So it looks like the Internet is blowing up with Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign. It’s basically a 30 minute video pledging a year-long campaign to make Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony famous and bring enough media attention that there will finally be serious efforts to arrest him, especially since he has long been indicted by the International Criminal Court. I was curious about the video and what it meant and watched it and admittedly, I was moved. There have been movies and stories and articles on crimes against children (child soldiers, etc.) but not enough is being done to stop it. In any other continent or country in the world, one case of sexual slavery or kidnapping to become child soldiers will be all over the news and the weight of media and public condemnation would fall like a ton of bricks. But not in Africa, where 30,000 children can form one army for one warlord.
But a caveat (and one of several which have so far come up criticizing Kony 2012 and Invisible Children). Watch the movie and examine the end goal of this campaign, because although there is one overarching goal (to make Joseph Kony so infamous, he will finally be arrested), for me there are several questions that came up. How far will the monetary donations go? Is it just for the campaign itself or does it form a financial obligation to support the Ugandan military? Are we monetizing systems we shouldn’t? Is this campaign really aiming for the real problem in Uganda or in targeting just one person, ignoring the other problems the country faces?
I think the video has a very simplistic interpretation of the problems in Uganda. Which may not necessarily be a bad thing because the simplicity of it has obviously affected hundreds of thousands all over the world who want to help. And I would be a proud supporter of the campaign and join April 20 and rallies and protests and lobbies that tries to bring media attention to this but I would have to stop and find out more before doing more.
My knowledge of Uganda is incredibly limited and perhaps 50% of what I know just came from the video. But there’s a very real problem of well-meaning non-Ugandans pushing to solve a problem from outside the country, without the knowledge of the different factors that have caused it. And I don’t want to ignorantly add to the problem.
But… the reason why I can’t discount this campaign is that when you break down the essence of the campaign, I believe that this is a campaign that may have bigger implications. It is not just for Uganda or for Africa, but for the whole world (to quote the video).
In the summer of 2009, I took an internship under Center for Social Development in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to work as a legal researcher. I think most everyone knows about the Holocaust and Hitler but barely anyone, especially those in my generation, are aware of a similar thing happening in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. In the 1970s, millions of Cambodians died in the goal for a ‘Communist agrarian ideal’ (read that term somewhere). Professionals were killed because they had knowledge. Men, women, children were separated and put into work camps. Cambodia took giant miles backwards and are still recovering from it now.
Finally, after years of trying to put wheels in motion to put those responsible to justice (it took so long that those ‘Most Responsible’ are now 80+ years old and so many Cambodians have given up hope that they’ll ever feel anything outside a token retribution), an international criminal court was established and they are finally trying to indict the key leaders of the Khmer Rouge. But it has only taken around 40 years to do so. In the meantime, Cambodia struggles to regain their momentum and you cannot meet one person whose family hasn’t been affected. For me, what it meant really hit me when I realized that barely anyone above the age of 35 escaped the events of the 1970s and its aftermath.
My job was to look for precedents for the Orphan Class suing the defendants. But it was funny… because for such gross and hateful crimes, that court was the first of its kind. And I kept thinking to myself, how is that even possible?? This is such a huge crime of genocide. I couldn’t say I did anything meaningful or earth-shattering for that trial because quite frankly, only Cambodians would know the depth of what happened to them, not a foreigner from a country 2-3 hours away by plane. I spent most of my time devouring books and articles on what Khmer Rouge was about. But as a foreigner, I could help but what insight could I bring into this? Only a Cambodian or someone who went through this could really know what happened to them. But so many Cambodians had lost the will and fire to do something for the case. Many did not even want to be reminded of it.
And for foreigners, would we know of that trial in Cambodia? Here in the Philippines, news of the international criminal court is hidden in the International News section with maybe 4 x 2 inches of article space. And from what I can understand from those very short news articles, the trials are not going too well.
The world tries to put the worst of the worst criminals to justice, indicting them of crimes against humanity, genocide, etc. but they continue to have the liberty they have willfully taken from others. Kony was indicted in 2008. He continues to remain free for now. Will it take 40 years to put him in bars and minimal media attention before he can finally be arrested?
If this trend continues, when we cannot get the first guy on the ICC’s list behind bars, what importance would we give international criminal courts that try crimes against humanity?
When your basic rights are being trampled, do we want people to care less or more than we do about white collar crime and insider trading? Why do we care less for justice for thousands upon thousands of people, when the world placed so much media attention on OJ Simpson’s trial or that Casey Anthony woman? I’m not disregarding the victims… but I’m saying why do we care so less for crimes against huge numbers of people and human rights?
Human rights continues to be a secondary priority to economics, politics, etc. Are people noticing? Do enough people care? It’s simple. Basic rights are human rights. It’s not complicated to think about it. And when a video like that can move thousands and break it down that you feel tears coming on and the most basic of instincts being moved… that’s just how simple it is.
So going back to how simple this campaign is. It takes a child, two pictures and breaking it down to “this is a bad man” and “this is our friend.” And all over the world, people teared up or clicked share and people started understanding what this was about and comparing their lives to what’s happening in Uganda.
That’s what I believe in for this campaign. If the goal is trying to make him famous, trying to bring attention to one man. Trying to make bringing Kony to justice popular enough that celebrities and their followers and big and little people interested, then who can fault that? Yes, people may question Invisble Children, the monetary aspect of it all, but no doubt, they made this guy well-known enough.
And if it took simple concepts to finally take down this guy, then let it be the impetus for going after the rest of that list.
So yes, let’s make this guy absolutely famous, on par with George Clooney. Let’s turn up the heat so he knows and he runs out of places to hide.
And then after Kony, let’s go after the rest of that list.