This week, social media has been a buzz about a project launched by NGO Invisible Children called “Stop Kony 2012,” which seeks the capture of Ugandan extremist Christian Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Though I recognize that Invisible Children has been involved in meritorious humanitarian and development efforts and I certainly want Kony arrested and tried for crimes against humanity, I have some fundamentally issues with this campaign, which I will offer a critique of and a suggested way forward in assisting the people of Central Africa.
First, I am disturbed by “Stop Kony 2012” because the main push of the project is not amplifying the voices of those who want true socio-political change in the region but is pushing for military intervention into the region. This seems counterintuitive for a humanitarian organization, from my vantage point as I serve as a board member of a humanitarian relief NGO, to call for military intervention for the purposes of hunting down one man.
In addition, the narrative seems even more bizarre in light that while it praised President Obama for sending military support to Uganda to catch Kony, who has abducted children to be soldiers, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni began using child soldiers prior to Kony’s insurgency. Museveni, himself, should be tried for crimes against humanity, not to mention his brutal crackdowns against Ugandans, who have peacefully protested against his regime.
Hence, we have the issue of a humanitarian organization calling for military intervention in coordination with a brutal dictator, who should be tried as a criminal in order to catch another criminal. I don’t think that this is a grand CIA conspiracy in which Invisible Children is a part of, but it has always been the beef of the African Diaspora that Western intervention and meddling during times of conflict actually makes matters worse for the people, not better. Given that America has a long track record of supporting brutal dictators, who support American interests in Africa and the Middle East, many within the Diaspora find it no coincidence that Museveni, a long time US ally since the deposing of Idi Amin, is getting a pass, especially since he supports American oil interests in Uganda. I’m personally offended that “Stop Kony 2012” used as a voice Congressman Jon Inhofe (R-OK), whose number one contributors are oil and gas companies and who is definitely no friend to communities of color.
My point is that the situation in Central Africa is much more complex than the capture of Kony, who hasn’t launched an attack in Uganda in six years. Real change for the people is not simply catching Kony but in part is addressing America supporting dictators and ramping up its combatant command in Africa (AFRICOM) in the current soft proxy conflict with China, which has been developing relationships in Africa to extract its resources for its own socio-economic interests.
Second, “Stop Kony 2012” uses a Ugandan child instead of a legitimate leader within the indigenous justice movement as a voice along with the Invisible Children spokesman, a White man, being the leading voice. White folks simply need to understand that even with good intentions, they should step back to allow authentic indigenous leadership to speak on these issues within their narratives, not the paternalistic White man with the Black boy frame. Not only are we sick of the Tarzan King of the Jungle frame, but it causes misinformation and misperceptions to be furthered. Then again, I’m not sure if the makers of this even care about this sensitivity and were more concerned about a media campaign that would appeal primarily to White folk to call for military intervention into Central Africa.
“Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” is an alternative framework from an indigenous perspective of the conflicts, which includes Kony, in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Before dealing with an issue, there must be an accurate critique before finding a viable solution. Having an action coming from a flawed perspective or from a place of White privilege/American exceptionalism is not a real solution. And if there is anything that I’ve learned from the occupation of the Palestinian people is that inaccurate and flawed information reinforces frames that further oppression. So I’m not feeling those who minimize the voices of Black folk by dismissing concerns as just crying and complaining instead of offering solutions.
My suggestion for the sincere is that if you’re truly interested in helping people of the region and ending child abduction in which Kony, Museveni and others are a part of, connect with those who are involved in the movement like Kambale Musavuli and Rosebella Kagumire. They can better explain the scope of the challenges the people face in the area, and they can direct you to NGO’s who are doing the best work on the ground, not those who have the slickest video on the internet that invokes emotion.
I want Kony stopped, but I also want the marginalization of African people’s voices to stop as well as the exploitation of our lands by pointing the finger at people, instead of structures of oppression.