by Ryan Stevens
Social media has recently played a crucial role internationally in political and social mobilization. Perhaps one of the most prevalent and current examples is the Internet sensation behind the movement known as Kony 2012. In a 30-minute video, a man named Jason Russell describes a situation in Uganda, where a terrorist organization known as the Lord’s Resistance Army has been kidnapping children from their homes and using them as child soldiers. The head of this terrorist organization, Joseph Kony, is high on the national criminals list and uses the children in his army to slaughter innocent civilians.
In the online video that has gone viral since its creation, Russell uses emotional images and scenes from his own trips to Uganda to explain the situation and has set up a challenge to the American people to make Kony famous. The idea is that by targeting socially influential people (like movie stars and singers), as well as specific political figures, that Kony’s fame will lead to a unanimous cry for justice, and force the U.S. government to take action through military and financial aid.
While on the surface level the cause seems unquestionably straightforward, it comes with numerous legitimate concerns. The first is that many of the advocates for U.S. involvement are those who have also rejected the military involvement in the Middle East. The obvious difference being that the Kony movement is strictly humanitarian in nature. What still comes to mind is the issue of cost. Though it would be substantially less expensive to deploy military aid to Uganda in order to locate and capture Joseph Kony, the fact remains that it would still be expensive. This money would not be promoting American jobs or reviving a declining economy, but would be spent on foreign warfare.
An even bigger issue than cost however, is the strategy of the movement. A group of Ugandan people, upon viewing the highly sensationalistic video, were outraged at Russell’s portrayal of the conflict. In an article in Aljazeera, an online news organization, writer Malcolm Webb witnessed a showing of the video to Ugandans, and recorded their responses. Webb said that the overall feeling was animosity, saying that the people directly linked with the conflict felt it was “a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialized their suffering.”
The video aims to make Kony famous, begging the question: then what?
Many feel that simply making Kony widely known is ineffective. It portrays Ugandan people as helpless bystanders, with a little degree of suffering, and in need of the “U.S. World Police” to save them. At the end of the viewing in Uganda, Webb noted that “while the film has a viral power never seen before in the online community, it did not go down nearly so well with the very people it claims it is meant to help.” Kony’s actions have been happening for almost 30 years, and it is only now, after a video online aimed at emotional decision-making, does the American public show interest. The campaign focuses on hanging posters of Kony on city buildings and around towns and buying bracelets to help raise awareness, but does not emphasize the need for financial donations or political actions. While letters have been sent to local politicians, no formal Political Action Committee has been formed or advocated. The practicality of the approach is limited.
Furthermore, Jason Russell, the main representative of the movement and creator of the viral video, was recently detained due to indecent public exposure and vandalizing cars. According to the San Diego Police Department, Russell was intoxicated in public. While the incident is extremely personal, it reflects poorly on the organization Russell advocates for, and shines a questionable light on his character and the cause he represents. I agree that Kony should be stopped, even despite the financial cost it may require from the U.S. I do not, however, think that the current method of combating this particular crisis is effective, nor respectful to a nation that feels it does not need us to force our assistance on them. While the motivations behind the cause are undoubtedly noble, there are several concerns that need to be addressed before any action is taken.
Stevens is a sophomore majoring in English and French. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.