#69 ~ Invisible

Nothing is more powerful than an Idea whose time has come

Exposing the injustice and immorality of child soldiers is a commendable action. Reminding an apathetic world that communication can be a  tool for liberation is an empowering and much-needed message. The talent to galvanize a generation of future world shapers through a single film is mind-blowing.

The work of Invisible Children and the production of their viral short-film KONY2012 has achieved all the above. They have highlighted to the communicable world the atrocities that have scarred Northern Uganda for the past two decades at the hands of guerrilla leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.  I do not want to dispute these simple facts. However, what I do want to suggest is that what has made KONY2012 such a ‘hot’ topic right now in fact has nothing to do with what is going on in Uganda, DR. Congo, the Central African Republican, Southern and Northern Sudan, all countries where the LRA has and is operating. I want to emphatically state that the righteous indignation that is spreading like wildfire across social media sites has nothing to do with the mutilations, rape, forced conscription and ethnic genocide which characterize this militant organization. I want to say that the reason we are all getting ready to paper every major city with Kony’s face in a month’s time, is because this video has highlighted how Invisible we are – and it scares us.

Facebook is a cyber world inhabited by the West’s version of its own invisible children.

KONY2012 opens with Jason Russell, the director of the film and innovator of Invisible Children, reminding us how humanity’s greatest desire is to see, be seen, and in that acknowledgment form a connection, a bond, a relationship. We are defined by how we are perceived. Facebook has become the ignition fuel, the catalyst that has caused an exponential growth in the awareness of this video. It is the means by which IC hope to get ‘Kony’s face out there, his infamy globally known.’  Yet Facebook is a cyber world inhabited by the West’s version of its own invisible children.

Throughout the film Russell vaguely alludes to his ‘work in Africa,’ once again making the specifics of Uganda in to the generalizations of a continent. There is a pervasive yet subtle act of censorship that permeates the execution of the video, which is what this article is criticizing. Banners are held by youth in America claiming statements like: ‘We Have Seen these Children, We Have Heard their Voices, They are Not Invisible.’ Yet which children, apart from the now mature Jacob whom Russell befriended on his first trip a decade ago to Uganda, have we seen? We’ve seen Russell’s son Gavin. We have seen the western youths who have been moved into action. But we have not seen these 30,000 plus children that have been forced to carry guns and obliterate their families, their friends, their countrymen under the eye of the LRA. Why do I bring this up? Because we live in a world where the transient remains transient but the physical has an impact. If I cannot see you, I don’t know you. If someone were to be shot in front of us, we would be moved into action. Yet we cannot see the hundreds of thousands of Ugandan’s who are being shot and massacred, and so we do not care about them. It is not that we don’t know. We know child soldiers exist. From the Biafran war of the 60’s, to the conflict in Syria it is the young who either volunteer or are conscripted. There is an innocence in children that when perverted is more sickening, more disturbing than the actions of mutilation they leave behind.

There is an innocence in children that when perverted is more sickening, more disturbing than the actions of mutilation they leave behind.

It is not ignorance that has allowed Kony and his regime to survive, just as it was not ignorance of Gaddafi or Hussein’s ‘reigns of terror’ that allowed Al Qaeda or the Libyan dictator’s regime to exist. It is choice. We have chosen not to connect ourselves with these stories, these truths. Russell freely admits that the American Government has seen, until this point, no reason to involve themselves in Uganda or against actively finding Kony because it presents  no benefit to the country.  It would seem to me the abuse of human rights does not stem from a rebel leader’s bloodthirsty desire for power. It flows from the self-centered capitalist structures of the democratic world. If IC believe that with more US soldiers Kony can be found – hence why the pressure to get as many people involved in the campaign before the end of 2012 – then it means Kony could have been found, we just haven’t wanted to find him. We, our Western pro-human-right’s governments, have not wanted to make these children visible, because it is of no profit  to our lives, our politics, our way of living. Until our ‘national security’ is at stake, the lives of these ‘invisible children’ are of no consequence. That is the reality we live in. And it is that immoral, horrific and unjust reality that allows for people like Kony to rise to power. He is not the first. He will not be the last. The post-colonised world has been and is littered with figures like him. The colonizing world have their own, they are only better hidden under the rhetoric of democracy.

The difficulty with this ’21st century mark on history’, is that it is transient and not physical. By rooting it in the domain of Facebook, by surrendering the integrity of giving a voice to the voiceless to the realm of over a million cyber produced ‘voices’, we have consigned this idea whose ‘time has come’ into the memory of an update that will last as long as that status is on our homepage.

the abuse of human rights does not stem from a rebel leader’s bloodthirsty desire for power. It flows from the self-centered capitalist structures of the democratic world.

The process of rehabilitating Uganda and the other central African countries that have been infested by the darkness that comes from guerrilla warfare is not one that ceases when a leader has been captured. The death of Saddam Hussein did not stop the ferocity or growth of Al Qaeda. Dare I say it perpetuated it? The removal of Mubarak from Egypt didn’t bring peace and democracy. It turned the largest muslim nation in Africa into a military controlled state. The Arab Spring which thwarted the impending Gaddafi dynasty has seen more bloodshed line the Libyan streets, more despair and rampage overflow in Syria, more civil unrest, than we naively thought when we did our street protests, shared videos and removed their dictators. Yes, removing dictators, people who flaunt their people’s human rights and retaliate with unprecedented violence is a bloody good thing. Yet the institution of peace, the restructuring of a nation from anarchy to democracy, from accepted injustice to consciously implemented justice, is a generational, life time process. Nigeria gained independence and ended it’s own civil war fifty years go. Yet the North and South, Muslims and Christians are still wantonly killing each other. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are recognized separate states, yet in the name of a different branch, a different practice of the same religion, are still bombing their own people.  You see, this is not an ‘Africa issue,’ as we are too quick to assume. This is a human issue.

Whilst KONY2012 has been quick to tell the nameless world of the internet that this is about us coming together as people of the world to demand justice, the focus is very much American based. Culture makers, like the not-yet-adult Justin Bieber, or the just-returned-to-an-abusive-relationship Rhianna, are to be the voices of this protest. Why? Because, we the public, we are invisible. And this video has reminded us of that.

He gives him an identity outside of the pistol he is holding, and the blood that his body and soul are caked in

The hype that consumed us like influenza or swine flu, was so contagious because suddenly this reared its head as a moment for us to be part of something, to have a voice and be recognized. This wasn’t about giving a voice to those nameless people of the Acholi tribe, it didn’t stretch to the invisible children in the favelas of Chile who are being exterminated by the local police, it hasn’t stretched to north korean girls who are being smuggled into China as brides to fill the gap the female infanticide generated. These are all cases where ‘children haven’t had the right to a loving childhood.’ This protest stopped short at the name Kony. And when he goes, those children he stole, abused and brainwashed, those children we are ‘fighting for’, they will take his place – because that is the reality they know. How are we going to fix that? Is this about Kony, or about reaffirming to those who have watched and shared the video that we are autonomous human beings with an active voice? Is this just giving our passive generation a fleeting wake up call that there is more outside the confines of our LCD screens?

In the film Blood Diamond there is a beautiful scene, where the father stands before someone who is about to kill him. It is his son who has been turned into a child soldier. Instead of running, or fighting the father stands still. And he tells the child his name. He gives him an identity outside of the pistol he is holding, and the blood that his body and soul are caked in. And then he goes further. He reminds  his son/child soldier what the smell of his mother’s cooking was like. The sounds of rain falling on the roof, coming home from school, playing with his siblings. He returns to him memories of a life that didn’t know the horrors of his infant war. And after some persuasion the child chooses to remember.

Who will give these invisible child soldiers that opportunity? Who will recount their memories to them, and re-identify them? Will IC? Will you? Will I? Do we care enough, are we really  prepared to invest that much? Because, as at now, the people that we are advocating for, are themselves little Kony’s. And this is the point I am striving to make. We cannot make this issue about the man. Because the man is also one and the same with the children he has made invisible. Dare I say this: It is the act of the Holocaust that reminds us how evil Hitler is. There may come a time when his name fades into the recesses of history books just as the names of other evil men down the ages at some point or other do. They become a figure of history. Yet the experience of the Holocaust will never leave the Jewish people or the Western world, just as the memory of slavery has come to the define the black Peoples of America and the Caribbean. If we did not continue to explain the vile act that was the Holocaust, then Hitler’s name and infamy would soon fade away. IC place Kony beside Hitler, yet they do not give us an experience to really remember him by, only a name. And as we know, names, identities can be taken away, made invisible.

To give critical acclaim to Kony is to give him the power he desires, the power of entering our lives and taking over them. The power of brainwashing us into a militant frenzy that is directionless, purposeless, and perhaps even becomes senseless.  We, instead, need to be venerating and giving a public voice to the children whose lives he has prematurely aborted in forcing them to become killing machines.

Do I believe people should support IC? I believe that if people want to invest in charitable work, in making a change and giving a voice to the voiceless, they must realize it is not a year commitment, it is a life commitment. It is their life, their lives, the lives of their children and grandchildren that you must understand you are investing in. The damage that has been elicited won’t disappear in 2013 – it will most likely get worse. Oh – and then, if you really  care about child soldiers, girls being forced into the sex industry, you have to remember, it doesn’t stop with Kony. You have to take that action around the world. Are you ready for that commitment? Because to stick up a poster, share a video and promptly move on with your life is to do a disservice to the very real human beings you are right now advocating for and whose situation you are lamenting.

If you don’t want to be invisible yourself, than stand up, shine a light, let us know you’re here, and use your voice for the rest of your life, because that is what it will take to make this issue become  valuable  enough that those of us, our countries that can help, will think it profitable enough to help. It’s not about whether you can shout loud enough. Can you, can IC, can this cause shout long enough?

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8 thoughts on “#69 ~ Invisible

  1. This article has painted an image of an invisible problematic cultural venn diagram between the ‘first world’, ‘other world’, ‘exposure of social media’ and the middle ‘opinion’ that we often don’t notice.

    So happy you took your time to write this, many people have complained about the movement but have ranted rather than inspired or informed.

    Stay writing!


    • Kéhindè says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my work and being open minded to receive my views, it means a lot, and I hope I can keep creating work that inspires you to also create :)

  2. Toilet chubby says:

    Only the people can truly free themselves, bloodshed and violence are simply natural evolutions of developing states. Sure Western nations can give that a bump along, but changes all over the world, such as the arab spring, won’t occur unless the people of those countries want it too.

    I knew, when I started watching kony 2012, that it was too good to be true, the way it was presented as a clear black and white fight between good and evil, it just doesn’t work like that. I knew the average hipster FB user would cling to it, a powerful sentiment that gives them a sense of purpose, for a few moments I was charmed by it too.

    Unfortunately, as you point out, the problem goes a little deeper than Kony himself, who has been largely inactive for much of the past decade. The small population that Kony now presides over face imminent genocide (not least becuase it has just emerged that they reside utop a significant, lucrative and untapped oil reserve, or so i have heard). Ironically, IC propose direct military action, which would ulitmately result in the death of more of Kony’s child soldiers.

    Though I am a true patriot, I do not posess the seemingly blind insolance of many of the population in this part of the world, who think we are strong enough to police the world (Something I suggest you bear in mind). Kony is a falling droplet of water from the tip of a giant iceberg. The truth of the matter, is that these people will probably be slaughtered wether or not the West attempts to intervene. (Not that I am expressing sympathy for the man).

    Simply put, the West cannot be involved in solving all the worlds ills, not that that is always the right thing to do anyway, it is fairy-tale ideal, that the world can be perfect now. Unfortunately, people will have to fight, bleed and die for these things to occur, you might be reminded of a famous Thomas Jefferson quote here. The world is not as pretty as most think, it is not perfect, we can help, but we cannot go throwing Western troops into every one of the worlds evils. In a time of limited resource, priorities have to be made, and these countries will do best left to their own devices for the main part anyway.

    Though this may seem apathetic, just think how many homeless people you’ve walked past, and tried to ignore in you’re life, then you’ll know what I mean. Though I may not agree with all you say, atleast you took the time to think about it, unlike most.

    • Kéhindè says:

      I think you make an absolutely vital and important point, thank you for sharing it, and I agree. I don’t think it is the West’s job to sort out people’s problems. I do believe that if they have the means and resources to support ‘human rights’ but choose to use it when financial benefits may arise, then that is an immorality which simply acts as a catalyst for further disruption and bloodshed. Unfortunately I can only quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. Each of us has untapped potential and power and therefore responsibility over our lives and our worlds, but yes, the ‘East’ needs to rise up and take responsibility for itself. The ‘West’ needs to make sure that when they choose to intervene, it’s for the rubrics they profess to defend. It is a complex issue, it is a human issue, and I hope the more we think about these things in alternative ways, then perhaps we will achieve better responses. We may not be able to help every person we see in need, but we can acknowledge there existence, which is something I try and do with the homeless, and therefore maybe when we have the means, we will know how to affectively and appropriately help.

  3. unseenflirt says:

    A very challenging and bold take on the issue, much of which I agree with. Does it boil down to a simple case of hype over substance? The worry is that this is a transitory moment of excitement typical of a western world obsessed with trend, sensationalism and ‘the latest thing’ – that our collective attention span is insufficient to deal with these issues at their root levels.

    Unfortunately, I think this may be the case. Even our news providers demonstrate fickleness, flitting from one big story, one big cause, one big tragedy, celebration or expose to the next in a simple bid to win our attentions.

    The difficult point you raise (very eloquently I might add) is that the issues at the core of child exploitation, genocide, female subjugation and all other world ills are so much bigger than a flash in the pan viral can address. And if people actually feel that their consciences are assuaged by having spared a thought (or even a click on Facebook!) towards this issue, then we have a loooooooong way to go towards actually tackling these problems in a meaningful way.

    Please eep writing – anything that invites us to REALLY engage is a positive thing.

    • Kéhindè says:

      Thank you very much for your insightful analysis and critique of my work. All the above are the complex issues I have tried to engage with and hope to continue to. It is a shame that the content has been lost in favour of the presentation, the desire to be ‘part of something,’ but I hope that this movement might have done enough to push us to re-question ourselves, our responses to these issues, and maybe even generate it’s own momentum which in time will effect the change we want, give a voice to the untold stories that are lying beneath the transitory surfaces. Thank you, I will definitely keep writing

  4. Vanessa C says:

    I haven’t had time to read other posts but I just had to take some time to read this. I’ve been increasingly frustrated at the naivety of various individuals sharing this video of propaganda.
    I totally agree with you that this is a bit of a brainwashing campaign, formulated by a man who travels back and forth to, as you so correctly pin-pointed, ‘Africa’. Surely then it would have come to his attention that what he witnessed in Uganda is common, but perhaps not of the same severity, across the continent? So too do such crimes occur in Asia and the Middle East.
    So the undercurrent of your blog is about this being an opportunity for the cyber community to have a voice. To have a voice on ‘invisible children’ having a voice. Brilliant. It is this feeling of acceptance and ‘fighting together for a common cause’ that every individual craves. So for the majority of these children who are subjected to being part of an army, surely they feel the same, and accept their ‘role’. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying what Kony has done is correct; but there are so many political, and cultural considerations – ethics can in no way create peace in the world as this man idealises. (I hate to call the IC creator ‘guy’ or ‘man’ but I’m on my phone and can’t refer to the video or your blog for his name haha).
    I could rant all day, but I really do appreciate your blog. Thank you!! It’s been a while since I’ve read a blog or a comment column and haven’t wanted to just pull out my hair!! Guess I could say ‘I get your drift’… If only there was exposure of the economics involved!

    I’ll leave on the fact that the US spend the majority of their ‘budget’ on the military, military aviation, and defence tech whilst thousands of American individuals live in poverty and cannot afford healthcare/education. There are far too many invisible children in the US which Obama’s* government needs to address, before any serious action is taken in countries such as Uganda. But let’s face it, as you mentioned, if their is no profitable benefit, the likelihood of significant intervention is slim.

    Forgive me if this ended on a ‘anti-US’ note. This may very well be what my anger over this topic has stemmed from. It’s good that we are now aware of Kony. But here goes revealing the hundreds of other baddies in the world.

    Will be sure to read ‘take me to New York’ soon. Keep them coming!

  5. boye says:

    This is one of the most intelligent treatises I have read on this topic and your commenters are about the most level-headed and thoughtful online. I wish I had something to add but think all that needs being said have been covered. Thank you for kindling the thoughts that followed.

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