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.