Who is KONY 2012 to start a war?

March 9, 2012
Invisible Children staff
Invisible Children staff with Ugandans in their KONY 2012 YouTube video, which went viral on March 7.

A telling quote in the film KONY 2012 says: “Who are you to stop a war? — the question is, who are you not to?”

I think the question that the people behind KONY 2012, which went viral on the internet on March 7, need to be asked is: “Who are you to start one?”

Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in eastern Africa, is a bad man. He should be held to account for his crimes. But we should be wary of any campaign that says the solution is to send in US troops to Uganda. And that is the take-home message from the campaign.

Democracy is not a part of the US military’s DNA. A brief overview of its history over the past 50 years highlights this dramatically.

From the millions of civilians killed in Vietnam and Iraq, to military atrocities in Afghanistan, Nepal, El Salvador and dozens of other countries, the US military has thrown in more weapons and propped up dictators that serve US imperial interests. Ordinary people have always suffered the most.

A lot of people are putting a lot of goodwill into the KONY 2012 campaign, but is the US occupying yet another poor country really what we want to see happen?

We should also be very suspicious of the filmmakers because this video makes some pretty dishonest arguments. Most significantly, the film is wrong to say the West ignores Uganda because it has no economic significance.

Uganda and its neighbours have vast amounts of oil, as well as other resources. British company Tullow Oil signed an oil production deal with the Ugandan government last month worth US$2.9 billion. That’s pretty hard to miss.

What’s more, KONY 2012 says the West should support the Ugandan government and army. But Uganda’s regime has a long history of human rights abuses against its people.

This video isn’t just asking people to care. It's asking people to endorse a very specific, and pretty terrifying vision — more US troops invading a Third World country to prop up a very questionable, but pro-Western regime.

We need to be critical of KONY 2012 on the basis of what it asks us to do, not on what it asks us to feel.

But we should be excited by the amount of people that have taken up this phenomenon, even if naively. In just a few days, more than 60 million people had watched the film, posted it to their friends, pledged to campaign publicly and put money into the project.

It is a sign of the potential power of people to quickly organise and use social media to stand up against injustice. That reveals something about the latent power ordinary people have to change politics.

But we also need to be more aware of how we use that power, otherwise we can find ourselves inadvertently beating the drums of war on behalf of people who hide their real agendas.

We need to come up with our own plans for action that build towards the world we want to see. And we also need to learn about and support the existing campaigns for human rights and justice that already exist in Uganda and other African countries.

Frankly, Uganda does not need another army of white people turning up to “help” with guns, bombs and corporate oil deals. The best campaigns will link up with the brave Ugandan campaigners that seek to empower people to take control of their own affairs.

Kony should be held accountable, but he should be held accountable by those people he has wronged.

If Western governments are serious about helping Uganda, they should do things like cancel Uganda’s foreign debt, support the rounded development of the country with strong education and health systems and a democratic economy run for the benefit of Ugandans, and end the political interference of Western corporations and governments that plagues the continent.

Let's identify the corporations that rob Africa blind, and hold them to account for their economic crimes that have left the world’s most resource-rich continent the most impoverished.

We should not stop there. We need to chase down our own leaders who perpetuate war crimes abroad. Kony has a long list of crimes, and thousands have been killed because of him. But compared with the slaughter that Western governments have unleashed on Iraq and Afghanistan, Kony, who commands about 300 soldiers, is small fry.

So let's not be sucked in by KONY 2012’s slick social media efforts. Instead, we can make our own plans to fight injustice, not just in Uganda, but everywhere.

Martin Luther King once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But the inverse of this is also true. The struggle for justice anywhere is a threat to those who perpetuate injustice everywhere.

If we take the goodwill of those sympathetic to the plight of Uganda’s people and put it into campaigns to stop war criminals in the rich countries, we could start to build a culture of global solidarity that makes the world stronger.

Video: STOP KONY 2012 - Ugandan Viewpoint (Please watch!). stillsoundlyawake.

Video: RAP NEWS | Yes We Kony. thejuicemedia.


The Kony 2012 movement is a means to an end. I have read very informed articles in The Economist on the Lords Resistance Army in the past and the Ugandan journalist could be happy that it was accurate. However that is not going to reach the 70 million that the Kony 2012 video has! So what's more effective? People need to be a little bit more far sighted than criticising the video. Once people see the video I am sure a lot will search for Kony on Google and read Wikipedia and make up their own minds.
But that's the point, the critique isn't of people wanting to help, or getting people inspired. The point is that this video does much more then that in that it calls for a very specific course of action- invade Uganda. On that basis, this isn't an effective campaign for the people of Uganda. The ends that's suggested is one of building up American military involvement and the capacity of the Ugandan military, who have their own human rights record. Lets not line up behind that.
Have been a constant follower of your insightful and bright comments and blogs but this is sheer criticism. Really dissapointed you not supporting this xause.
…but it would be a betrayal of everything Green Left Weekly stands for to support the cause of increasing US military presence in Africa and the cause of arming a large army that commits human rights abuses and uses child soldiers, which is the cause that this video espouses.
yes you are right with Africa com that wants to see the u,s subjecting them with the coup in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to crushing Democracy we shroud be weary of Liberal campaign that are use to Promoting a U.S Involution in Uganda yes Kobe is criminal but noting compered to us Crims Sam Bullock Brisbane
I am confused by the comments in the article, and also from people's comments here - that it is about invading Uganda. I have watched the video and from what I saw, they are asking to keep the depolyed troops in Uganda where these deployed troops are training the existing Ugandan military/police techniques in how to find Kony. Nowhere did it suggest that the US troops are engaged in any form of military exercise themselves. Teach a man to fish.....
But you will continue to be confused if you don't seek information beyond simplistic propaganda like the KONY 2012 video. There's more information in GLW here. I've never heard of US military advisers teaching anyone to fish, teaching people to kill is what they do. No-one's going to find Kony in Uganda because he hasn't been there since about 2006. US military advisers are in Uganda essentially for 2 reasons: firstly beefing up the Ugandan army to be a proxy for US interests in East Africa and Central Africa, and secondly part of the US plans for a permanent military presence on the continent. There are currently about 30,000 Ugandan troops in Somalia (obviously not looking for Kony whose rapidly diminishing forces fled Uganda in the opposite direction). Were you aware of this? Were you aware that Ugandan government forces use child soldiers and are responsible for exactly the same sort of human rights abuses as Kony? Were you aware that it was the forces of the current Ugandan government who first introduced child soldiers on a large scale in Acholiland? Do you know where the coltan in your mobile phone and computer comes from and how many millions of people have died so that the corporations can obtain it cheaply? Could you hazard a guess as to why when a local NGO organised a public screening of the KONY 2012 video in Acholiland — so that the (non-internet connected) people there could see what the world was being told about them — people were so enraged that there was almost a riot? Clicking "like" on a simplistic 30 minute propaganda video and buying some overpriced merchandise may feel good, but if you want to do something constructive you need to take the time to educate yourself about what is really going on. The internet means you can do this, but you have to take the effort to look. The truth is out there but not in any of Invisible Children's slick videos.
I couldn't agree more with the opening idea on this article: "Who are you to start one?" (a war). A lot of knaive well-intentioned american citizens supported the invasion in Irak, because they thought this was going to "help" iraki citizens by protecting them from Saddam. Humanitarian missions are but an excuse to increase military presence around the world. This Kony guy may be horrible, but equally brutal dictatorships ar not flagged and propagandized when its not in the bes interest of an increasingly omnipresent military apparatus.

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