NGO’s, Social Media and armchair ‘slacktivism’.

March 15, 2012 2:23 pm

Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of snatching children and using them as killers to maintain his grip on power over gold mines in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri region. Whilst Lubanga’s victims waited six years to get some sort of justice in some areas of the Congo he is lauded as a hero although in others he is equally as hated. No doubt, he is not the catch that the ICC wanted but nevertheless, a step in the right direction as it became the ICC’s first verdict in its ten year history.

Another leader I am sure the ICC would like to see is a certain Joseph Kony. He also is responsible for using children to gauge in wars that they are emotionally and physically too young to witness, let alone fight in. As I write this, one hundred million people have watched the KONY 2012 YouTube video by the California based NGO: Invisible Children.

The video itself is a slick piece of work; however, I could not help but think about the plight of the people who are truly invisible due to Kony. Perhaps Kony himself is invisible to us, as I came away from the video thinking who is this guy? Who is the LRA? Why does he need children like ‘Jacob’ to fight for him? However, we now know what he does. He snatches and kidnaps children from schools, playgrounds and homes even whilst they are asleep. The girls become sex slaves and the boys drug induced killers.

What the video fails to highlight is what I have just highlighted. It is also disingenuous for Invisible Children to suggest to us, the gullible public, to toe the line without knowing the facts. The video shows the creator of the documentary Jason Russell talking about his son.  When the video was shown in Uganda, it was met with anger, “who is this white man”? to “… the makers of this video want to make money, that is all they want.” They were also met with stones. The merchandise is another issue, how can you have a picture of a known killer/rapist adorning t-shirts worn by the very victims he has ruined? Jason Russell wants to make Kony ‘famous’, another commentator asked if Bin-Laden was plastered all over t-shirts would it not cause a stir? Or even Hitler? No doubt the victims of Kony and the LRA, the overwhelming majority of whom don’t even have an internet connection let alone a PC, will be forgiven for not appreciating Kony ridden t-shirts, and furthermore, will feel patronised that this video has turned Joseph Kony into some kind of pop art icon. When the world knows about a crisis that has come about, does that alone solve the problem?

The video also fails to highlight, much like the Lubanga case, that once the big fish has been caught, what about all the other players? The other actors in the crisis that the LRA has caused? Kony is not alone in the killings and massacres that have taken place. When Bashar Al-Assad kills children in Syria, the world knows he is not alone in committing these murders.  And I don’t think that sending advisers to help the Ugandan army is of much help especially if after eight years they have still not caught him. The coalition forces took less time to capture Saddam Hussein. In fact in 2009, with the help of the US, Operation Lightening Thunder was executed with the Ugandan Army to inflict a final military defeat which was not fully successful, except that children were repatriated back to their grieving families and the LRA along with Kony high tailed it back into the jungle.

What the video does achieve is to oversimplify a very complex issue. The LRA has been active in four different countries, from Northern Uganda to South Sudan to the Central African Republic to the DRC. Here, they started an armed resistance group against the Ugandan government which they felt marginalized them at the expense of Southern Ugandan ethnic groups, as they themselves are Acholi.  Their ideology is a mixture of Mysticism, Acholi nationalism and Christian fundamentalism and claims to work towards the establishment of a theocratic state based upon the Ten Commandments. Kony also advocates his fighters to draw a cross on their chest with oil, to safeguard themselves from bullets.

Yet to achieve their theocratic state they were then left to brutalize the population in neighbouring countries, mutilating, raping, murdering and even some reported cases of forced cannibalism. The DRC and the CAR are rich in natural resources that greedy psychotic people will want to get their hands on. These installations or mines will always be protected by those on whom it depends: once again us the gullible public that needs diamonds for rings, gold for jewellery and minerals to make mobile phones. So the child soldiers who have been separated from their families guard these installations while the big fish rape the girls and get rich off the proceeds that the child miners excavate with crude tools in unsafe holes 100m deep.

So what about the role of NGO’s like Invisible Children in this crisis and most important of all, their agenda? Well politics aside, it is election year in the US, I’m sure Obama could use a tool like this. He is only just starting to, at least cosmetically, court the Israelis to garner the Jewish vote. Invisible Children also claim that this video is aimed or marketed at only their own constituents and not anyone else, who are their constituents exactly? Don’t the victims have a say in this as well. They used the example of the Arab uprisings in the beginning of the video which left me confused, are they asking the people of Uganda to rise up, and to rise up against who? Can’t be the Ugandan army, which also uses child soldiers from the age of thirteen. I wonder if Invisible Children were aware of that?

I would also like to question the role of NGO’s in responding to humanitarian crises around the world; the ‘Save Darfur’ campaign called for UN intervention against the Sudanese army but critics said that intervention could have worsened the crisis, or the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, where NGO’s were heavily criticised for their poor response to the plight of the Haitian people. You can no longer purchase the Action Kit, due to overwhelming response, that was promoted in the video. They have made a lot of money from this campaign if the 100m people who watched the video also purchased the Action Kit that could have been $300m for Invisible Children. You are asked to click and share the video, but what does that do short of turning us into slacktivists or clicktivists? I shudder at the thought that this could have some sort of impact. Whilst Syrians are dying by the hundreds every day calling for change and children in Africa are dying calling for food don’t they deserve a campaign? Does a street kid in Mumbai or a barrios child in the Rio Favelas not deserve a campaign, or do they still remain invisible? War is a terrible thing, but it does lead to peace. I can only hope and ask the invisible people of this world to forgive me for being just too damn lazy.

 

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  • Guardian Editor

    I applaud the writer for approaching an angle, which upto now has been ignored, in the Kony story. I look forward to more well written, well insighted pieces.

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