Joseph Kony, #stopkony, and Ignoring Africa

Today, the #stopkony hashtag is trending on Twitter. Here's why.

Today, the #stopkony hashtag is trending on Twitter. Here’s why:

Fox13 (“‘Kony 2012’ Aims to Raise Awareness of Joseph Kony“):

An American filmmaker is determined to use social media to make Joseph Kony famous.

Jason Russell doesn’t want to win Kony any fans. He wants to educate the world “to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which abducted more than 30,000 children in Uganda as they forced young boys to kill their parents and young girls to be sex slaves.

The humanitarian group Invisible Children released the film online Wednesday. Russell belives that if more people know about the warlord and his crimes, they will demand action.

“The problem with Joseph Kony is that nobody knows who he is,” Russell told AllAfrica.com .

Kony is wanted on 33 criminal charges including 12 counts of crimes against humanity, UK Metro reported. There are also charges including murder, enslavement and rape.

The United States considers him one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

It’s next to impossible to get Western attention for atrocities in Africa, which have become almost background noise. But Kony’s brand of evil stands out from the crowd.

Back in October, President Obama sent 100 American troops to Uganda to fight the LRA. This spawned a few short pieces at OTB including “Who are the LRA?” “The USA and the LRA,” and “A Certain Fact about the LRA.” We’ve subsequently been silent on the matter, continuing our general tradition of ignoring Africa in general and Uganda in particular.

Once upon a time, back when there were only three television networks and they all had international affairs coverage on their nightly news shows, we at least occasionally got riled up about African bad guys like Idi Amin and Haile Selassie. Not riled up enough to do anything about them, of course, but enough to revile their names. But I doubt we’ll get to that point with Joseph Kony.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Terrorism, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I disagree. Back when there were only three networks, there also wasn’t a Facebook or a Twitter or blogs like this one.

    And let’s face it, all I have to do as a Twitter user with less than 200 followers is get the attention of someone with 200,000+ and get that person to care and I can do anything.

    I’m willing to bet that Joseph Kony will be captured or dead by the end of the year.

  2. Let’s be blunt about it. The only times we have cared about Africa have been in the context of some larger conflict like the Cold War, or because celebrities made a music video.

    Outside of the few nations that have strategic minerals nobody, not the US, not China, not Russia, has any real national interests at stake there. So, it gets ignored.

  3. Rob in CT says:

    Doug’s basically right. But I do think James is right when he says Kony stands out from the crowd. He’s particularly repugnant.

    He’s also not particularly powerful, last I checked. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get squashed like a bug. At which point we’ll go back to not really caring.

  4. Nikki says:

    Hey, wasn’t it Rush who tried to claim the president had an anti-Christian bias when he found out about the action against the LRA? Good times.

  5. The #stopkony tag is an excellent way of identifying people who have absolutely no clue what’s going on in the world around them. Child soldiers are used in conflicts all over the planet, and if you just found out this is going on, you should be ashamed of yourself. And the idea that taking out this one guy is going to have a significant impact on the problem is laughable.

    This is not to say that the stories involved aren’t heart-breakingly tragic, but this world is full to the brim with heart-breaking tragedy, most of which we have no way of fixing. Unfortunately life in the suburban US is so cushy by both historical and global standards that people who grew up in it are sheltered from reality and seem to think that this is the natural state of affairs for everyone, rather than the exception.

  6. merl says:

    @Nikki: It was Rush or some other right wing gas bag.

  7. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: So basically, since things are crappy everywhere no one should bother trying to do anything unless we can fix them all at once?

  8. @WR: I think what he is saying is that we must do everything at once, and that if we choose the worst among them without going after every single one at the same time, we are somehow ignorant about what is going on in the world…

    Or something equally dumb.

  9. DMan says:

    @WR:

    Also, you must not know anything about anything! People who promote cancer awareness, or AIDS awareness are stupid too!

  10. pcbedamned says:

    My 14yr old son was the one who informed me about this monster yesterday. He was/is completely outraged about the behaviour, and is spreading the information to any/everyone he knows (he even informed his grandparents last night).

    Don’t underestimate the power of our youth and social media. Kids now a days actually do have a moral core, and a feeling for injustices throughout the world. It truly is a Global Society now, and the next generation is connected in a way we never were. Hell, many of the people my son communicates with on a daily basis are from the ‘other side’ of our planet.

  11. My point is that if you do want to actually change things, this isn’t how to go about it. There’s a delusion of youth, that every problem has a simple solution. So they go post a bunch of tweets about whatever the new cause celeb is, and then when it’s not fixed instantly they get discouraged and run off to do whatever the NEW new thing is, what having any significant impact on the problem. It’s basically a form of empathic masturbation. It makes them feel good for being “involved” but not much else.

    We’d be far better off encouraging sustained efforts, which starts with being realistic. There are still going to be child soldiers in 2013, no matter how many posters you stick up. Arresting Kony isn’t going to eliminate the LRA, and eliminating the LRA isn’t going to stop similar groups from popping up into the vacuum. They’d be far more helpful donating time to groups like UNICEF or Amnesty International that are doing the hard work of slowly chipping away at the root causes of this problem, rather than following a guy promising to solve the whole thing in 9 months.

  12. Herb says:

    @Nikki: “wasn’t it Rush who tried to claim the president had an anti-Christian bias when he found out about the action against the LRA? ”

    Yep. The headline is priceless: Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians

    Misinforming your audience? That’s entertainment.

  13. It’s kinda like the big lesson in Afghanistan. For all our good intentions, the country is going to be pretty much as bad when we leave it as it was when we arrived. What could we have accomplished instead if all the time, lives, and money we poured into that effort had been spent wisely?

  14. Nikki says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What the Twitter thing purports to do is raise awareness of who Kony is and why he needs to be stopped. That’s important because knowledge of the situation can help raise those donations for Amnesty International and UNICEF. It’s all part of the same chain; the forging of the links have to begin somewhere. Russell’s actions may prove to be futile, but at least it’s a start.

  15. @Nikki:

    What the Twitter thing purports to do is raise awareness of who Kony is and why he needs to be stopped.

    By allying ourselves Yoweri Museveni, who also uses child soldiers?

  16. @Stormy Dragon:

    And just to be clear: the LRA currently has 1,500 child soldiers. The UPDF has over 5,000 of them.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m generally very sympathetic to your argument. Some of the trouble, of course, is properly identifying what it means to spend aid money wisely.

    Spending multiples of Afghanistan’s GDP in an attempt to pacify the place and make it a functional country was dumb as rocks, yeah. But it’s not clear to me that funding Amnesty International (to use an example you gave) does much of use either. I’ve seen critiques of food aid that make sense to me (though I don’t have a strong opinion there).

  18. michael reynolds says:

    I’m all for awareness and social media. But this is a problem that can only be solved with force. Someone, somewhere will pull a trigger.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s kinda like the big lesson in Afghanistan.

    Seeing as I don’t think anyone is saying we should invade I don’t really think Afghanistan is the proper comparison, more like a red herring. And when it comes to the “we shouldn’t do anything” argument, I reply, South Africa

    There all kinds of ways to “do something” other than military force, you just don’t get the same kind of instant gratification that comes with bombing the pi$$ out of people.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But this is a problem that can only be solved with force. Someone, somewhere will pull a trigger.

    As with Radovan Karadžić, Michael?

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I meant the capture of him not the war, bad analogy…

    FOOT IN MOUTH! Let me try again…

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Carlos the Jackal

    Hardly a perfect analogy either, but the best I can think of at the moment.

  23. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Let’s be blunt about it. The only times we have cared about Africa have been in the context of some larger conflict like the Cold War, or because celebrities made a music video.

    I wonder why it seems to have escaped your recollection that President George W. Bush gave about $15 billion to Africa for AIDS treatment and research…

  24. JohnMcC says:

    Gosh, maybe in the 21st century someone beside myself and Warren Zevon will remember Biafra. Maybe these G*d@mn computer and stuff do make the planet a better place.

  25. Habbit says:

    Welp, time to crack the fingers and get started addressing the growing ignorance that is beginning to pervade this website.

    Doug,

    Outside of the few nations that have strategic minerals nobody, not the US, not China, not Russia, has any real national interests at stake there.

    It’s estimated that only a tenth of the continent’s natural resources have been discovered and its almost guaranteed that its oil reserves will be more important than those in the Middle East within the next ten to twenty years. Just the eastern region alone of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was important enough to fuel American, Belgian, and British corporations into funneling millions of dollars in order to kill between three and six million people! SURELY that is of interest you, and the rest of you pseudo-humanitarian advocates!? 😀

    Stormy Dragon,

    The #stopkony tag is an excellent way of identifying people who have absolutely no clue what’s going on in the world around them.

    Someone had to say it… More importantly, 95% of the people attempting to “stop Kony”, and that includes the half-witted fools who frequent the comment sections of this blog, couldn’t locate Uganda on a map.

    And just to be clear: the LRA currently has 1,500 child soldiers. The UPDF has over 5,000 of them.

    Hey now, don’t bust the facts on them this quickly! They just spent $30 on an “Action Pack” from Invisible Children. We don’t need them to regret their hypocrisy this quickly!

    WR,

    @Stormy Dragon: So basically, since things are crappy everywhere no one should bother trying to do anything unless we can fix them all at once?

    Yes Holy White Savior, the poor Negroids of Africa (just like us poor n*gg*rs of America) look to you alleviate and fix all the problems that plague our world. Intervene, intervene, intervene. After all, it’s not like Western interventionism in the late 1800s completely obliterated the natural cultural and ethnic dynamics of the continent in the first place. -_____-

    pcbedamned,

    My 14yr old son was the one who informed me about this monster yesterday.

    Is that so? Pray tell, what else did your Ugandan socio-political expert fourteen year old prodigy happen to convey to you? Did he also mention that President Yoweri Museveni… that’s the president of Uganda, for those of you who first heard of the country yesterday… and the President Obama’s new best friend in Africa also has a long history of dirty laundry that includes utilizing child soldiers against the Lord’s Resistance Army’s precursor movement and encouraging the slaughter and rape of Joseph Kony’s tribe when he first came to power? Did your eastern and central African affairs expert son also inform you that one of the first things Museveni did after the Lord’s Resistance Army began its uprising was force two million Acholi people into concentration camps? All it takes is accusations of electoral fraud for the French to be given permission to invade the Cote d’Ivoire and remove Laurent Gbagbo and try him in The Hague… and we are told daily by the media the lie that the majority Syrians want Bashar al-Assad out of office, yet… nothing is mentioned of the illegitimate rule of the Ugandan friend of Western [oil and mineral] interests, President Yoweri Museveni.

    Nikki,

    @Stormy Dragon: What the Twitter thing purports to do is raise awareness of who Kony is and why he needs to be stopped.

    Do YOU even know who Joseph Kony is? You are condemning to death a man whose name you had never heard of before the evening of March 6th. Think about that.

    Awareness needs to be raised that people are a bunch of foolish and naive sheep.

    michael reynolds,

    Someone, somewhere will pull a trigger.

    The usual idiocy from you. The last time someone, somewhere [the United Nations] tried to pull the trigger on Kony, he got away, annihilated a Guatemalan special operations task squad… and then the Lord’s Resistance Army slaughtered about eight hundred people. 🙂 Black and white is all you see!

    Well anyway… it’s alleged by Western journalism that the LRA killed all those people… many Africans, you know, the people that actually live in the area… *gasp*… don’t blame the Uganda People’s Defense Force, the military unit that Invisible Children shows all this love towards, for most of those crimes. It would fit in rather nicely with the history of Museveni’s personal army, which already has a long history of leaving behind babies and HIV after it finishes looting the minerals and timber from non-Ugandan villages. How about them apples? 😮

    All in all, you foolish people are advocating a cause that you (nor I) have no understanding of, and will never have any understanding of! You are picking sides in a fight that has been going on since Jason Russell’s great-grandparents were his age. For once can you resist the White Man’s Burden and pledge to stay out of other people’s affairs?

  26. Habbit says:

    StormyDragon,

    And just to be clear: the LRA currently has 1,500 child soldiers. The UPDF has over 5,000 of them.

    Just to address this figure, my above comment on it was obviously sarcasm. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not even active in much of central Africa anymore and estimates put their fighting force at about four hundred.

    It’s also important to note that to my knowledge no one except the Uganda People’s Defense Force and LRA “deserters” have actually seen LRA child soldiers.

    Point being, there are multiple sides to a story. And you are being horsefed one possibly-most-likely-inaccurate one by three privileged white kids looking to get famous, and who will never be able to identify with the conflict that has ravaged the numerous ethnic groups of Uganda for almost one hundred years.

  27. Lomax says:

    What we have here is a “short supply of guts” (Eastwood, “High Plains Drifter”. The people there could have taken this guy out long ago: one sniper could have done it.