According to everyone, I am supposed to be shocked to the point of wanting my country to take action after watching Kony 2012, which as you know is a documentary highlighting the brutality of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and the havoc he has caused in and around Uganda.
Kony and the LRA are infamous for kidnapping and enlisting children in their cause, which involves soldiering, murder, and sexual slavery. Although the documentary is 30 minutes long and thus dozens of times lengthier than the average American’s attention span, it has managed to go viral — a status typically reserved for videos featuring cats playing keyboards and Soviet yodelers. Produced by the NGO Invisible Children, Kony 2012 has garnered over 70 million views on YouTube and everyone is talking about it, making it the Linsanity of child slavery documentaries.
Let’s acknowledge that Kony is a Christian fundamentalist psychopath, like a Ugandan Rick Santorum on PCP. He has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court and his LRA has engaged in mass murder, kidnapping, rape, and torture. Kony 2012 highlights these atrocities, but ignores or distorts some important facts about the LRA, such as its size, motivations, and geopolitical status (For that story, see Halanei Somar’s excellent summary).
On the whole, Kony 2012 is a good thing because it has raised awareness, however superficial it may be. If the documentary has taught us anything, other than that Joseph Kony is one of worst people on the planet, it’s that many people have no idea what’s going on in the world. After all, those who keep up on world events are likely already acquainted with the LRA. The level of outrage prompted by Kony 2012 is curious not because Kony isn’t outrageous, but because there is a certain ignorance and arbitrariness about it when you consider the violence being perpetrated by similarly heinous, but largely unknown, groups around the globe.
Although the documentary claims that grassroots pressure on Congress ultimately led to the deployment of 100 U.S. military advisers to Uganda in 2011, the most likely reason is that the U.S. was rewarding the Ugandan government for its commitment to fight al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Somalia. For his part, Ugandan president and U.S. ally Yoweri Museveni has served as leader for 26 years, repeatedly winning elections that outside observers and even the Supreme Court of Uganda have said were marred by fraud.
Like almost everyone, the makers of Kony 2012 understandably want Kony brought to justice because he is a monster with a vast and horrifying rap sheet. In the film, the reaction to the deployment of the American military advisers is one of elation because the U.S. was taking action in this case “not for self-defense, but because it was right.” Indeed, Kony 2012 leaves viewers with the impression that the filmmakers would welcome additional U.S. military deployments in the country.
But Kony has proven elusive, and it is unclear what the cost in lives and money would be to pursue him until he is captured or killed and his LRA is dismantled. As much as I would like to see Kony in a dock in The Hague (or his head on a pike in downtown Kampala), there are other ways the U.S. can help foster human rights around the world without deploying military forces.
Chief among these is by withholding support from oppressive governments. The U.S. is currently providing aid and assistance to leaders in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and elsewhere, who serve American interests at the expense of democracy and human rights their countries. Instead of deploying military forces to stop bad people around the world, perhaps it would be better to first make sure that we aren’t supporting any of them.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons