If you have been on the internet in the last 48 hours (you have), you've probably heard something about "Kony 2012," a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of Ugandan guerilla leader and war criminal Joseph Kony. And if you're anything like me, you've probably avoided thinking about it too much. But the time has come to form an opinion. And we're here to help. Below, all the opinions it's possible to have about Joseph Kony and Invisible Children's campaign to stop him.
Opinion 1: Joseph Kony is a horrible human being and war criminal
Who believes this: everyone, basically, except Rush Limbaugh and, we assume, Joseph Kony.
What it entails: There's almost no dispute that Kony is a very bad dude. As the head of the Lord's Resistance Army, a violent syncretic Christian guerilla group, he's conscripted somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 children to fight as soldiers over the last 20-plus years, and his army committed unbelievable atrocities in northern Uganda before being forced out of the country. He's now believed to be in the Central African Republic — on the run from the Ugandan army — where (a greatly reduced) LRA continues to inflict harm and sow chaos.
The problem with this opinion: Actually, there's no problem with the opinion that Joseph Kony sucks. The problem is figuring out the next step: given that Joseph Kony sucks, what's the best thing that the U.S. can do to help Ugandans and other Africans affected by him?
Opinion 2: the U.S. military should intervene to find and arrest Kony
Who believes this: Invisible Children, the charity behind the "Kony 2012" campaign
What it entails: Currently, there are 100 military advisors deployed to Uganda to assist the country's army in hunting down Kony. Invisible Children, a charity that's been agitating around the issue of child soldiers and the LRA through totally hip/cool/gnarly/extreme filmmaking and social media campaigns, appears to believe that the U.S. government is wavering on its commitment to the mission. Kony 2012, with its, you guessed it, 30-minute film and extensive social-media component, is designed to not just raise awareness about Kony — to "make him famous" — but also to ensure that the government knows that "people care about Kony." Not, like, his mom, or whatever — care about capturing him.
The problem with this opinion: Well, it's at best a gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation, and, at worst, an actively unhelpful misuse of resources and attention. Also, guys, that video? Was there not a black kid available?
Opinion 3: the U.S. military should not intervene
Who believes this: Writers in Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs
What it entails: Not only are U.S. troops deployed in Uganda right now, but the U.S. military has assisted with operations to capture — or, failing that, kill — Kony in the past. They've never succeeded (duh), and in many cases have made the situation worse, prompting vicious retaliatory strikes by the LRA and killing whatever small chance at peace talks might be left. Oh, and the Ugandan government and its army have a good human rights record only in comparison to Kony — they've been accused of rape and looting, and their efforts to stamp out the LRA have involved forced relocation of civilians to terrible living conditions in poorly-protected camps.
The problem with this opinion: Invisible Children argues that the Ugandan government and military — not to mention the governments and militaries of the other countries affected by the LRA — can't effectively deal with Kony without the equipment, training and coordination that the U.S. could provide.
Opinion 4: Invisible Children is misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and possibly making the situation in Uganda worse
Who believes this: A number of journalists, NGO workers, African activists and academics — most prominently the blog "Visible Children"
What it entails: Invisible Children is more like a hip social media filmmaking company than a charity — last year just under a third of the money it spent was on "direct services." The video is misleading and simple — it glosses over the fact that Kony left Uganda years ago, and that his army has been reduced to a few hundred people. There's a whiff of the "change your profile picture to a cartoon character to protest child abuse" about the whole campaign ("share this video and you've done all you need to do to help Africa") especially because Uganda faces more pressing issues and problems than Kony. Plus, there's that nagging sense of weird racial and colonial politics: the fact that Invisible Children's film centers around a white kid, the way its main objective is to guarantee U.S. involvement (no matter the cost), the picture that's been circulating (see it above) of the founders posing with the not-exactly-the-good-guys of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army while holding heavy-duty weaponry and putting on their best gangster grills. All of which adds up to the unfortunate message of "well-meaning westerners will save Africa," when history has generally proven the opposite to be true.
The problem with this opinion: Not to gloss over the complexity of the situation, but: What could possibly be the problem with raising awareness? How on earth can it be a bad thing to call attention to the fact that a horrible war criminal is still at large?
Opinion 5: Joseph Kony is a gangsta
Who believes this: Idiots on Twitter
What it entails:
The problem with this opinion: Nothing. There is nothing wrong with this opinion. It's a smart thing that smart people would say.
Further reading: Visible Children, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The Independent, Justice in Conflict, The Atlantic, Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama, and Hipster Runoff, all of which are worth reading in full. Invisible Children has responded to many of the criticisms outlined in this post here.