If you’re online, you’ve probably heard about this Kony character and the campaign by Invisible Children to stop him. Their campaign is obnoxious. At best, it’s an ineffective and dangerous product of white privilege. At worst, its little more than a cynical profit grab that panders to racism.
Here’s a little known fact about Africa: It doesn’t need you to save it and it’s not your fucking laboratory. So before you start talking about kickstarting armies and whatnot, take a deep breath.
You have no business running around other people’s countries with guns and you have no business raising money so that they might do the same. Unless that is your business. In which case, you are the problem.
Kony is an evil man. The world is teeming with evil men.
This is obscene.
Hard as it might be to believe, the world’s problems will not be solved by T-Shirts, buttons, bracelets and action guides. A measured reading of history would probably indicate that, more often than not, these things create problems.
Especially when they promote boots on the ground.
Foreign boots. On ground they don’t know about, don’t care about and don’t have to live on once the fad passes.
From the white man’s burden of colonization, to Belgians putting Tutsis in charge of Hutus based on the most recent “racial sciences” to the devastating effect that charities have on economies, many of Africa’s problems were and are caused by white people thinking they’re doing good.
This instinct has been used and abused by people who suffered from no such illusions. By people out to make a buck.
And all of that is to ignore that quite a bit of Africa is doing quite well and that it is an incredibly rich continent. The African people are not “half-devil, half-child.” They do not require our help. If anything, they just require us to stop looting them while saying it’s for their own good.
But, I didn’t mean to go off on a tirade here. Better informed people than I have written on this subject. I just wanted to let you know where I stand and to share a couple of relevant links.
They are below.
It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected.
My main concern is that Gulu – and Uganda - has gone through some incredible changes. The economy is booming. The region is re-stabilizing. While Kony’s men continue to kill, rape and slaughter elsewhere, Gulu is not a static, unchanging place. Neither is Uganda, neither is the continent. Portraying a region like Gulu as such, and sending the mass message that the whole continent reflects this, is damaging. It undermines possibilities of investment. It clouds story of entrepreneurship, success and innovation. This goes hand in hand with saying “I work in Africa.” Lumping the continent as one messy area.
This approach obviously denies realities on the ground, inflates fantasies abroad, and strips Ugandans of their agency, dignity and humanity- the complexity of their story and history. The work, consequence, and impact are all focused on Uganda, but the agency, accountability, and resources lie among young American students. Clearly a dangerous imbalance of power and influence; one that can have adverse lasting effects on how and what people know of Uganda. It reduces the story of Northern Uganda, and perhaps even all of Uganda, into the dreaded single narrative of need and war, followed by western resolve and rescue. As we have seen from the past, without nuance and context, these stories stick in the collective memory of everyday people for years in their simplest forms: Uganda becomes wretched war. Whatever good IC may advance in raising more awareness on the issue or even contributing to the capture of Joseph Kony, it can never do enough to erase this unintended (I hope) impact.
First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used todevelop more intelligent advocacy. And yeah, this may seem like an absurdly academic point to raise when talking about a problem that is clearly crying out for pragmatic solutions, but, uh, the way we define problems is important. Really, really important. Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as “The Raped” and Ugandan children as “The Abducted” constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems.
Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn’t help anyone.