We have all heard the conversations about the role of social media in activism and revolutions. Occupy Wall Street allowed encampments across the globe to connect via Facebook and Twitter and the part social media played in the Arab Spring uprisings has been debated throughout the past year.
This week- there’s something new. Kony 2012, a campaign by Invisible Children to make famous the insidious actions of one Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Watch the video,then read EarthAction interns Christine and Walker's four reasons why this viral campaign isn’t enough to solve Uganda’s conflict and see suggestions for further research.
Read our list and then you be the judge- has Invisible Children brought an important issue to it’s long awaited fame on the internet? Or has it oversimplified a complex issue and cast Westerners as the heroes?
Reason #1- Killing/capturing/arresting Kony won't solve any problems. YES, absolutely, he should be apprehended, but painting him as the enemy or as the literal "bad guy" is misleading. Even eliminating the LRA entirely wouldn't stop violence in the region, the recruitment of child soldiers, or political instability. For that, we need a fundamental change in government, global economics, a resolution of land disputes, and investments in infrastructure/education (for starters). Framing the issue around "bad guys" is not only simplistic, but outright false. If people believe Kony to be the problem, we aren't going to solve any problems.
Reason #2- Kony 2012 paints the people in the US sharing this video as the saviors, without any reflection on the implication of Western nations in political instability in the region. Invisible Children's narrative tells us that it's our duty, that is, us as citizens of the developed, industrialized, Western nations, to fix this problem. Yet, Western societies also cause these problems. One of the main causes for unrest in the area is land disputes. Why could that be? Maybe because not that long ago, Europeans carved arbitrary borders into Africa's land and allotted access to precious resources to whomever they pleased. Until we acknowledge the history of colonialism as a root cause of conflict, there will be no end. What role do Western nations play in post-colonial Africa? Aljazeera tells us- A LOT. Kony 2012 tells us, nothing. "Africa's continental divide: land disputes", linked below, is a particularly good introduction to the topic.
Reason #3- Kony 2012 successfully challenges the role of social media in activism. Invisible Children wants to empower youtube shares, facebook likes and twitter hashtags to change the world. But what better questions are there to ask about activism in the twenty first century? In an OpEd for Aljazeera English, Adam Branch explains that, “instead of asking how the US can intervene in order to solve Africa's conflicts, we need to ask what we are already doing to cause those conflicts in the first place. How are we, as consumers, contributing to land grabbing and to the wars ravaging this region? How are we, as US citizens, allowing our government to militarize Africa in the name of the "War on Terror" and its effort to secure oil resources?”
Reason #4- Finally, supporting the ending of a war through US military intervention sounds like a repetition of events in nations across the globe from Central America in the 80’s to the Middle East in the 2000’s. We don’t argue that this conflict isn’t important. Instead, we argue that the best method to solve conflict in Uganda is to look at the root causes of a problem, not focus on Joseph Kony as the symptom of a problem. Seeing beyond a binary of good guy/bad guy, Western/African will allow for activism that can truly change the lives of people living in conflict zones. Instead of writing to our government asking to send more troops into a region already torn with conflict, write to them asking to stop the arms trade.
Still want to do more? Here's an action you can take that goes beyond sharing on Facebook. Take 10 minutes or so and write a letter/email to your Rep, Senator, President Obama, or Ambassador to the U.N.:
Tell them that the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict that we signed and ratified, that Uganda signed and ratified, needs to be enforced. We need more UN peacekeeping troops in LRA affected areas. AND we need concentrated international efforts to stop the exploitation in Africa, end land disputes, and foster educational and economic development.
Read below for sources for more reading including Invisible Children's reactions to some of the biggest criticisms mentioned above. Tell us how you feel about the campaign on our Facebook page.
- Invisible Children speaks out and addresses some of the major concerns with its Kony 2012 campaign. http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html
- Obama Takes on the LRA -http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra?page=show
- THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY: END GAME? EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS -http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/central-africa/182%20The%20Lords%20Resistance%20Army%20--%20End%20Game.pdf
- Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony Under Spotlight Thanks To Viral Video -http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/03/07/148146240/ugandan-warlord-joseph-kony-under-spotlight-thanks-to-viral-video?sc=fb&cc=fp
- Africa's continental divide: land disputesAfrican land reform, plot by plot, may be the foundation for solving so much else – from famine to poverty to genocide. - http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2010/0130/Africa-s-continental-divide-land-disputes
- Signers and Statemens of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict -http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-11-b&chapter=4&lang=en#EndDec
- Adam Branch explains the complicated nature of conflic and the role of the West in Africa. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/201231284336601364.html
- A UK article from 2006 eplains the relationship between world super powers and African nations in the illegal arms trade. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/global-arms-trade-africa-and-the-curse-of-the-ak47-472975.html