Friday 9 March 2012

It's About The Children, Silly!

If judged solely on the basis of how it has gone massively viral online, the KONY 2012 campaign by the American nonprofit organisation, Invisible Children, has been a rip roaring success. As I write this, there have been well over 50 million views of the video on You Tube and Vimeo.

If you are one of those steadfast souls that conscientiously avoid jumping on bandwagons and opening any old viral web-clips that are bombarded into your inboxes, timelines and virtual walls, then you likely have not viewed this web phenomenon. Even then, unless you are hopelessly illiterate or never listen to news or have never opened a newspaper in your life, you will have heard or read about this somewhere.

Well, if you still have no knowledge of this somehow, you are not in luck then, because here it is in full.

Basically the half hour video tells the story of tens of thousands of children who have been abducted and turned into child soldiers and sexual slaves by the notorious and despicable Joseph Kony and his cultish militia, the Lord Resistance Army, which has waged a vicious and bloodthirsty reign of terror in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries since the mid 1980s.

The organisation behind this ‘campaign’ argues that they are making Kony ‘famous’ to put pressure on US policymakers to ensure that he is removed. Indeed, even before this online phenomenon, the US had sent in 100 special forces in 2011 to assist the Ugandan army and other countries in the region to hunt down Kony. Reports suggest that he has not been in Uganda for a few years and is probably somewhere in the dense tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic.

Why now, is one of the many questions that have been asked? I first became aware of Kony and the LRA back in the 90s when I was working as a journalist in Zimbabwe and was writing a series of articles about Zimbabwe’s involvement in the conflict in the Great Lakes Region (the second Congo War), which pitted the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Chad and Hutu aligned forces against Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tutsi aligned forces. Even though he was not a central figure at all in that conflict, Kony’s name came up a few times, mainly whenever child soldiers were mentioned. Equally attention grabbing was his proclivity to turn Uganda into a theocratic state ruled by his bizarrely self-styled version of the Ten Commandments.

By then, the world had heard about the child soldiers of West African conflicts, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but for me, it was the sheer scale of Kony’s abductions of children from villages in Northern Uganda and later neighbouring countries that was quite staggering and caught the attention. Estimates range from 30,000 to 66,000 children abducted and brutalised into being child soldiers or sex slaves.

Anyway, the KONY 2012 video or rather the organisation behind now faces the inevitable backlash for something so high profile (a host of well known names have jumped on the bandwagon – Bill Gates, Diddy, Mia Farrow, Juliette Lewis and Zooey Deschanel amongst many others and the video has even received praise from Barack Obama).

Questions have been asked about the motives of the NGO, how it raises and uses its funds resources; why it always should take these ‘pesky western do-gooders’; why cant Africans sort this out themselves (never mind it’s 20 odd years since Kony started his reign of terror); accusations of self promotion by the film-maker; accusations that the discovery of rich oilfields in the region may now finally be focusing attention and resources (US involvement) on something that has been going on since the 1980s without much western involvement or interest and also why nothing has been done to capture Kony after he was indicted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague in 2005.

Lots of valid questions, cynicism and concerns, but my take on this is that by any (legitimate) means necessary, Kony and his ilk must be stopped to save the thousands of children and put an end to the terror that is visited upon them daily.

I work for a big Irish children’s charity and in my work I come across so many children from the developing world lucky enough to have escaped from the clutches of monsters like Kony and it is only when you look into the almost soulless eyes of some of the more traumatised children that you realise that some of these so called principled stands against ‘neo imperialism’, ‘unwarranted western paternalism and interference’, cynicism about the bonafides of seemingly well meaning western charities are mostly selfish self posturing that won’t change much for these children.

Yes, I agree sometimes some of these interventions are naively set out and perhaps I agree to a certain degree that some ‘western’ solutions are not always a perfect fit for African problems but peddling simplistic ideological mantras in response to this campaign should not detract from doing all that is in the best interests of the children.

The focus should be on the bigger picture and if it means that KONY 2012 results in the capture of Kony and the routing of his LRA thugs, then I say well done to those behind the video and I would hope that this is only the start of an effective form of 21st century cyber-based manhunt for the world’s most wanted and despicable tyrants who cause so much untold suffering to so many.

You hear that Assad? ASSAD 2013 is probably being filmed somewhere right now.