If you haven’t heard of Joseph Kony given the recent social media storm over him then you’re probably living under a rock or are still using AOL discs to dial up to the internet. In either case, I admire your dedication to checking this site given the evident technical difficulties. All jokes aside, if you at least want to know why people are talking about Joseph Kony, then check out the website for the Invisible Children organization and watch the video there. While I have concerns about the video and the nature of the information that is out there, at the very least you’ll know why people are dedicated to stopping Kony, although the video is kind of empty on facts or context (more on that later).
Or you could just listen to my interpretation of the facts. Joseph Kony is a bad guy. He’s the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a transnational military-political group that operates across central Africa (including Uganda, and South Sudan) and uses brutality to pursue ends that aren’t quite clear to outsiders. They claim, however, to be a theocratic government wishing to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments in the region. The irony in this very claim is the fact that they use extreme acts of violence in pursuit of this “end,” including mass murders, mutilation, enslavement and sexual enslavement, and the use of child soldiers, which form the bulk of their military force.
The #StopKony2012 movement described in the video doesn’t quite get into these details the way I think they should. You want to inform folks? Inform them of everything. The background and the nature of the situation is important. All we get from the video is that Kony is a bad guy who uses child soldiers. Surely this is enough to wish hell upon a man, but it is the duty of the informed to be FULLY informed and not buy and sell this kind of “TV-dinner” information so easily digestible in quick YouTube videos. But still, what is the Stop Kony movement really asking?
Beyond humanitarian aid and military advising to counter-LRA forces, which they have done amazing jobs at, the folks at Invisible Children and a good number of the people they are so incompletely informing are advocating military force leading to Joseph Kony’s arrest as the number one criminal in the world. And this is the sole reason why I can’t come close to supporting this movement. Not only is this goal unrealistic and unlikely to actually help the situation at all, it is misguided and potentially very destructive. I’ll explain why.
First, look at that picture above. Notice how the very second name on the list belongs to a guy also from Uganda? That’s his second in command. In fact, five folks on the International Criminal Court’s list are the leaders of the LRA. Actually…the very first five warrants issued were leaders of the LRA. Arresting or killing Kony seems like a very tempting option, but do you really think removing him alone will stop the path to genocide that is the Lord’s Resistance Army? Even if you kill or arrest ALL of the members of the organization on the list…how are we guaranteed that other more brutal leaders won’t spring forward?
Which leads us to the question of how would we actually would accomplish such a feat anyways. Despite Invisible Children’s ardent claims to the contrary, there have been a few multilateral serious efforts to kill Kony. In 2006, the United States and the UN sent a squad of elite commandos into the jungle in the Congo with the mission to kill Kony. They were massacred (and the squad leader decapitated), with estimates of UN casualties at up to 40 people and estimates of LRA casualties at five. In addition to the huge losses, the LRA gained access to valuable and deadly munitions such as grenade launchers from the soldiers’ bodies. We were a bit more successful in the Garamba Offensive, where we used air superiority to decimate LRA bases, but were stopped by logistic issues and the beaten-back LRA’s contingency plans of the mass slaughter of civilians.
It’s damn near impossible to send in covert forces that could kidnap or assassinate Kony quietly given the area. Medium-scale assaults without long-term support plans haven’t worked either. The best shot to get Kony out of there would be a long-term assault by a multilateral coordinated force a la Afghanistan. I can’t understand how you could even advocate for this path when you acknowledge the fact that a good portion of Kony’s forces are child soldiers. It seems so hypocritical to advocate killing a man for using child soldiers when that very path would send perhaps thousands of those soldiers and more unwilling adult soldiers to their deaths. Also, history shows that we have been pretty awful at these kind of assaults, from the aforementioned Afghanistan to Vietnam. And when we try to intervene in Africa…we tend to make things a lot worse (see Mogadishu). I don’t see how a group of people who seem so smart and global and tout their Western sensibilities could be so short-sighted.
For me it really is boiling down to a 2012 social media version of the Western/White man’s guilt. We get so outraged at heinous actions (as we should) and in addition we also feel guilty for simply being born in a place where this doesn’t happen. But the guilt drives us. We want to immediately solve everything so that we don’t have to face the fact that we are as a people, historically liable for a lot of the wrongs in the world. So we rush to find “solutions” that seem to hold weight viscerally but aren’t really thought out and don’t fit at all the true needs of the people there. No offense to the Invisible Children group….even in the wake of allegations of shady business practices, I think that they are genuinely well-intentioned. But you know what they say about the road to hell. A lot of the colonialists in Africa that laid the foundations for the wars fought there today were well-intentioned (although many were bad). It was their imposition of violent solutions that helped cause a lot of the ills that beset the center of the continent. And we have to be careful that in our outrage and shock that we don’t let guilt force us into paternalism and hasty actions.
I’m not sure what the proper course of action is to Stop Kony….or more importantly, stop the path to destruction that parts of Central Africa is on… in a constructive manner. But I’m certain that it won’t involve the things we’re talking about. I’m also certain that it won’t take place all at once in 2012 as the Invisible Children group so hopes. There is something to be said though about actually empowering the people of Africa to fight (physically and metaphorically) rather than going in and imposing our force on them and trying leaders in Western courts. There is also the concern that I’m not sure that you can truly promote peace as the Stop Kony movement wishes to do, with more violence. I think it means something that the biggest blow to the Lord’s Resistance Army as of late has not been a battle or an act of war, but the secession of South Sudan, which splintered the LRA and removed it from Sudanese allies. I’m not sure….and what Invisible Children is doing is certainly noble, and of course spreading knowledge is a great goal. But let’s really think about what we want to do here.