Cards on the table: I think that the Kony 2012 video that has provoked much comment on Sabotage Times is mawkish, simplistic and queasily manipulative of the children involved, both in Uganda and the USA. But these misgivings are trumped by my instinctive respect for anyone who is willing to devote their time and energy to helping others in a terrible situation. I much prefer such people to those who only carp from the sidelines about their inadequacies, because nothing positive can happen without a basic willingness to get involved.
This is not to say that activists should not be challenged about how they are tackling an issue. The long-running debate about the impact of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) on problems in the developing world and their use of funds is important and needs deeper consideration than is possible in a short article. It is the subject of much well-informed literature - David Rieff’s “A Bed For The Night, David Keen’s “Complex Emergencies” and Linda Polman’s “War Games” are all stimulating reads, from different perspectives, on this topic. Ultimately, as Grant Oyston indicates in his article, impartial information about what an NGO spends your money on is usually available and it is worth taking the time to make an informed choice about which organisation is likely to make best use of your donation.
Clicking “like” on social media sites or making incendiary comments on websites attracts much less attention in the corridors of power
The first objective of the “Kony 2012” campaign is clearly to raise awareness of the long-running atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, in Northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. The volume of responses to Grant’s article alone shows that they have been resoundingly successful in achieving this objective. “Invisible Children” have skillfully harnessed the immense power of new media to engage large numbers of people in a short space of time. This sort of campaign can help to focus the minds of governments, particularly when it is transferred into genuine mass pressure on them in the form of petitions, marches or large volumes of correspondence. Some campaign supporters should note, though, that merely clicking “like” on social media sites or making incendiary comments on websites attracts much less attention in the corridors of power. (Full disclosure: I have worked in the Foreign Ministry of a major European country for two decades).
The question of whether the “Kony 2012” campaign is doing much to achieve “Invisible Child’s” second objective of stimulating action to catch Kony is, as Grant points out, less clear-cut. The situation in the areas of Northern Uganda, South Sudan and North Eastern Congo (DRC), where Kony and his gang have operated and sought refuge over the last few decades, has long been, to put it mildly, complex. The fluid political circumstances and difficult terrain prevailing in this region have made Kony’s capture genuinely difficult to achieve. Certainly, the flawed past conduct of the Ugandan army towards the Acholi people and its inability to catch Kony after all this time suggests that simply giving them more arms and outside military support will not necessarily solve the problem.
It grew out of the desire to create a permanent structure to succeed the tribunals
This leads me to one of my specific concerns about the “Kony 2012” campaign and others like it. The campaign seems to be working from the assumption that one of the main reasons monsters such as Kony remain at large is because Western governments are too cynical or indifferent to get involved in tackling such horrendous problems. In fact, as the video shows, Kony and four of his associates (one, Raska Lukwiya, has since died) were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in 2005. The ICC did not spring up out of nowhere but was set up by sixty states in 2002 after years of painstaking work by governments such as the UK to create an international court to prosecute the perpetrators of such serious crimes. It grew out of the desire to create a permanent structure to succeed the tribunals established to prosecute war crimes committed in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. In these examples, the sustained determination of governments, Western and others, has led to the capture and prosecution of major war criminals such as Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic, the ex-Sierra Leonean RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, and the ex-Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor. The latter pair were, like Kony, warlords who were heavily implicated in the abuse of child soldiers and horrific human rights violations, such as the use of mass amputation in Sierra Leone.
In addition to setting up an international legal framework, countries such as the UK have in recent years sent troops to protect the people of Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Libya. These operations have been broadly successful, albeit with imperfections that only serve to emphasise just how difficult it is to get the timing and conduct of such interventions right. These difficulties – how and when to intervene without destroying the crucial principle of national sovereignty, whether intervention would solve the problem or risk making things even worse – are recurring dilemmas for government leaders seeking to implement the United Nations’ “Responsibility to Protect”. Inevitably, they do not always get it right. But, given recent history, the argument that there is a lack of will on their part is difficult to sustain.
The capture of Kony and his three deputies has not happened as quickly as anyone with an ounce of humanity would like. But they almost certainly will eventually be killed or put on trial at the ICC in The Hague. Ultimately, the biggest handicap for the western governments who have taken an interest in the case has not been a lack of will. It has been the absence of a simple solution that would lead to Kony’s capture without causing unacceptable harm to others. Exerting emotive pressure to “do something”, or in support of simplistic actions that have already failed to work, will not help nearly as much as coming up with viable proposals of how to actually achieve the objective.
Click here for more articles about Life
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook