7 March 2012. A glossy video of a white man showing footages of his son being born, to growing up, to making video’s on his fathers iPhone (not sure what that’s got to do with anything) to introducing him to the ‘bad’ guys in this world, the bad guy being a man named Joseph Kony, goes absolutely viral. Another bad guy then actually sends him a letter to affirm US special operation forces in Uganda to defeat the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), suggesting the United States is a great democracy where the campaigning of lots of white people can change the political climate few black people on a continent called Africa. I’d be lying if I said if I wasn’t momentarily affected by the video myself during Jacob’s sobs. It just comes to show how powerful social media can be. It also comes to show how willingly ignorant we are as a people. The western arrogance we have especially is overwhelmingly hollow. ‘We Westerners know best, and we shall come over there to fix this! You Africans are poor and helpless, we are the saviours!’ Nothing but the usual rhetoric when it comes to the division of the global north and south. The supposed notion of responsibility of the white man to provide and protect the non-whites when from the moment the white man discovered Africa, he has been nothing but a curse. Africa has seen no peace. An aching history of slavery, disease and colonialism, of the mind and its soil, Africa has been bleeding.
So why now? Why not between 1999 and 2004 when Kony was in Uganda, and was committing crimes. The LRA was pushed out of Uganda years ago and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic and he is currently believed to be in Congo, where he slaughtered 620 civilians and abducting over 120 in the country between December 2009 – January 2010. Now the newborn social media activist would argue “better late than never, better that we do something now” brushing the sudden emergence under the carpet. Okay, sure. But did I mention that in 2006 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil were found in Uganda with 2.5 billion barrels confirmed just last October? And did I also mention soon after this confirmation US special op forces were sent to the region to ‘defeat’ the LRA? And that there is a programme titled AFRICOM aimed to alter the regional balance of power, be divisive and destabilising in Africa? That was essentially the news regarding Uganda in 2011. No mention of Kony. Up until now. Kony hasn’t been in Uganda for at least 6 years. Bush and Obama’s administration has been in Afghanistan for a decade.
Kony is a face. Like Hosni Mubarak was a face to the Egyptian regime still in place, Kony is a face of an armed Christian extremist group (guess Invisible Children didn’t tell you that either huh?) by singling out the bad guy, do we really think the LRA will be gone? By lobbying Congress to send US troops to Uganda do we really think we will save Uganda from its problems? And to think, the Kony campaign is promoting Uganda’s military. Something else Invisible Children forget to mention is that in the civil war Museveni came to power, he also used child solders for his army. That army is now the Ugandan army. I should also mention that yes, Museveni,
dictator president of Uganda has been head of state, judiciary and many other things for 25 years. Kony 2012 is a campaign manufacturing wide scale consent for US ‘humanitarian’ intervention by demonizing a figure and causing mass hysteria which isn’t too hard to do when the people are willingly ignorant and susceptible to emotional manipulation and white washing of the actual criminals at work in their luxurious offices.
Now #StopKony has been trending for over 48 hours on Twitter with the attempt to make him ‘famous’. The biggest irony here is that the very men that aid the conflict in the region are already famous, and are our heads of state. We first need to stop our corporate neo-liberal governments in pursuit of self interest causing death and destruction everywhere it goes. We first need to campaign for our own governments to get its filthy claws off other countries and to cut military arms to fuel conflicts before we run after one man who hasn’t been in the region for 6 years he once did his dirty work in. There are many bad guys in this world, and Joseph Kony is one. His right hand man Vincent Otti is another. But I’ll let you in a little secret. You see, we elect the bad guys right into Congress and Parliament in our ‘first world’. Its leaders of the global north sitting in comfortable offices and dark suits that engage in far more death and destruction than Kony ever has. That’s not to say Kony hasn’t caused hurt, he has and he should be facing a trial and charges – just like a handful of other leaders across the globe. But I’m certain that if I were to sit down and make a video about the Afghans killed for sport by US and NATO forces, the 5 million Iraqi orphans and how we must demand the withdrawal of foreign forces, it wouldn’t top more than 5,000 views. Nobody would buy my action kits with the faces of Bush, Blair, Obama, Netanyahu to plaster around their city. And it definitely wouldn’t trend on twitter.
The campaign expects people to give up $30 for an ‘action kit’ (again the irony) to wear a flimsy bracelet, with posters to stick up on April 20th. This leads people to believe by doing this, you are absolved from responsibility. You have done your part to make change. There’s an element of hypocrisy involved because those acts also support the economic structures that cause environmental and social problems in the first place. As Slajov Zizek explains, charity only prolongs the issue. And with our donations we become part of this issue. And in this case we can heavily criticise Invisible Children with its shady finances;
“Last year the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that”.
There is a significant problem with charities in our societies today. Invisible children highlights just that. Now to give charity is a selfless, pure and compassionate act, humanizing both the giver and taker in todays consumerist society. Charities on the other hand are completely different. The organised, or rather corporate charity represents a collective of people claiming to be charitable themselves whilst asking for money from us, with different roles in the charity. The moral impetus is no longer personal, and the motives behind it are no longer singular. To sum up, things get complicated.
When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences. Charity prolongs the crisis by hacking at the branches instead of at its root. It’s a product created and sustained by the economic and social systems that have been designed for us; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we allow to be pursued. The current existing status of Africa, and the global south in general is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poverty, the conflicts are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.
I do not mean to discredit the work of genuine, well meant charities that do manage to better the lives of others on a micro scale, but it is a rare activity. Yes charities have the ability to bring awareness about a particular situation – but they do so whilst maintaining the crisis through aid instead of implementing projects that allows the development self-sustained communities. And believe me Africa can feed itself, its us who can’t and thus require IMF, World Bank and the charitable capitalists to make sure Africa is dependant on us.
Charity isn’t a substitute for justice. If we never challenge a social order that allows some to accumulate wealth–even if they decide to help the less fortunate–while others are short-changed, then even acts of kindness end up supporting unjust arrangements. We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.
A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.
” People find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence…It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it… Charity degrades and demoralises… Charity creates a multitude of sins.” – Oscar Wilde