If you’re on the internet, and you are, you’ve likely already seen the brand new viral video, Kony2012, from the non-profit Invisible Children. It’s gotten over 50 million views on vimeo and youtube since Monday!
I first delved into the disturbing subject of African child soldiers in 2010 when I devoured What is the What. The book chronicles the life of young Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as told in the impeccable writing style of Dave Eggers. I was struck throughout the tale by the immense capacity for human suffering and survival and the potential for hope even after such inexplicable atrocities. (Read it!)
I watched the 29-minute video yesterday, along with millions of other YouTubers worldwide. It is extremely well-crafted, moving, intense and inspiring… and, like all documentaries, edited and stilted to reach the filmmakers’ goals. In my eighth grade classroom, we’re right in the middle of a unit on social justice, so I immediately thought of showing it to my students…when we have time, in a couple weeks. Of course, tech-savvy teens that they are, this morning when I arrived at school there was a handmade Kony2012 flier stuck to my classroom door and my usually-unmotivated advisory students begged me to play the video. They were silent and somber as we watched. When it was over, I asked, “Will getting rid of Joseph Kony solve the problem?” “No,” they knew. “Is it a good start?” “Yes!”
Unfortunately, curing this massive wound in central Africa is not going to be easy, and it’s going to take more than posturing and postering. Predictably, there’s already a slew of articles and blog posts such as this one that slander the strategy of Invisible Children, claiming, among other things, that supporting their campaign means supporting the Ugandan Army, which also uses corrupt tactics and forces children to become murderous soldiers. Surely an organization that has been working on the ground for almost ten years in the region wouldn’t do that, right? (Not if they’re employing right intention, anyway.)
Here are a couple of key quotes from a November 2011 article, Obama Takes on the LRA: Why Washington Sent Troops to Central Africa:
“The violence in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan has been the most devastating — anywhere in the world — since the mid-1990s. Even conservative estimates place the death toll in the millions. And the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.”
“Until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace.”
I admire the awareness-raising video of Invisible Children’s Kony2012 campaign. I like anything that gets my students (who happen to be wealthy, privileged Guatemalans, in a country with its own share of corruption and genocide) truly pumped for social justice, and this IS. If it’s getting millions of people to learn and care about the plight of central Africans, that’s a step in the direction of success, a movement toward truth, justice and peace. But social justice is not simply thinking or talking or posting things online — incendiary or not. It is this: Kony getting arrested, going to international trial for crimes against humanity and being convicted and duly punished.
Let’s not jump to easy or inaccurate conclusions in this complex, horrifying situation.
As one astute blogger writes,
So, instead of continuing to debate the strengths and weakness of the Kony2012 video, or attack Invisible Children for their lack of financial transparency, let’s figure out how to turn this momentum into a constructive opportunity that can result in smart policies that will have a positive, real-time impact in the affected areas of central Africa. Let’s harness this energy and turn it into something productive that ensures we’re telling the right stories, inspiring well-informed advocacy, and working together across governments, academia, grassroots activists, and local populations to help bring this chapter of the LRA — and the impact in affected areas — to a close.