Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kony2012: More thoughts

Greetings from Hawassa!

We have been mulling here in Hawassa and by email with friends the meaning and impact of the Kony 2012 and Invisible Children phenomena. We have received a little more information about Jason Russell and it has helped to flesh out the character and perhaps the intent of the film and the crusade. 
  1. The Kony2012 campaign was not factually based.
  • Joseph Kony years ago moved from Uganda to Democratic Republic of Congo where he has only a few hundred followers. He is no longer a threat to the people of Northern Uganda (though he, like many other violent militias, is a threat to the people of DRC).
  • The “victory” proclaimed by the film of the sending of 100 advisers by President Obama to Uganda was misplaced, since by international law neither the Ugandan Army nor these advisers have jurisdiction in DRC.
  • In the DRC, Kony's is one of multiple militias killing, raping and looting a wealth of gold, diamonds and coltan (for our cellphones) which they are providing to western multinationals, with the particular involvement of Uganda and Rwanda.
  • The film, which calls for the capture of Kony for his human rights abuses, never mentions the widespread human rights abuses committed by the Ugandan Army in its anti-Lords Resisstance Army (Kony's group) campaign against the very same people victimized by Kony (giving some indication of the complexity of a campaign to capture Kony.)
  1. Millions of dollars given to the Kony2012 campaign has never been accounted for.
  2. The Kony2012 campaign seems to demand military intervention, presumably in Uganda or DRC, which would mean further violence (and inevitable mean civilian deaths) and a US military presence in Central Africa. The mineral wealth of Africa – not just that in DRC, but oil discoveries made in the last decade throughout the continent – has not escaped the interest of US multinationals, but because of lack of security in many of the regions of interest, military intervention will most likely be necessary to extract these riches. Desire for a military presence is evidenced by the US plans for establishing Africom (like Centcom in the Middle East) to oversee military actions on the continent. Yet an American military presence in Africa is not something that either most Africans or most Americans desire. But the “human rights” cover given by the Kony2012 campaign dovetails with those designs.
  3. It smacked of racism. The Africans presented in the film were either victims or mad men with guns. The problem of Kony thus demands American saviors. Africans are without agency (except as murderers) and cannot be relied on to take care of business in their own countries.
  4. There are real, pressing issues of international peace and justice that Americans have much more control and responsibility for: over a hundred thousand civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan resulting from our ongoing wars and occupations. Kony2012 diverts youthful anger and idealism from the actions taken by a military that American youth actually pay for through taxes and, theoretically, direct through the democratic process. It spends precious youthful energy on something that doesn't make much sense and could do very real harm for Africans.
This all bears repeating. Nothing has refuted it since we wrote it.
But since then we have learned that
      1. Ugandans are angry about the film's seeming plan to meddle with and disrupt their region, which is now pea ceful and rebuilding.
      2. Jason Russell and Invisible Children are linked to the religious right-wing through funding by viciously anti-gay Christian fundamentalist backers, including those that have supported the proposed anti-gay death penalty law in Uganda.
      3. Jason Russell was showcased (along with the young man who hooked up Chuck Norris with Mike Huckabee) last November at Liberty University (the late Jerry Falwell's school) declaring his fundamentalist beliefs and providing a model for Liberty students who want to “do something”, in his case stating that he was fighting against “genocide” in the Kony2012 campaign.
This may not be news to others but it was to us. And it has helped us understand the campaign a little better but also provoked important questions about the source of the campaign and the direction it is going.
First, it made us realize that this was prompted and probably seen by its creators as Christian missionizing, something that has an, at-best, duel character in Africa and around the world. Missionaries are frequently motivated at least in part by genuine compassion and concern for victims of poverty, violence and disease. And that is admirable and can be very inspiring. However, there are also selfish goals involved: the hegemonic saving of souls for one's sect, the self-serving aggrandizement resulting from redeeming the missionized, and the potential for raising money for one's efforts. Rarely does it involve thorough investigation of the situation and culture of those whose souls are being saved or who are being helped, because subsumed in the other goals is that of transforming the culture that is being missionized into that of the missionary. 
Elliot has written a bit about the African missionaries he has encountered and has captured both the irony and the actual good deeds of the various players in Northern Kenya where he has worked for many years.
But there is another role that missionaries have played on the global stage and that is, consciously or not, to accompany political, economic and military power from the West into the host country. We fear that even though Jason Russell's own goals may be (mostly) pure – or not – it looks as though he may be accomplishing most of the nasty results of more than a few Christian missionaries throughout history.

Bringing in the military, ignoring the facts and local people's own agenda, taking the money, refocusing attention from real issues of inequality, poverty and violence promoted by our country, perhaps encouraging the plunder of African resources. Hmmmm...

And the religious hegemony thing. The recent results of American fundamentalist meddling in Ugandan Christianity has led to the proposal of the death penalty for gay men. We don't know how much Jason Russell and Invisible Children have bought into this aspect of the fundamentalist agenda for the region, but it is a question that should be asked.
A wonderful friend in the States who teaches high school to mainly poor and working class Latino and white kids wrote asking our thoughts. Her students, for the first time, are looking at maps and asking questions about Africa because they are caught up in the Kony2012 thing. Her own critique of Kony2012 is negative, but she is so thrilled by their interest that she is not sure how to approach it.
Good question. Right on, interest in Africa! But real interest, investigating the culture, history, expressed needs, diversity, hopes, politics, economics, all of it of Africans, not the imposition of our own agenda.
We agree with Jason Russell: we can make a difference, but not the difference that benefits us or Christian fundamentalism or the US government and multinationals. It must be a partnership, not a crusade.

There have been political ironies attached to Kony2012 that are interesting to think about. The first we noticed was the film's agenda to turn Kony into the International Criminal Court, which has indicted him. Ironic because the ICC is anathema to the right-wing in the US and has not been supported by the government because it would hamper our human rights violations. Though we believe there are deep right-wing ties to Invisible Children, it doesn't look like every aspect of the campaign was coordinated.

Second is the history of Kony and the roots of the LRA which combined Christian Fundamentalism and African mystical beliefs. This movement started in 1988 when an Acholi woman named Alice Lakwena established the Holy Spirit Movement, which she says was based on messages to her from the 'Holy Spirit of God'. She said the Acholi people of northern Uganda could defeat the government of Yoweri Museveni if they abandoned their traditional religion and followed her cult; she said her followers would be immune from bullets if they put shea nut oil on their bodies. Kony was a rebel militia leader who joined the Holy Spirit Movement, claiming he was Alice's cousin; he transformed it into the LRA. Kony claimed he too was possessed by spirit and could use witchcraft against his enemies. He also advocated making a cross from oil on one's chest to protect from bullets. It is a bit ironic that American fundamentalists choose to castigate Kony as something wildly different from themselves.

Marty and Elliot 


  1. I, too, just read an account of the villagers reaction to the film on Aljazeera -

    Even though I don't know as much as you and Elliot about the events, the little I do know and read, I tend to wholeheartedly agree with you.

    As usual, everything we see in the media is sometimes not as it seems (of course we knew this already!).

    Thanks for posting your views and facts on the subject. And also for sharing Ethiopia with us.

    Much love,


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response.