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/ March 12, 2012
Knee-Jerk Contrarianism And Kony 2012

Many ‘journalists’ are up in arms over last week’s release of Kony 2012, a viral video produced by an NGO called Invisible Children. The video, which has generated millions upon millions of views over the past few days, calls attention to the extremist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their brutal thug of a leader Joseph Kony.

No mention is made of Uganda’s tumultuous modern political history, the plight of the Acholi, Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirit Movement, the abundant misdeeds of Yoweri Museveni, regional politics, the obstacles the pursuit of justice has posed to attempts to foster a peace process, and a lot of other contextual details that help to explain the current state of affairs in Uganda and the rise of the LRA. So, the video is not very informative.

But let’s get something straight — As its (kind of annoying) narrator states very clearly, the trendy video was produced with two very simple, relatively benign objectives in mind: to raise the profile of a barbaric war criminal, and to ensure that 100 American military advisers remain in Uganda to provide support in the transnational hunt for Kony.

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But again, a large number of ‘journalists’ are just not having it. Kony 2012’s rising popularity has been marked by a general response low in self-criticism — Why exactly was it that one of the ICC’s most wanted war criminals remained a relatively obscure figure, while third-rate, demonstrably unelectable, Republican presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were transformed into household names across the globe? — and high in potshots at Invisible Children and “fact checking.”

Perhaps, reporters and bloggers feel threatened by the prospect of individual NGO’s creeping on their turf — After all, NGO’s, are, generally speaking, just supposed to be reported on, not seen or heard. Right?

Or maybe, they find the idea of a U.S. foreign policy guided by the recommendations of relatively small individual NGO’s along with masses of social media and internet users even more frightening than a foreign policy driven by extensive and well-oiled lobbying machines, collections of private firms that own large concentrations of financial and political capital, and idealistic notions of a monolithic, amoral, and real national interest.

Who knows?

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Anyway, many of the critiques of Kony 2012 follow two salient lines of argumentation. One entails Invisible Children’s alleged mismanagement of funds. The other focuses on the viral video itself — particularly, how its (practical) oversimplification of the whole LRA issue and popularization of Kony wrongly lures people into the trap of supporting U.S. interventionism.

So, first, does Invisible Children overspend on marketing and staff salaries? Not really. At least, their gross monetary mismanagement doesn’t seem to be causing them that much of a problem. It’s safe to say that Invisible Children has, now, been more successful at drawing attention to the issue of the LRA and it’s war crimes than any other competing NGO. Clearly their funding is going to some good use.

Perhaps it could do more on the “charitable ground-operations to rebuild Northern Uganda” front, but it seems fairly clear that reconstruction is low on Invisible Children’s list of priorities. Yes, it spends a lot more on marketing the issue than it does on charity, but that’s because Invisible Children isn’t really a charity at all. It’s an advocacy group, advocating for the administration of justice. It wants to see Kony brought to trial — and that’s just fine.

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Next, let’s deconstruct the more compelling second argument — This is how WSN puts it:

“As part of its campaign to rid the world of the menace that is Joseph Kony, Invisible Children advocates for American military intervention in Uganda. President Obama ordered the deployment of 100 American troops in October, but sending more soldiers to become embroiled in a conflict between the lunatic war criminal Kony and Ugandan President Museveni — who has been in power since 1986 and has abolished presidential term limits since  2006 — will escalate a cancerous situation.”

Not quite WSN, not quite.

According to this secret diplomatic cable from back in 2010, brought to us by Wikileaks, $4.4 million worth of U.S. logistical aid was actually very effective in empowering the Ugandan government to “systematically dismantle the LRA” and to “reduce LRA atrocities against civilian populations.”

In the body of the quite apparently off-the-record cable, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, characterizes continued U.S. logistical support as “critical” to finishing the greatly weakened Kony and his LRA off.

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Now, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing interventionism, but in doing so let’s distinguish between different types and degrees of intervention. What’s the extent of U.S. intervention advocated for in the video?

As mentioned above, the narrator clearly states that Invisible Children hopes to prevent the U.S. from withdrawing its 100 armed military advisers who are already stationed in Uganda.

Compare Invisible Children’s supposed ‘war cry’ with our recent bouts of intervention in Libya and pre-withdrawal Iraq; our active intervention in Afghanistan and post-withdrawal Iraq; and our, unfortunately, likely future intervention in Iran.

Where was WSN’s critique last week of war-hawks like Rick Santorum promoting massive airstrikes and all-out-war with Iran in the wake of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu? That’s real intervention.

And don’t forget about the ongoing campaigns in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia — countries with political circumstances no less complex than Uganda’s. There, we have, routinely and without any real semblance of due process, assassinated thousands of peopleincluding hundreds of civilians — with “precision” drone strikes.

Is there not something to be said about the distinction between this sort of intervention, and the sort of intervention advocated for by Invisible Children — namely, administrating justice through the ICC or another court, with, at least, some regard for a judicial process?

Juxtaposed with many of our current undertakings, the intervention being advocated for by Invisible Children appears remarkably nonintrusive. At this point, drawing our collective noninterventionist line at Invisible Children’s plea to maintain 100 military advisers — that weren’t planning on leaving anytime soon, anyway — in Uganda seems pretty arbitrary.

That doesn’t mean we should avoid scrutinizing our government and military’s involvement with the Ugandan government — that’s certainly more important than scrutinizing Kony 2012 or Invisible Children. It’s a shame that inquiry in regards to this particular issue really wasn’t that prevalent prior to Kony 2012.

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I’ll wrap up this long post by again saying that, yes, the video is uninformative, but at least this spectacular testament to the power of the internet has finally gotten people to discuss the LRA, Museveni, our involvement in Uganda, and even the ICC (a little).

Now that you’ve endured Invisible Children’s emotional primer, brace yourselves for a historical one. I recommend this very short and gruesome video as an intro to the history of Uganda and the rise of the LRA.

And here‘s a good followup with a healthy dose of criticism towards the ICC at the very end.

(Image via)