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?