|By Selma Stern|
The campaign to capture Joseph Kony first drew sensational attention all over the globe, then heavy criticism from self-proclaimed keepers of political correctness. Their argument goes something like this: an arrogant young white American male is targeting an evil black African male and wants the U.S. to gallop into Uganda on white horses, reviving the old colonial narrative that only white men can bring peace and civilization to black men. Besides, they say, Joseph Kony is only an individual and getting him would not solve all of the conflict’s underlying problems.
Of course it wouldn’t. But that is hardly the point. Let’s imagine the following scenario: it is 1943, but we have YouTube and Twitter. An American posts a compelling 30 minute video clip in which a Jewish friend tells her how her parents were led into a gas chamber before her eyes, that this has been going on for several years now, and that Hitler should be captured and tried. Dear politically correct audience: would you have said “Don’t be so arrogant, we should respect the cultural differences between us and the Germans, and by the way, capturing Hitler won’t solve the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe?” I don’t think so.
So why must we keep our mouths shut when a human being runs a militia that abducts children and makes them kill their parents and cut off people’s lips and noses? Or worse, why can’t someone who speaks out about it be a white American guy? Interestingly, another group of predominantly white men who have been finger-pointing at Joseph Kony is the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which has been doing so for years without much success, but also without drawing such fierce accusations of neocolonialism (although it has drawn some). The ICC indicted the fugitive leader for war crimes 7 years ago, but it hasn’t been able to push the issue of capturing him high enough on key decision makers’ agendas. If a single YouTube video can do that now by viral marketing, great! Must everything that is popular be greeted with anti-mainstream suspicion?
Other criticisms of the “Kony 2012” campaign are not only thin on reason, but outright hysterical. Logically, the fact that Kony is probably not in Uganda isn’t a reason to stop the “Kony 2012” campaign. It is all the more reason to go on Facebook and share it again. What’s much more bewildering, however, is the widespread panic among the quasi-tolerant educated public that we are hurting African feelings by sharing the video. Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics writes that “The campaign reinforces the idea that ‘the West’ (or just America really) must ‘save’ Africa where people are helpless victims of Evil Men.“ Let’s think about this for a moment: if something is reinforcing an idea, it means that this idea is actually still around. And that is our problem. At no point does “Kony 2012” say something like “Africans are helpless victims of Evil Men.” It tells the story of a boy who was forced to watch his brother die and probably mutilate others. “Kony 2012” has nothing to with Africa as such. It has everything to do with people getting their faces disfigured in the name of – well – nothing. Isn’t our obsession with white people’s colonial past a sign that we’re actually ashamed and deeply aware of our own lingering racism?
The “Kony 2012” campaign might be effective at achieving the limited goal it sets for itself: capture the leader of a murderous cult. The leader happens to be African. So what? Besides, Jason Russell and his colleagues may be implying that national sovereignty should give way to humanitarian concerns in certain circumstances (and they are not alone with that view in the age of R2P), but it is quite a stretch to infer from that an intention to root out all political problems that haunt Uganda and its neighboring countries. That is indeed up to local institutions. But for now, let us help where we can and stop easing our conscience with anti-colonial intellectualism, because it will not prevent another child from being forced to murder.
Selma Stern is a first-year Master of International Affairs student.