‘Stop Kony’ or rather #Kony2012 is trending worldwide and had gone ‘viral’. The use of twitter and other social networking sites as a platform for ‘change’ has been once again highlighted and galvanized in order to create awareness about Joseph Kony and ultimately to bring him to justice. The message is that we can change the world, we can make a difference, and whilst these are sentiments I normally embody and espouse this campaign has left me feeling rather uneasy, the bigger picture it seems is being missed.
The campaign to bring Kony to justice is being organized by the Charity Invisible Children and aims to “MAKE JOSEPH KONY FAMOUS, NOT TO CELEBRATE HIM, BUT TO RAISE SUPPORT FOR HIS ARREST AND SET A PRECEDENT FOR INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE. IN THIS CASE, NOTORIETY TRANSLATES TO PUBLIC SUPPORT. IF PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THE CRIMES THAT KONY HAS BEEN COMMITTING FOR 26 YEARS, THEY WILL UNITE TO STOP HIM. SECONDLY, WE WANT KONY TO BE FAMOUS SO THAT WHEN HE IS STOPPED, HE WILL BE A VISIBLE, CONCRETE EXAMPLE OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE. THEN OTHER WAR CRIMINALS WILL KNOW THAT THEIR MASS ATROCITIES WILL NOT GO UNNOTICED OR UNPUNISHED”.
This campaign began when Jason Russell went to Uganda back in 2003 and met various child soldiers, one of whom, Jacob, he would become friends with. Russell then went on to form Invisible Children and campaign to bring Joseph Kony to justice and to stop and disarm the L.R.A (the Lord’s Resistance Army) who operate in Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and areas of Southern Sudan in order to end the abduction of children and to prevent them from becoming child soldiers. And this is how he plans to achieve his mission; Russell made this video and asks you to share it; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc In the hope that awareness will turn into action, which it has. The aim is to make Kony visible, and here comes Russell’s phase II. The campaign has selected 12 ‘culture makers’ (certain celebrities with vast influence such as Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey, Rick Warren, Mark Zuckerburg and a personal favourite of mine Lady Gaga amongst others). Through harnessing the power of celebrity the campaign hopes that such influential figures will generate mass awareness and foster action ‘to make Kony famous’. The campaign has also selected 12 ‘policy makers’ such as George Bush and Condoleezza Rice (the irony here is overwhelming) to place pressure on the American administration to make sure the U.S advisors remain in Northern Uganda. Phase III involves ‘the action kit’, which contains posters, bracelets and other propaganda items that will enable you to plaster Kony’s face everywhere, thereby making him famous in order to demand justice.
As millions of people share the video link, tweet in outrage and demand justice and to stop Kony, I can’t help but feel that the deeper issues are being overlooked:
- The problem is that Kony is not alone, there are many other perpetrators out there committing similar crimes. Yet the majority of people remain woefully unaware of many situations involving human rights abuses. When I first saw the popular outcry against Kony my immediate response was somewhat crudely ‘did no one watch Blood Diamond, has no one read the news recently? How can such practices be completely unheard of to you?!’ I was angered by the surprise most people encountered Kony with, and I was baffled by the ignorance people have shown. Kony shouldn’t just be the target there needs to be effort to make people aware and to make people care. Names such as Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Boko Haram, the Tamil Tigers and so on should be common knowledge. Further it almost seems that the majority of people have to be spoon-fed into action, and even more worrying seem satisfied with just sharing a link. The sentiment seems to be ‘I have done my bit’ rather than converting this into concrete action, to simply know about the crimes Kony has committed is not enough to see him in The Hague. As Elliot Ross astutely noted; “When the euphoria evaporates and the Twittersphere has dried its tears (probably by the end of this week), all that remains will be yet another powerful myth of African degradation.”.
- Another thing that made me feel quite uneasy was the film’s (I’m hoping) unintended White Man’s burden complex.
- What the campaign also glosses over and what we need to turn our attention to are the problems with the International Criminal Court. Not only does the court have jurisdictional vulnerabilities, the ICC is completely dependent on the cooperation of states. The responsibility to enforce warrants and arrest the ICC’s most wanted is at the discretion of states. Currently the ICC is currently conducting investigations in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire yet how many will attract public attention and result in convictions? More needs to be done to strengthen the ICC and remedy its state dependency. Rather than a piecemeal solution bringing one perpetrator of crimes against humanity to justice we should look to the structural forces and create an international system that can effectively deal with war criminals etc rather than one that is status quo state-centric.
- Realists recite dogmatically that states will not act unless their national interests are at stake. As much as I normally disagree with realists there is some truth here. Humanitarian issues are relegated to the depths of the foreign policy agendatime again and this campaign highlights how unless an issue effects U.S interests it will not appear on its radar. The blindness of governments to human rights atrocities, and the inability to act unless the national interest is at stake is the crux of the problem. But I fear this will point will be missed and people will simply choose to adorn a bracelet rather than question why foreign policies are compiled the way there are. This campaign misses the opportunity to ask whose interests are served, and what defines the national interest, and again the chance to tackle the deeper issues.
I do hope that Kony is bought to justice, but more so I hope that this is only the beginning of an effort that leads people to crucially inform themselves and become aware of the bigger picture and not to rest on their laurels because they have shared a link.
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