Thursday, 8 March 2012

Kony is a symptom, not the disease

There’s a storm brewing on the internet and the latest sign of this storm is coming from a group called Invisible Children. Their Kony 2012 campaign has gone massively viral and the video promoting it has  been shared and commented by an impressive number of people, including myself and I don’t usually get involved in things like this. But this is different. This manipulates you in such a way that you simply can not ignore it. You feel that you HAVE to get involved. And that’s how it should be.
Joseph Kony is not a new name on the list of terrible people that live on this planet. I remember how, as a kid, I would watch documentaries on Discovery Channel about what he was doing and I would consider myself lucky for not having to deal with anything like that. But as the video rightly claims, most people had no idea who Kony is. Even people who knew who he is didn’t really think that he is a priority on the ‘to do list’ of those who are responsible for bringing justice to the world. I am grateful to those who organised this campaign for making people aware of his crimes.
The other element of the campaign that is making me very excited about the future is its extraordinary power of making people come together and demand action. It is building on previous campaigns like the 'occupy movement' and it adds a humanitarian component that will make people feel better about themselves. If the occupy movement was formed mostly by angry young people, this one adds the feel good factor which will mobilize a different group of people as well. And this is where the problems start. This group of people is not directly affected by the person that they are campaigning against so they will get involved in different ways than those in the occupy movement. They will most likely participate in events from time to time, they will spread the word and they will donate money.
But the organisers behind this campaign are not aid workers, they are lobbyist. Yes, they are part of that group that was getting blamed for the erosion of democracy during the previous internet protests (this only comes to show how easy it is to manipulate people). Their intention is not to help directly the people affected by Kony's actions but to put pressure on governments to do so. And it doesn’t matter how truly humanistic the idea is, when politics are added to the mix the effect is not the one that people had hoped for.  There is no point in sending more soldiers in the area and there will be no change if Kony is captured and/or killed.
The situation is a lot more complicated than the video shows. Of course, it would have been hard to present a clear image in a 30 minutes video, and people would not have joined the campaign if they knew that the situation is a lot harder to fix, but there is one crucial element that should have been emphasised. Joseph Kony is NOT the problem, he is only a symptom of a deeper disease that affects not just northern Uganda but the entire sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, Kony is not alone. He is not the only leader of the terrorist organization and the LRA is not the only terrorist group in the area. If Kony is captured, he will just be replaced. Cut one head, and two or three more will grow and probably fight each other. The local governments are not to be trusted either. Most of them have a terrible record of treating their own people. We first need to understand that we are talking about an extremely underdeveloped region in which notions such as the state, institutions, society have a completely different meaning than that which we are used with.
But we should not ignore the problem. What we should do is treat the disease, not just the symptoms. We need to help rebuild those countries. If we are really talking about creating a world in which all children have the right to a childhood then we must invest in people, not in some campaign to put pressure on the government to send more soldiers. Put pressure on the government to invest in schools and hospitals, infrastructure to encourage growth, aid programs for development. And not just handing aid money to the local corrupted government. Democratic, free societies can only grow from inside of a country. Helping those people help themselves is the only good thing that we can do. The rest is just talk.
But this is not to dismiss the Kony 2012 campaign. Its aim was to attract attention to these problems and that it has succeeded. It only comes to show how powerful that storm brewing on the internet will be. Because this is not the storm itself. This is just one wind gusts that it has sent, just like the occupy movement and the anti SOPA/ACTA campaign. It shows how internet can unite a huge number of people from different countries to achieve a common goal. It also shows how easy it is to manipulate people. The storm that will eventually come will change our societies and the whole idea of democracy will be redesigned. I don’t know how this will happen or what will trigger it but it will happen and I don’t have a doubt about that.

PS: If you really want to help, here are some useful websites:

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