Retweets do not stop war crimes

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Photo by Chris Shultz

I shall begin by attempting to stifle some of the criticism I will no doubt receive for this piece. This article shall discuss the ‘Stop Kony’ campaign which has recently emerged, and highlight some of the concerns I have with it. I feel it necessary to first reassure readers that I do not support Joseph Kony or the Lord’s Resistance Army. Despite some wildly exaggerated claims within the ‘Invisible Children’ documentary itself, I do support their general mantra of bringing down Joseph Kony, and I look forward to the day that his operations in central Africa have ended.

The methods being discussed to achieve this, however, are something I have issues with. Ignoring the echoes of colonialism throughout the piece, within the 30-minute documentary the charity outlines some of its work in Uganda, namely the rebuilding of schools and the creation of jobs, work which is carried out by countless other charities in Africa and beyond, charities which interestingly have not been shared and tweeted throughout my news feeds. The unique aspect of the charity is its commitment to ‘Stop Kony’. Note that the word they use is not ‘arrest’ or ‘capture’, but ‘stop’. Thus we may infer that ‘Invisible Children’ are advocating, if capture is not possible, the assassination of Kony. This can be evidenced through their funding of the Ugandan National Army and persuading of US policy-makers to send American advisors to help them in a ‘kill or capture’ mission. Such a policy is not one which I personally would support, and one which advocates of ‘Invisible Children’ should consider before they back the charities agenda.

We must also point to a degree of hypocrisy within the charity. In its bid to ‘Stop Kony’, the charity is funding and aiding the Ugandan National Army. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC as shown in the documentary itself, announced in 2010 that he would be investigating allegations of crimes against humanity by the Ugandan Army. The claims can be stretched further, with the U.N. Undersecretary for Children, Olara Otunnu, arguing that the Ugandan Army ‘is equally culpable for crimes against humanity and war crimes like their enemy, the LRA’. Is this the type of group we should be funding? The ‘Stop Kony’ campaign has certainly enlightened the public about one side of the conflict. But perhaps people should look at why the Ugandans and other central African countries have been unable to solve the problem themselves? Resources? Technology? With over 5,000 Ugandan troops abroad fighting in Somalia, maybe they aren’t treating the situation seriously, so why should we? Shouldn’t all their resources be turned towards this local threat? But, I wonder, how many will take it upon themselves to learn about the many different facets of this conflict, or just presume a 30-minute promotional video will tell them all there is to know? How can people hope to end this conflict if they don’t even understand it? Even more unsettling is that according to Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Yoweri Museveni [the President of Uganda] was the first to use child soldiers in this conflict, asking questions of who we should really be helping in this conflict.

The criticism of the charity itself I shall leave for now. For more information please visit http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-trouble. However, the argument labeled against some of my concerns falls along the lines of ‘I support the campaign, not the charity’. Clicking ‘Share’ or retweeting the video will not help bring about the downfall of Kony. Awareness does not lead indisputably to action. The majority of people who have helped spread the message, whether in a week or a month, will soon push the issue to the back of their minds. It is only natural. Sure, the next time a news report focusses on the LRA, viewers will take that bit more interest, and be that bit more informed about the conflict. But they will be no closer to stopping it.

Joseph Kony is a despicable man who has carried out despicable crimes. The kidnapping or death of any innocent, be that at the hand of Kony, or due to starvation, drought or AIDS is a travesty of which the world should be ashamed. If Kony is captured or killed in the next few weeks, then likely this article will be ridiculed and I’ll be met with cries of ‘see, it did make a difference!’. I have expressed my reservations, but I truly hope the work of ‘Invisible Children’ or another organization does bring about the Kony’s downfall. Will his death mean the end of the LRA? Again, I’m not convinced about this either, but is an issue for another author. But I equally hope that, if the campaign works, the world does not fall back into its slumber. As much as people have got behind the ‘Stop Kony’ campaign I hope they will get behind another major issue, such as ‘Stop Famine’, or ‘Stop AIDS’. And maybe then I’ll be convinced that an idle retweet has the power to change the world.

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2 Comments

  1. Speedy and apt response, well done that man.

  2. I think it’s only fair that after reading this article and hearing the questions that Liam rightfully asks of InvisibleChildren as an organisation, you read this: http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html, which is basically a response to the criticism that the Kony 2012 has received so far.

    As much as I can understand the sceptical opinion on whether a retweet is going to change the world, I think that there is far too much pessimism surrounding the issue itself. I think for a vast majority, your criticism on letting is slip to the back of their minds is spot on. There is far too much distraction in this day and age for people to focus on one event that they only know so much about.

    However, I do think that there are people who will act, myself being one of them. It might not be a matter of thousands of people marching on government, but it might lead a few people to explore the issue in Uganda more, donate to the KONY campaign or even search around for other suited charities, both of which I have done.

    We’re not suddenly going to become ‘good’ people, but I think the willingness of people to spread and make a momentarily (albeit misinformed) stand against Kony shows that there is still an aligned moral compass somewhere in all of us.

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