I apologize in advance for this, because this post will piss a lot of people off. Please know that I say these things not in judgment of or disagreement with the goal of the #STOPKONY movement. I really don’t like to court controversy, but feel I have to speak my mind on this.
The KONY 2012 video is both moving and inspired by the highest of ideals. My wife and I have both spent time in Africa, in nations that have been affected by civil war and fought by child soldiers: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Burundi. We hope that Joseph Kony is brought to justice, tomorrow if possible!
But the video, and its corresponding pledge, are very simplistic, and very unclear. And I am wary of them as a result.
The pledge on the website states this:
JOSEPH KONY IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S WORST WAR CRIMINALS AND I SUPPORT THE INTERNATIONAL EFFORT TO ARREST HIM, DISARM THE LRA AND BRING THE CHILD SOLDIERS HOME.
I pledge to help make Joseph Kony famous by watching and sharing KONY 2012. I will use my voice to influence cultural and policy makers to raise the profile of the conflict. I will Stop at Nothing.
It is a nice statement, but what is it really advocating? Is it saying that we should “stop at nothing” at raising awareness of this issue? I can do that! I have 33 Twitter followers, and this blog. But is that it, is that all it will take to get Joseph Kony? A viral internet movement that features videos, bracelets and stickers? My God, I hope so! But I doubt it. It usually takes more than awareness and Twitter trends to create the raw will necessary to bring a violent man to justice in one of the most broken parts of the world. Trends on Twitter do not an effective global policy make.
So perhaps it is saying that we should “stop at nothing” to apprehend him? The movie seems to applaud the move by President Obama to send 100 military advisors to the country to apprehend Kony. I agree, it was a good step. So should we call on our government to send more? A lot more, like Rangers and Delta Force?
Contrary to the claims in the video, the sending of 100 special advisors to Uganda was not the first time in US history that military forces have been sent to a country because of moral causes that did not involve self defense. After all, that’s exactly what we did in Somalia. We sent a large military force into the Horn of Africa to capture a warlord that was causing a devastating famine in that country. You probably know this already, but things did not turn out well, for us, or for the Somalis. Somalia is still a broken country, now the headquarters of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda, and actually has launched attacks in Uganda because of Uganda’s participation with the West. Is this the kind of means that this movement supports?
Are we prepared for the unintended consequences that might result, as in Somalia? Because nothing is ever simple, not in central Africa, and not when it comes to people holding guns.
So what means are we advocating here? Twitter? Advisors? Arming troops? Using US air support? Drones in the air? Putting Special Forces on the ground? Capturing him?
My point is this: don’t sign on to a movement without understanding both what that movement really wants, and how they intend to achieve it. The end that this movement advocates is so great, and like I said before, I hope that Kony is brought to justice. But while this kind of video and social media experiment is great at raising general awareness, it is painfully lacking in details and plan. No real strategy. No concrete definition of appropriate means to an end. No demonstrated understanding of how complex an issue, and a region, we are dealing with. To be honest, when I watch it, all I see is an extremely well-coordinated and well-intentioned social media effort to let people know that something very bad is happening in the world, and nothing more. And there are way too many videos like that out there nowadays.
It is the curse of our generation: young people with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to change the world, but fuzzy and undefined means on how to get that done. I feel like we are forever raising awareness, forever posting links on Facebook and Twitter…and yet the world still turns, and burns, all the while.
Yes, stop Joseph Kony. But how?
(PS: I am prepared to give a full and abject apology if Joseph Kony is captured and brought to justice as a consequence of the #STOPKONY movement. Here is another blogger with a similar and more detailed point of view.)