Apr 1, 2012

A Nuanced Perspective of Kony2012

Kony2012: Absolutely worth watching, but not the whole story
This internet sensation movie talks about Kony, a leader of the horrible Lords Resistance Army (LRA) that kidnaps and maims children in Central Africa. He is despicable, the organization is terrible, and no one anywhere supports him (except for Rush Limbaugh). The movie itself is very slick, and seeks to publicize his actions so that he will be stopped.

That's all true, but the critics say it's naive and incredibly oversimplified. That is true too. For example, the LRA used to be massive in Uganda, today it is maybe a few hundred soldiers running for their lives in the jungle of a neighboring country. Much of the world mostly ignored the movement in it's heyday, mostly in the 90s and early 2000s, but we are well past that point today. The powers that be in the world have long since actively worked to shut down the LRA are almost done. There are American troops on the ground helping the Ugandan army hunt down Kony with broad international support. The recent huge facebook mobs are quite late to the party.

We found Uganda to be a spectacular and comfortable country
to travel in. The war torn country was a decade ago.
Africans, in particular, seem to be the most annoyed at this movement. Ugandans stormed out of the theater in anger when they saw the movie because ironically they didn't find themselves represented in it. Editorials across the continent skewer it's naivety, and it's reliance on the 'White Savior Complex.' The vast majority of the victims shown in the movie were Africans, the majority of the 'heros' were white people from another hemisphere. However it has mostly been African soldiers and African communities that have beaten the LRA back over the last decade, and so it's more than a little insulting to say that they now need George Clooney to come in and finish him off.

I suppose I am part of the 'White Savior Industrial Complex' and although I won't ever pretend that Africa needs me, I do think I'm doing genuine good. Contrary to the adoring facebookers, or disgruntled Africans I see the movie in a different way. It's far less about what needs to happen now, and much more about what has happened. Jason Russell has spent much of his adult life organizing and agitating for awareness of Kony and the struggles of central Africa. It's impossible to know how much practical influence they have had, but it's likely more than nothing. And now, this long standing campaign is almost over.

The movie, and incipient movement, are most effective with young people.  Although oversimplified, it is bringing an awareness of contemporary history to a demographic known for being apathetic and disengaged from some of the worlds bigger injustices.  It shows how privileged young Americans have been able to make a difference on another continent.  If it engages anyone enough to want to make a difference, and think a little on their own, there are some very real and practical steps that they could take.  For example, the movie points out that the International Criminal Court (ICC) finds Kony to be one of the worlds worst war criminals.  However, the ICC doesn't have much power, in part, because the United States has not ratified it. If an American acted like Kony, and is arrested by the ICC, George Bush Jr. famously said he'd invade Holland to 'rescue' them. A Facebook campaign in an election year really could force politicians to bring the US into the world community.      

Rather than soliciting support for a necessary movement I think the point of Kony 2012 is more subtle. It's inviting an entire generation to join in a victory for humanity.