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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Dangerous Ignorance: The Hysteria of Kony 2012

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Tue, 20 Mar 2012 21:12:34 -0400

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Dangerous ignorance: The hysteria of Kony 2012 

The video qualifies as irresponsible advocacy by prompting
militarisation and detracting from Uganda's real problems.

By Adam Branch
aljazeera
March 12, 2012

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/201231284336601364.html

(To see the video this essay is based on, go to 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc - ps moderator)

Kampala, Uganda - From Kampala, the Kony 2012 hysteria was
easy to miss. I'm not on Facebook or Twitter. I don't watch
YouTube and the Ugandan papers didn't pick up the story for
several days. But what I could not avoid were the hundreds of
emails from friends, colleagues, and students in the US about
the video by Invisible Children and the massive online
response to it.

I have not watched the video. As someone who has worked in
northern Uganda and researched the war there for more than a
decade, much of it with a local human rights organisation
based in Gulu, the Invisible Children organisation and their
videos have often left me infuriated - I remember the
sleepless nights after I watched their "Rough Cut" film for
the first time with a group of students, after which I tried
to explain to the audience what was wrong with the film while
on stage with one of the filmmakers.

My frustration with the group has largely reflected the
concerns expressed so convincingly by those online critics
who have been willing to bring the fury of Invisible
Children's true believers down upon themselves in order to
point out what is wrong with this group's approach: the
warmongering, the narcissism, the commercialisation, the
reductive and one-sided story they tell, their portrayal of
Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white
Americans.

As a result of Invisible Children's irresponsible advocacy,
civilians in Uganda and central Africa may have to pay a
steep price in their own lives so that a lot of young
Americans can feel good about themselves, and a few can make
good money. This, of course, is sickening, and I think that
Kony 2012 is a case of Invisible Children having finally gone
too far. They are now facing a backlash from people of
conscience who refuse to abandon their capacity to think for
themselves.

But, as I said, I wouldn't have known about Kony 2012 if it
hadn't been for the emails I've been receiving from the US.
And that, I think, is telling. Kony 2012 and the debate
around it are not about Uganda, but about America. Uganda is
largely just the stage for a debate over the meaning of
political activism in the US today. Likewise, in my view, the
Kony 2012 campaign itself is basically irrelevant here in
Uganda, and perhaps the best approach might be to just ignore
it. This is for a couple reasons.

First, because Invisible Children's campaign is a symptom,
not a cause. It is an excuse that the US government has
gladly adopted in order to help justify the expansion of
their military presence in central Africa. Invisible Children
are "useful idiots", being used by those in the US government
who seek to militarise Africa, to send more and more weapons
and military aid, and to bolster the power of states who are
US allies.

The hunt for Joseph Kony is the perfect excuse for this
strategy - how often does the US government find millions of
young Americans pleading that they intervene militarily in a
place rich in oil and other resources? The US government
would be pursuing this militarisation with or without
Invisible Children - Kony 2012 just makes it a little easier.
Therefore, it is the militarisation we need to worry about,
not Invisible Children.

Second, because in northern Uganda, people's lives will be
left untouched by this campaign, even if it were to achieve
its stated objectives. This is not because all the problems
have been resolved in the years since open fighting ended,
but because the very serious problems people face today have
little to do with Kony.

 Inside Story - 'Kony 2012': The future of activism

The most significant problem people face is over land. Land
speculators and so-called investors, many foreign, in
collaboration with the Ugandan government and military, are
grabbing the land of the Acholi people, land that the Acholi
were forced from a decade ago, when the government herded
them into internment camps.

Another serious problem is so-called "nodding disease" - a
deadly illness that has broken out among thousands of
children who had the bad luck to be born and grown in the
camps, subsisting on relief aid. Indeed, the problems people
face today are the legacy of the camps, where more than a
million Acholi were forced to live, and die - for years - by
their own government as part of a counterinsurgency that
received essential support from the US government and from
international aid agencies.

Which brings up the question that I am constantly asked in
the US: "What can we do?", where "we" tends to mean
relatively privileged US citizens. In response, I have a few
proposals:

The first, perhaps not surprising from a professor, is to
learn. The conflict in northern Uganda and central Africa is
complicated, but not impossible to understand. For several
years, I have taught an undergraduate class on the conflict,
and although it takes some time and effort, the students end
up being well informed and able to come to their own opinions
about what can be done. (I am more than happy to share the
syllabus with anyone interested!)

In terms of activism, the first step is to re-think the
question: Instead of asking how the US can intervene in order
to solve Africa's conflicts, we need to ask what we are
already doing to cause those conflicts in the first place.
How are we, as consumers, contributing to land grabbing and
to the wars ravaging this region? How are we, as US citizens,
allowing our government to militarise Africa in the name of
the "War on Terror" and its effort to secure oil resources?

These are the questions that we who represent Kony 2012's
target audience must ask ourselves, because we are indeed
responsible for the conflict in northern Uganda - responsible
for helping to cause and prolong it. It is not, however, our
responsibility, as Invisible Children encourages us to
believe, to try to end the conflict by sending in military
force. In our desire to ameliorate suffering, we must not be
complicit in making it worse.

Adam Branch is senior research fellow at the Makerere
Institute of Social Research, Uganda, and assistant professor
of political science at San Diego State University, US. He is
the author of Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention
in Northern Uganda.

[Adam Branch is senior research fellow at the Makerere
Institute of Social Research, Uganda, and assistant professor
of political science at San Diego State University, USA. He
is the author of Displacing Human Rights: War and
Intervention in Northern Uganda.]

A version of this article first appeared on the CIHA Blog at
UC Irvine.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and
do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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