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8th March 2012

KONY – a can of worms

So the world has woken up today with a new, unfamiliar name on it’s lips : Kony. In what has to be one of the most startling marketing campaigns in history, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions by now) of people have suddenly learnt the name Kony – but it’s not some new product or soft drink or gadget (although in other news, the new iPad was announced overnight as well) – Joseph Kony is a depraved rebel leader who has killed, abducted, and abused thousands of people, especially children, in rural Uganda and surrounding countries.

If you’ve somehow missed it, here’s the brilliant video that is circulating regarding Kony, and the campaign to stop him :

YouTube Preview Image

Now I have a confession to make – unlike most of the world I knew about Kony before yesterday. I’ve known about him since the first time we went to Uganda in 2006. Kony was a constant topic of conversation around Kampala, and was often front page news. But I’m not bragging about being in the know, since I didn’t do anything about it – I didn’t talk about him on facebook or blog about it (except a brief mention here) or write to the government or anything. To be fair though, what’s one lone Australian guy to do? But this time it’s different – where one person can’t make any difference, maybe millions can?

I find this Kony campaign interesting in a couple of ways.

1. Firstly, it shows what a strange new world we live in – the power of social media. We’ve already seen this in some of the recent uprisings in Arab nations, but I don’t think a full scale mobilisation of this sort has taken place in the West. Amazing how in the space of less than 24 hours, suddenly everyone is talking about a story that has been ignored for over 20 years, and with still very little coverage in the mainstream media.

2. Secondly, although I deplore Kony and would be overjoyed to see him brought to justice, I’m still not sure what the specific goals of this campaign are. Is it just to maintain awareness of Kony so the US Govt will maintain it’s limited assistance to Uganda? (assistance that has so far been very unfruitful over a number of years), or is it ultimately to the the US Govt to commit even more resources to the hunt for Kony?

In the middle of all that, what do we as Australians (and other non-US citizens around the world) hope to achieve by being part of this? I’m happy to share this story, sign their petition, maybe even wear a shirt and post some stickers around – I think it’s long overdue that it is brought to the world’s attention – but I don’t know what more can be done from an Aussie perspective. Will writing to our local parliamentarian or foreign minister (I wouldn’t even bother with our useless PM) make any difference? What practical steps do we hope to gain from that kind of action here?

Also, it’s unusual for such a big grassroots movement like this that this is anything but a pacifist campaign – we are used to things like “save the rainforest” “feed the children” “forgive the debt” “free Aung San Su Kyi” etc which all have peaceful aims. This campaign is specifically designed to bolster a military presence to capture Joseph Kony (although many would also be happy with seeing him dead, in my opinion he should be caught alive and brought to answer for his crimes). But would catching Kony be enough to stop the LRA? Who’s to say another leader wouldn’t rise up in his place and the crimes continue? Perhaps in calling to remove Kony we are really calling for a full scale military intervention to defeat the LRA? Would the US Govt have the stomach to send it’s soldiers into one of the toughest areas of the world?

And then, if Kony is captured, and the LRA is defeated, what about other evil warlords in neighbouring Congo? We hear about the LRA and Kony and the invisible children in part because Uganda is a relatively safe and accessible country where westerners (like me) can visit and hear and bring back stories like this. The DRC is a much more inhospitable and dangerous place to visit, so even though similar or worse atrocities are happening there, it is even further under our western media radar. Would it be fair to defeat Kony and then send all the soliders home, while the carnage continues in Congo? And if you were to commit troops to Congo, well that’s a quagmire far bigger than Iraq or Vietnam…. (think Equatorial Kundu, any West Wing fans out there)

So you can see this whole Kony thing potentially opens a big geo-political can of worms. I’m not saying I’m against it – in fact I’m in favour of stopping Kony (especially because I have a personal connection to Uganda) and any other similar war-criminal – but I just think we don’t know where this could lead…  Most likely, nowhere much. Obama will do the safe political thing and just maintain a minimal effort to stopping Kony. Eventually they will get him, we will all celebrate and the troops will go home, whilst the inhuman crimes in the deepest parts of Africa continue to be ignored by most of the world. Anything more will require some kind of ‘new world order’ that I doubt we are ready for just yet.

As is always the case in Africa, there are no simple solutions…


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Categories : Africa, Uganda | 0 Comments