Okay, let’s grant that Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video achieved its goal of making Joseph Kony famous. Tens of millions of people have been made aware of child soldiers and the problems they face. Now, the old question: what is to be done?
Most of us need more information. I have never been in Uganda, but some of my friends and co-workers know the country well. Joseph Kony, they point out, has not been in Uganda in years, but is likely in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. His forces are active in areas that attract the interest of resource-extraction companies. And children are not always kidnapped, but, coming from conditions of poverty and marginalization, some go in search of “livelihoods,” not realizing until it’s too late that they will be forced to fight.
Adele Halliday commented wisely on the Kony mania in a Facebook post:
“Certainly, child labour and child soldiers are serious global issues that require action and advocacy. But, donating to the sketchy organization Invisible Children, and strengthening the even more sketchy Ugandan army are not helpful steps. Plus, having lived in Uganda, Kony 2012 is not quite accurate. There’s a much deeper and more systemic story. Still, am very hopeful that the world’s current attention on these global issues will lead to political will to change, stronger foreign policies, more attention to human rights violations, and a deeper awareness of how our actions here affect people around the world.”
Another colleague, Omega Bula, shared a link to this video by Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire that says pretty well what needs to be said about perpetuating colonial and racist notions of Africa.
On racism, a friend wrote to me:
“Kony 2012 perpetuates the White saviour mentality and the false idea of that rich White Americans can save poor Black Africans who are enslaving children and enlisting them into being soldiers. That sentiment—perpetuated throughout the video—drives me absolutely crazy. It was painful to watch.”
About the money: think first of relationships
Please don’t send your money to non-governmental organizations that you’ve never heard of. Instead, think of the web of relationships that you are already in: your faith community, the NGOs you have supported in the past and the human rights and peace groups that you trust.
While the United Church of Canada (where I work) does not have bilateral partners in Uganda, it and many other churches are involved through our ecumenical relationships. Two examples.
First, the World Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches and local churches worked alongside Acholi community leaders and struggled for years to get the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army to the negotiating table, despite President Yoweri Museveni believing in a military solution and feeling that the peace talks were a sign of weakness. “But there is no conflict that cannot be solved through dialogue,” said Canon Grace Kaiso, executive secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council in 2008. Unfortunately, peace talks collapsed and in December 2008 a military incursion into the Democratic Republic of Congo also failed to capture Kony.
My second example of the web of ecumenical relationships comes from John Siebert, executive director of the Canadian ecumenical peace coalition, Project Ploughshares. He looks at the small-arms industry, its role in perpetuating conflict, and concludes his reflection on the Kony video with this comment:
“The solution to stopping the LRA, in 2008 and now, may not be a military capture or kill of Kony and his senior commanders. Returning to negotiations may be the best solution. By increasing the protection of vulnerable civilians and luring away remaining LRA fighters with more constructive alternatives, a new opening for genuine and conclusive negotiations with Kony and the LRA leadership may finally end this nightmare.”
What to read
I also turned to several Canadian writers and activists that I have learned to trust (even if I don’t agree with everything they say):
- The retired military peace-keeper and present-day senator, Roméo Dallaire, author of They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (Random House, 2010).
- Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of the War Child NGO, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid (McClelland & Stewart, 2011).
- Geoffrey York, the Globe and Mail’s Africa correspondent who offered several good pieces of reporting on the Kony video, including tips on what can be done these days in solidarity with Africans. I particularly liked this comment:
“Donors must avoid a self-aggrandizing focus on themselves, because it alienates the communities that they are supposed to benefit. Many Africans were infuriated by the Invisible Children video because it focused so much on the American filmmaker Jason Russell (and his blond three-year-old son) instead of African community groups.”
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