Grace Burton: Make Kony famous, just do your research first

ON MARCH 6th, I found my Facebook and Twitter feeds flooded with comments about child soldiers in Uganda, the hashtag #KONY2012 and links to the same YouTube video urging its viewers to ‘make Kony famous’. Over 74 million other people have watched the video. As an International Politics student currently studying conflict in Africa, I initially thought it was great to see so many of my friends take an interest in an issue which has been under the radar of many for too long, and I only wish the Kony 2012 mission was as simple as it is being portrayed.

Disheartening: Many of my friends belittled those who thought that individual involvement in a campaign such as this could make a difference.

Almost immediately, it became fashionable to criticise those who have been moved enough by the stories told in the video to share the campaign through social networks and poster campaigns. This attitude was especially present amongst my fellow politics students who seemed to be taking a cringe-inducing ‘hipster’ stance because they’d heard of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army before their Facebook friends. I was disheartened to see some of my friends belittling those who thought that individual involvement in a campaign such as this could make a difference. Classy.

The main criticism was that Invisible Children Inc, the organisation behind the campaign, were being dishonest by accepting donations and selling awareness materials, such as bracelets and t-shirts, from which not all of the profits would be going straight to Uganda. They never claimed this was the case, and as far as I’m concerned, this is an awareness campaign which requires no financial contribution to reach its goal (posters can be downloaded for free direct from Invisible Children). Of course, anybody planning to donate to any charity should do their research on how their money is going to be spent, this being no exception.

Here’s my issue with Kony 2012 as I see it: For this campaign to succeed, the full story regarding Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the delicate regional politics embroiled in the situation needs to be known and disseminated. However, successful advocacy-based activism tends to rely on an abridged story, which leads to the belief in a simple solution; and simple solutions can bring about more damage than benefit. The Kony campaign relies on a 30 minute video, 140 character tweets and slogans such as ‘End a War’ and ‘Stop at Nothing’. If a full explanation of the LRA, regional politics in eastern and central Africa and the limits of foreign intervention were to be promulgated, I’ve no doubt that it would reach nowhere near the level of engagement which Kony 2012 has garnered; engagement which has the right intentions.

I’m also incredibly uncomfortable with the direct military action being called for by many involved in Kony 2012; recent history has shown us that armed intervention in Africa is by no means guaranteed to succeed and with Joseph Kony’s whereabouts unknown it’s easy to query if foreign intervention would do more harm than good.

Unknown: The most recent photo of Kony is this 2006 image

If there’s one thing I want you to take from reading this article it is this: The Lord’s Resistance Army no longer operates in Uganda. This is not to say that the lives of many in the country have not been blighted by their actions or that the fear of their return is not very real amongst Ugandans, but that the LRA poses a much more real threat to the people in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries are rich in minerals such as tungsten (which makes your phone vibrate) and tantalum (which facilitates storage of electricity in mobile devices), both of which have come to be known as ‘conflict minerals’ because groups such as the LRA are involved in fighting for control of mines, committing human rights violations on a massive scale in the process.The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if those currently bearing Kony bracelets and preparing to ‘cover the night’ on April 20th would be willing to give up purchasing mobile phones or laptops so as not to indirectly fund groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Indeed, without these devices the ‘make Kony famous’ message would not have reached many.

In my opinion, it’s great to see such massive involvement amongst my peers in an international political issue, and we should be doing all we can to bring such issues to the attention of our governments – they are the ones with means to help those in central Africa trying to find Joseph Kony so he can be brought to justice, but we shouldn’t expect this to be a cure-all for the wider issues of corruption, lawlessness and human rights abuses in the region. Kony is by no length the only evil. President Obama has just this month been forced by lobbyists to roll back legislation which aimed to regulate the use of conflict minerals from which groups such as the LRA are profiteering from.

So, what can ‘we’ as students, citizens and people do? Research. Question. Learn. By all means, make Kony famous; just do your research first.