In the past year, the world has witnessed a merger of activism and social media. Though the U.S. has not seen anything as impactful as the Arab Spring, Kony 2012, a video created by the activist group Invisible Children, has gone viral, accumulating 80 million hits on YouTube within two weeks. The ultimate goal of Invisible Children is to encite the capture of the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, a feat which, according to the video, is only possible with continued American military support.
Though the video has captured the attention and hearts of millions, it has also elicited criticism and scrutiny for glossing over details and supporting a pro-war agenda.
The video is successful in its deeply personal approach to the mission of Invisible Children, but the sincerity and personal involvement of the video’s creator Jason Russell emits a sense of desperation and of obsession. When this obsession is paired with the conviction that good must overturn evil, a crusade is born, and crusades create propaganda.
Yes, Kony 2012 is propaganda. In fact, Russell admits to “redefining the propaganda we see all day everyday that dictates who and what we pay attention to.”
It is propaganda that has been created under the pretenses of empowering the American public to support the defense of innocent children.
If there is anything we will fight for — it’s to protect the innocent; and after more than a decade of war with the Middle East, the American public, younger generations especially, want to fight for something meaningful.
Kony 2012 glorifies an “army of young people” who donate money and come together to “fight war.” If peace is the objective, then why is there a celebration of 100 members of the US military being deployed to Uganda? These armed soldiers are labeled as advisers, and are only allowed to fire their weapons in self-defense. They are centered in Uganda, but Joseph Kony has been absent from the country for six years.
The LRA fled to the Congo in 2006 in the wake of peace negotiations. Kony and leaders of the LRA used this time to gather supplies and reorganize. After it was made apparent that the LRA had no interest in signing a treaty, George W. Bush initiated Operation Lightning Thunder which aided the Ugandan military in a concentrated effort with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Attempts to capture Kony were unsuccessful.
In 2009, Uganda withdrew support from the concentrated effort against the LRA.
Invisible Children may not provide funding directly to the Ugandan government, but it is encouraging a generation of Americans to support military action in a foreign country, and though Invisible Children demands that Kony be held accountable, they fail to acknowledge the Ugandan government’s role in the situation.
The Ugandan government failed to secure the welfare of its people when the LRA was at its worst, and has been criticized by the international community for failing to provide adequate support to those displaced, abducted and brutalized by the guerilla terrorists.
Joseph Kony takes the brunt of the blame and, with the help of Kony 2012, has become the boogey man and the face of evil that the world can associate with horrific humanitarian crimes, essentially expunging the Ugandan government from blame — six years after the crisis.
Daniella Boston with the Huffington Post wrote of the Uganda military’s violations of international laws — child soldiers, rapes, civilian killings and scorched-earth tactics — that were reportedly well-documented by reputable international human rights organizations. The article was written in 2006, as Kony was gaining infamy in the Western World during Juba peace talks.
Boston wrote that the Ugandan government, which has been under the control of Yoweri Museveni since 1986, forcibly evicted residents of northern Uganda from their homes and herded them into the displacement camps, where they were supposedly seeking refuge from the LRA.
“Not only have these ‘protected villages’ failed to provide security for those displaced by the conflict — almost 10 percent of Uganda’s population — but the conditions in these camps are so horrific that they have been referred to as ‘death camps’ or ‘concentration camps.’ Due to rampant government corruption, humanitarian assistance earmarked for victims of the war is often stolen or misused. Neither the rebels nor the government appear to want the war to end.
“The official line from the Ugandan government — and it is the line obediently recited around the world — is that the killing fields of northern Uganda are strictly the result of the rebel activities by the small, rag-tagged, ill-trained Lord’s Resistance Army. The Ugandan government perpetuates the war, uses the rebels as an excuse to mobilize international support and military supplies, and has failed to defeat the LRA or provide for its people in any way — yet it continues to present itself to the world as an innocent bystander.”
The video does not reference prior U.S. involvement in the conflict; it instead paints a picture of a grassroots movement that has had unprecedented influence on government action — culminating with a letter from President Obama, suggesting that the decision was a direct result of public advocacy initiated by Invisible Children.
“There is no way the United States will ever get involved in a conflict where our national security or financial interests aren’t at stake,” says Russell in the first minutes in the film, when he and his friends are struggling to promote their agenda in Washington.
Russell considers the deployment of troops as a victory of activism, but the unanswered question hangs in the air — what is the true motivation behind the United States’ involvement in Uganda? What is at stake?