On the subject of Jospeh Kony

This past week the video of Joseph Kony has gotten something like 60 million hits.  Idealistic college students and the adults that never faced reality were up in arms (no pun intended) calling for action.  Money also, but mostly ‘action.’  I myself was tempted to get caught up in the campaign.  Save the children!  How could the world let this happen? This can be solved by the general awareness of the wiser, developed world (the United States).   And then I remembered: this didn’t start right before the film was made and the US is hardly a model for an ideal childhood, with something like 21% of our children living under the poverty line.  (Keep in mind the poverty line is for a family of four.)

Granted, what I am about to write may sound too cynical.  After all I am Indian and I should believe in the tenets of Gandhi’s “be the change you want to become.” (right?).  It’s not that I am so weary of the injustice in the world that I don’t believe the Kony film can make a difference.  It’s just that the best weapon against anything dark is the light of knowledge and the film still leaves so many unanswered questions.  (Such as What are all the previous efforts made to stop him? or Do they really think just being aware of a problem will somehow solve it? – I’ve tried that with my student loan bills.  It does not work.)

I would have loved to write a post about how there is a need for:

a) a less patronizing attitude toward developing world  issues – meaning, just because an NGO was founded in 2007/video was made/some college kid from the States or the UK stumbles upon an injustice does not mean the problem didn’t exist well before that or that several journalists reported on it, or even that lots of money had not been spent trying to fix it.

b) taking advocates and advocacy with a grain of salt.  (Everyone is always right and all of you are always wrong.)

c) just because you’re not on the Kill Kony bandwagon doesn’t mean you are advocating the training, use, and abuse of child soldiers.

Of course, the essay I’m linking to does all that and more, quite a bit more eloquently than I ever could.

It’s a must read.  Not a Click Away: Joseph Kony in the Real World by Dinaw Mengestu

My favorites lines from the essay:

“The intricate politics of African nations and conflicts are reduced to a few simple boilerplate propositions whose real aim isn’t awareness, but the gratifying world-changing solution lying at the end of our thirty-minute journey into enlightenment. ”

“It’s a beautiful equation that can only work so long as we believe that nothing in the world happens unless we know about it, and that once we do know about it, however poorly informed and ignorant we may be, every action we take is good, and more importantly, “makes a difference.””

“We didn’t know about it, therefore it didn’t exist. The children of Uganda were never invisible to their families and communities, who long before the first flood of NGO’s to the region, worked for years to protect them.”

And the best one:

“If we care, then we should care enough to say that we need to know more, that we don’t have an easy answer, but that we’re going to stay and work until we find one.”

Read it here.

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2 thoughts on “On the subject of Jospeh Kony

  1. Caring enough to say that we need to know more? Seems reasonable. Acknowledging these problems are complex? Of course. But I’m not sure we each have a moral obligation to “stay and work until we find [a solution].” I admire Mr. Mengestu’s commitment to these issues, but is it realistic that we all be engaged at the solution-finding level of every problem in the world? For better or worse I leave the solutions to most problems to the experts, and I rely on their work (including their journalism) to inform me of ways I might positively affect various situations. So in a situation like this Kony 2012 campaign — which incidentally I know nothing about 🙂 — I simply need information about the likely efficacy of such a campaign. In other words, is it a solution worthy of support? If it isn’t, then perhaps someone could suggest another. But to equate “caring” with actually working to find the solution, is unfair and unrealistic, if not ultimately counterproductive.

    Speaking of unfair, I realize I’m arguing with Mengestu and not you here, Rani. Although I would take a slight exception with your desire for a “less patronizing attitude toward developing world issues.” I get what you mean, and objectively you may be right. But these are campaigns. They are goal-oriented. If your goal is to get maximum support for your political agenda, then you want to attract the maximum audience, and in the process the message almost necessarily gets modulated to the point of being ultra-simplistic and approaching patronizing. But again, we should be judging the solution more than getting tied up in a post-colonial analysis of what it means for “us” to really help “them” yadda-yadda-yadda… Just my opinion…

    • Thanks for commenting:)! I do agree with you about the fact that it is not realistic to get engaged in the solution-finding level of all problems. It wouldn’t make sense. I guess, my point is, if you are getting involved, try and be as informed as possible. And be realistic about the methods of solving the problem.

      I do hate that I sound so cynical in the post, I didn’t mean to imply that keyboard activism is not worth anything. It certainly is. The point of the campaign was to get attention, and of course it did with literally everyone talking about it. I think the issue is, does attention really spur any kind of concrete, intelligible action?

      But, I do feel like some, not all, development work does have a patronizing tone to it. We just have to be careful in how to frame and approach things I guess.

      Obviously, I don’t have any answers and this is just my take on it too:P

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