safer. But I enter the fray because I think it’s a teachable moment for our students.
What do I think? Honestly? I don’t agree with the stance Invisible Children has taken.
I have a great deal of respect for much of the work Invisible Children has done. They brought to light the injustice occuring in Uganda and the plight of the invisible children who were forced to flee to the cities every night to remain safe. I think the drive to rebuild schools to provide education and the creation of rehabilitation centers are steps in the right direction. However, it’s incredibly easy to start in the right direction, and have the best intentions, but slowly colonialism seeps in. Suddenly we have the “right” answer to solve the problem. But is it? History has shown us time and again, those of us “outside” of a problem rarely see the entire view, which allows us to come up with simple answers to alleviate complex problems and ultimately do more damage than good.
I think the current campaign is short-sighted and may set a dangerous precedent for the use of social media. We can see the power of it. If you have enough voices saying the same thing, they will be heard. But we need to critically evaluate what is being said, and not just hope the social media we’ve been handed is correct or become swept up in an emotional, feel-good story. The term for this is digital citizenship.
Here’s the problem, while the video correctly informs us Kony is a dangerous man who needs to be stopped, the solutions it offers are decidedly white, North American and ill-informed. Throwing North American money at a problem, at best, rarely solves it, and at worst, exacerbates it.
Essentially, the premise of the video is that Kony has abducted thousands of children and needs to be stopped. The solution? All of us who stand for truth and justice should be the ones to stop Kony. How? We mobilise as many people as possible to lobby influential artists and politicians to stand up for the cause, which in turn will pressure Obama to keep the 100 troops deployed to Uganda in place until Kony is caught. Once Kony is caught, or killed, all will be good. But will it? Do we honestly believe Justin Bieber is the Ugandan people’s best hope? Doesn’t that overestimate our ability and underestimate theirs?
This brings to the forefront what is justice? And who are we, in North America, to say what that looks like for the Ugandan people? Does the end justify whatever means necessary?
The film makes no mention that Uganda is currently enjoying its longest period of peace, since the whole thing began in 1986. Nor does it state that Kony hasn’t been in Uganda for a number of years. Additionally, the Kony 2012 campaign seeks to finance the Ugandan government to hunt down Kony. The problem? Some would refer to this as blood money; the government of Uganda is as guilty as Kony and his followers. Both have perpetrated and benefited from the years of violence in Uganda. Both have raped, plundered and tortured innocent citizens. History tells us that bolstering corrupt governments doesn’t work well in the long run. And stepping in strips the Ugandan people of their own agency — sounds colonial to me.
So what does justice look like? The solutions for Uganda’s problems have to come from Uganda. I doubt most people are aware that Uganda has been working through this for years when it established the Ugandan Amnesty law. The people of Uganda have a lot at stake for this process to work. Remember, it is their own children who have been abducted into the LRA, and many Acholi people support the process that allows LRA combatants to return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of traditional justice.
The process can work. We’ve seen it in both Rwanda and South Africa. I’m not saying it’s easy, but both of these countries have authentically entered into the risky, painful process of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness, which seems absent from the Kony campaign.
I take issue with a video that provides a solution too simple to solve a complex systemic problem. And this, I think, is part of the appeal. In a dumbed down, Kardashian world we want to believe that by liking a video on facebook, or by retweeting, we can change the world. That activism doesn’t require hard work, determination and thoughtful problem-solving that rejects easy solutions. There’s a term for that “slacktivism”.
According to Urban Dictionary, Slacktivism is “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” or “The search for the ultimate feel-good that derives from having come to society’s rescue without having had to actually gets one’s hands dirty or open one’s wallet.”
Examples? Liking a video. Joining a Facebook group. Signing an online petition. I’m not sure papering cities with posters of Kony supports the Ugandan people in their search for justice and reconciliation. Or making Kony the most famous killer in the world.
And if Kony is caught or killed, will we rejoice that “we did it”? Somehow we become the heroes of the story, when in reality, the heroes are the Ugandan people who stumble and suffer through the process of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness, which in the end, no viral social media campaign can help them with.
Would we be so quick to jump on this campaign if it was addressing the metals in each of our cell phones and computers that have been procured by slave labour? Yep, you read that right. The phone or tablet in your hand, that you might be reading this on, is likely the result of slave labour. Will you boycott Apple? Or Blackberry? and tell them you refuse to buy any of their products until they address the issue?
Let’s talk to kids about this issue. This is an opportunity to facilitate our students learning about complex issues. But not only the Uganda issue, how about the slavery and corruption that exists in our daily consumption, and let’s begin to do something about it. Kony using child slavery as part of his army is an atrocity, but so is child slavery to procure chocolate and coffee.
If we’re going to lobby governments, then let’s appeal for debt forgiveness for the poorest nations, whose economies are crushed and are kept in perpetual debt by the IMF and World Bank.
And let’s help our students think through the truth about what’s going on in Uganda, while steering away from feel good, yet meaningless actions.