| By Karen Attiah |
A few weeks ago, the world woke up to Invisible Children’s video campaign detailing the atrocities of Joseph Kony, the leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army. The 24-minute video directed by Jason Russell, the Founder of Invisible Children, went viral in a matter of days, thanks in no small part to celebrities who became vocal advocates, er, donated 140 characters via Twitter links to the video. To date, the video has gotten over 100 million views on Youtube alone.
A few days ago, Selma Stern wrote a piece for Communique attacking the critiques of the “StopKony” campaign. Her basic premise is that detractors of the “StopKony” campaign are more upset that a white American is attempting to “save” black Africans, and attempts to be “politically correct” are not enough reasons to stop Invisible Children’s campaign. Stern’s dismissal of legitimate concerns and critiques of the “StopKony” campaign as mere “political correctness” is off base at best and patronizing at worst.
Many of the critiques came from Ugandans and other Africans themselves. Dismissing these voices, voices of Africans that campaigns such as “StopKony” are supposedly “empowering,” is nonsensical. When individuals become more concerned with their own mission rather than listening to the actual people that the mission allegedly helps—well, that is more than enough reason to question intentions.
I wonder if Stern has actually spoken to Africans regarding the StopKony issue. The criticisms coming from Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora sound nothing like panic, hysteria, “anti-colonial intellectualism” or the result of “hurt feelings.” Rather the criticisms echoing through blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, and conversations reflect an all too familiar frustration of Africans being relegated to mere props in Western savior fantasies. The Africans responding to StopKony are tired of complex African realities being transformed into trendy movements, with movie stars and rock musicians given global platforms to speak on African issues, while Africans are mere background scenery.
Ugandan voices have come out in the discussion. Ugandan tech activist Javie Ssozi created a website called Ugandaspeaks.com and spoke out against the “StopKony” campaign. He states, “It’s about time the world realized that Africa appreciates support but we Africans want to be more involved in solving our own problems.” Ugandan activist Teddy Ruge stated in a CNN op-ed that “StopKony” creates the wrong buzz and quips, “More children die of malaria, diarrhea and nodding disease on a daily basis in Northern Uganda than the monthly average of Kony’s 25 years of killing. Where is the slick viral video for them?”
On the question of comparing Kony to Hitler: If Hitler was around today, would making bracelets and snazzy t-shirts be the answer to stopping the Holocaust? Furthermore, would making a viral video 5 years after the height of the Holocaust killings mean anything? The conflict in Northern Uganda has been occurring for almost 20 years. To save energy, I’ll refer readers to Godwin’s Law on the hyperbolic use of Nazi Germany Holocaust in online discussion.
Nobody is saying Joseph Kony is a good guy. Kony is a monstrous criminal. The atrocities that the Lord’s Resistance army has committed in the last 20 years are despicable. Kony is thought to have killed 2,500 civilians and abducted 700 children between 2008 and 2010. While exact figures are difficult to come by regarding the LRA’s total body count, estimates hold that the LRA has killed tens of thousands of people and has displaced hundreds of thousands more in Uganda, Congo, and other surrounding countries.
But Kony is not, repeat, NOT Hitler. Nowhere close. Hitler was the leader of systematic, state supported genocide, resulting in the deaths of 6 million people. The LRA is not state-supported genocide. The International Crisis Group says that state failure is one of the main reasons the LRA has managed to survive this long, as the state forces of Uganda, South Sudan and the CAR are unable to protect civilians.
Stern states, “The fact that Kony is probably not in Uganda is not a reason to stop the “StopKony” campaign. It’s all the more reason to go on Facebook and share it again.” What is bewildering, illogical, and downright disheartening is the implication that it is okay to share misinformation about Africa via social media in the name of “raising awareness”. Few other regions in the world share Africa’s distinct privilege of being systematically underreported, stereotyped and misunderstood. Awareness is not the same as responsible due diligence.
The fact is, any solution that will rid the world of Kony will require regional support from neighboring countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The LRA has been less active in Uganda in recent years and has terrorized civilians in those neighboring countries. Kony is believed to be somewhere in the jungles of Central African Republic.
I encourage Stern and others who may share her sentiments to take time to listen to the voices of Africans, of those who we are all supposedly trying to help. I also encourage all to look up local Ugandan organizations that have been working for years on this issue. Lastly, those of us Africans who feel uneasy with efforts such as “StopKony” want to “help” Africans just as much as everyone else. But the world would be better off without the marginalization of African voices, full stop.
Karen Attiah is a second-year Master of International Affairs student