Anti-Viral Opinion: Why The #KONY2012 Movement Is a Bit Problematic

Joseph Kony: Now More Popular on Twitter than Beiber AND Lady Gaga Combined


Okay brace yourself, I’m about to say something unpopular here. Yes, even MORE unpopular than my views on Blade Runner.

I don’t know how I feel about this Kony 2012 movement that has taken the internet by storm over the last 48 hours. While I think the cause is worthwhile and I am very impressed by Invisible Children’s ability to harness the power of social networking to make it simple and (of course) cool to join a social movement, I wonder if people are actually stopping to think about what they’re supporting.

I know the video is moving and the story is terrifying, but pushing our government to send troops into Africa to engage the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Congo is a scary and not particularly well-thought out idea. Currently, no one knows where Joseph Kony is, because he and the rest of the LRA were run out of Uganda over a half decade ago. Northern Ugandans have been enjoying peace and increasing safety ever since the LRA retreated out of the country. This situation is different than when we went into Iraq and were able to topple Saddam’s regime because we knew where his palaces were. The LRA is hiding out in the jungle and this whole thing has the potential to turn into a quagmire that would be impossible to extricate our military from.

The reality is that while Joseph Kony is the focus of the film, he is not the entire problem. Just like killing Osama bin Laden didn’t end terrorism, capturing Kony will not end the problems in central Africa. If we did manage to capture Kony (if he’s even still alive) it is safe to assume the LRA will continue to commit atrocities in his absence. At that point, will we just leave and allow the LRA to mercilessly retaliate against the people of the Congo and Uganda in our absence? If we stay longer to help fully defeat the LRA after Kony’s capture, are we then going to send our troops to Sudan to give assistance there too? What about Somalia? What about the little-known horrors taking place in Liberia?

My question is, once the United States starts employing military intervention in Africa, when will we stop? It’s hard to rationalize being against the Iraq war while being in support of sending troops deep into the Congo to hunt down Joseph Kony.

I’m not saying that bringing awareness to the atrocities of the LRA is a bad thing, I’m just saying before you throw your support behind something just because a movie was well-edited and moving (which it was) and the campaign is going viral, it’s a good idea to do a little independent research and think about what your time and money is going to support. I was a pretty big supporter of Invisible Children in the past. I helped raise awareness for the cause, participating in the Global Night Commute and showing the film back in high school, but I just think that pushing for U.S. military action in another country is something that deserves real in-depth discussion, not just Twitter hash tags and Facebook posts.

In the coming weeks, I would hope that Invisible Children will outline an action plan to further explain what it is exactly they are hoping the United States will do to assist in the capture of Joseph Kony. The 30-minute film is obviously intended to tug at the heartstrings and get people thinking, but it doesn’t do much to explain their plans outside of getting Rihanna and Jay-Z to tweet about the issue and sticker-bomb mailboxes and street signs in NYC. Until I know more about their plans, I will remain on the fence. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t support Invisible Children’s campaign, I’m just saying that human rights issues like this are incredibly complicated and they deserve real discussion.




Further Reading:

  • I suggest checking out the Justice in Conflict website for further debate on the subject and essays written by advocates regarding this and other human rights situations around the world.
  • I suggest reading “What is the What?” by Dave Eggers if you’d like a wonderful book that illustrates the struggles of former child soldiers and young children displaced by civil war (not set in Uganda, but in Sudan). It’s a powerful and moving portrayal of courage in the wake of an unspeakably brutal childhood, but if you are at all interested in the situation then this book will really open up the human side of the issue.

9 thoughts on “Anti-Viral Opinion: Why The #KONY2012 Movement Is a Bit Problematic

  1. RobRoss01 says:

    There is a lot of really good truth here. Many people jump the bandwagon and don’t really know what or why their supporting. Additionally I completely agree that military action, beyond advisers, would most likely end up a complete disaster, or at best case a moderate quandary. So i too hope to see a clear proposed course of action soon. However the most important part of this campaign is happening right now. We are all talking about it. Those who aren’t studying the world of international relations or avid readers of world news have no idea about so many of the global problems including the LRA, Liberia and pretty much the entire African Continent. So while i too have hesitation about the push for additional military action, I completely support the spread of this viral human rights movement. Lets get everyone talking about it and maybe we can open a few eyes to to the world beyond their comfortable existence where the worst part of their day is someone making their coffee wrong.

    • eliotdolson says:

      I agree, the awareness aspect is very important and I think that people will eventually pause to think about this and make reasoned decisions. The way this whole thing blew up so quickly is just worrisome because it feels like people are getting behind it because it’s a trending topic on Twitter, and not because it’s a cause they actually believe in.

      Invisible Children has done great work in the past (even though they aren’t entirely transparent in how their finances work — so they deserve time to make their case and I think at that point everyone can make a well-informed decision on the issue. I won’t be blanketing the streets of Seattle with posters and stickers until I know exactly what their plans are and exactly how they plan to “Stop Kony.”

      Anyway, thanks for reading man. I appreciate it.

  2. andrey says:

    you have an extra ‘been’ in your text. otherwise, right on…

  3. caren says:

    i agree with everything u say always

  4. Spenny says:

    E, well put. I couldn’t agree more. It’s quite a problem trying to figure our next step as a country and not being military minded.

  5. Jacob says:

    Two problems I have with the critique:
    You’re assuming by military intervention we would have to send in our full army. A few strike teams and the full use of our technology is all we need. The jungle isn’t the caves of Afghanistan.
    The second, is that saying killing or removing the leader is comparable to saying “Don’t kill Hitler because the Nazis will run wild.” If you take down the leader, you slow the impetus and you make it easier to dissolve the body.

  6. Lyn says:

    Thanks for your post. While I am old… and think I’m pretty cautious when it comes to these hard issues, I can see how social media can be used to cause people to think. I don’t financially support IC but I am grateful when people are passionate about something that clearly needs to change. Where is Kony? Not sure but, things have not been set aright because we haven’t seen him. While I don’t want to send troops I do think we need to find out more, (advisory cmmtt. etc) by people living in those regions. I know I am guilty of not always caring about things when they don’t personally effect me but hopefully this video will get us thinking…
    love ya
    (Spenny’s mom)

  7. Jason Barber says:

    So, first of all. Thank you. I often get tired of hearing people with little political knowledge talk support issues in which they don’t fully take into account the ramifications of. Maybe it is because I majored in political economy, or maybe it’s because I read the news daily and watch more documentaries than can be considered healthy but it is refreshing to hear a well thought out response whether or not it is a popular one.

    To evaluate upon your link, General Butt Naked is allowed to be a preacher in Liberia after slaughtering babies and having child soldiers eat their flesh before taking hits of heroin and running into battle with AK47s. We KNOW where he is and don’t do anything about it, but like you said, we know almost nothing about where Kony is.

    After living abroad for nearly 2 years of my life, I can tell you one thing is true. A whole helluva lot of people hate Americans. Undeservedly as the people don’t exactly make the big governmental decisions, but still. Is that something we really want to get in to. Look at the Balkans War? Popular until it happened. Desert Storm. Same deal. Iraq. Oh yeah 99% of congress? Or was it 100%. I can’t quite remember.

    We have 28,500 troops sitting in Korea doing nothing…except getting horrible press in the Korean media and pissing off the Kim family up in the wasteland of the north, which I might add has nuclear weapons, one of the largest militaries on earth, and people who are eating grass and starving to death. Did you know that Russia still contracts out Gulags in Siberia to North Koreans because the labor/death camps in North Korea are full?

    Bride kidnapping is still rampant in Kyrgyzstan. The Aral sea has pretty much drained over the past 20 years and is completely destroying Central Asia. Oh yeah, and people are burning themselves alive on a daily basis in China because Tibet has become such a police state.

    All that rare metal in cell phones that people are probably advocating for the Kony movement on? Guess where it comes from? Child and slave labor mining in the same area where Kony is also hiding out…allegedly.

    Although a noble cause, it is completely politically irresponsible and mixes up moral imperatives. It is amazing how these social movements have changed the world, but what they ultimately lack is any plan or central goals. Look where the occupy movement has gone.

    Oh yeah, did I mention that our country is in debt. So much so that last time I checked it was nearly equal to our gross national product. We also have a country who’s infrastructure is falling behind East Asian countries and primary education to match.

    Priorities need to be addressed in serious conversations, and not just in the USA. Why should we be the only ones to be requested to respond to the issue? Why not the UN? Why not the governments of the countries where these events are happening? Where should our moral imperatives lie? When does our involvement end?

    All I know is that there are a lot of horrible things that have happened, are happening, and will happen in the future, and America can’t solve them all.

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