Dear Dirty America


Kony Beef

March 09
00:35 2012
Portland, OR


            So Adam asked if I might take a look at this video that has been prominently featured on YouTube, called ‘Kony 2012’. The video has all the elements of a successful crusade: heartstring-snagging visuals of injured and cruelly manipulated children, a few celebrity endorsements and some uplifting (if not by now overplayed) musical montages, and a clear purpose.  Beyond feeling like Jason Russell is a bit of a colossal douche (trucker cap and scarf in Uganda? Be real, mate.) and a tad self-aggrandizing, the message he puts forward is a powerful one. Namely, that there is (in a broad sense) injustice present and contemptibly ignored in the world today, and that (in a much more tangible sense) there is a monster with a name and a face called Joseph Kony. 

            However, the video niggles at my mind’s eye, smacking of the naiveté a jaunt in the Peace Corps has taught me to discount, if not despise.  Firstly, the suggestion that Kony fights for nobody but himself is somewhat misleading.  As head of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for several decades Kony has led a crusade of his own (and in fact, a religious one) against the Ugandan government with the aim of instituting an Acholi-led nation ruled by ‘the Ten Commandments’, with himself acting as a channeling force for the Holy Spirit.  Though these details are largely unimportant, what the video misses are the cultural implications behind such a person’s power. 

There are deeply-rooted religious and superstitious belief systems present even in current sub-Saharan societies. As a health volunteer in a rural Zambian village, the pervasiveness of people’s deeply held fears, superstitions, suppositions et al was a constant challenge (mostly for the work of my colleagues; my own project had other challenges). Imagine if you will a slurry of what one might envision ‘voodoo’ (or juju, as it was colloquially known there) to be from popular culture, the ascientific doctrines of the post-Renaissance Catholic Church, and the emotional, vaguely xenoglossic varieties of religion found in western Pentecostal and ‘charismatic’ churches. Imagine also a social framework built around generational status, of blood nobility and tribal affiliations that affect even the most modernized African cosmopols.  Combine this with a more recent and ideologically incompatible framework in the form of the western-style nation state, which wage (in varied fashion) continuous efforts towards modern-, homogen- and liberal-ization by progressives like Kenneth Kaonde, Nelson Mandela, and other figures.  The problems these together pose are daunting to contemplate, at the very least. 

            So while this does not make Kony invisible, in many ways it does place him beyond capture (to a degree, in the same vein as other guerilla monsters Jim Jones, Pol Pot, and Osama bin Laden).  He has supporters who – much like one might say Fred Phelps has at his disposal – fail to share our ire, and in fact condone his (and perhaps even call for greater) medieval-scale savagery. Even with a fully mounted international military mission (which Americans would never back, resulting from a combination of gun-shyness and unconscious prejudices), Uganda is only slightly smaller than the state of Oregon, rugged and heavily-jungled.  With all due respect, it will take more than posters and the mere smiles of George Clooney and Rihanna (though Bono may still swing some weight) to serve a writ and arrest the man.  For all the Dalai Lama’s doings and the millions of colorful bumper stickers that proclaim a Free Tibet… need I even finish the thought? 

However, the movement does recognize its own limitations, largely held at the merciless whim of our fickle American consciousness. Not to rag further on the Action Kits idea or the posters, but it feels an awful lot like that lingering Obama 2008 optimism that buoyed the American sense of fair-mindedness.  The same optimism that (again, being a part of the campaign and since finding it to be largely misplaced) I can only raise a questioning eyebrow towards. Is there an attainable goal in mind, or is it merely another case of self-indulgent ‘fight the good fight’ well-meaningness, borne to be placed in the closet amongst the Elian Gonzales t-shirts, Dolphin Safe posters, and Gore-Lieberman lawn postems? And (another, by far less important niggle) why Russell chose Hitler’s birthday for his Cover the Night event is up for debate; was it meant to be reminiscent of evil incarnate, or is the date merely coincidental? 

In summary, it is a good cause, a decent video, and without the wherewithal to act decisively (i.e. military action), a tragic expenditure of good feeling. 

By day, Dan Rudy writes disparaging items for online publications; by night, he is a dancer. He blogs at Rudian Days 

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1 Comment

  1. Dan Rudy
    Dan Rudy March 10, 03:05

    A friend posed a related question on Facebook today (and still is), namely “LRA/KONY Question #1 The civil conflict between the LRA and the Government has displaced 1.9 million people over 20 years. Someone should do something… Will the Invisible Children’s campaign ‘to do something’ help to end the conflict?”
    My answer: (which may be a little swifter to the point than this essay) “Beyond raising our domestic awareness of this Ugandan plight, I’m afraid Invisible Children will be unable to produce an effective result in the form of the arrest and prosecution of Joseph Kony. And at least so far as the video mentions, it fails to address either disarming the Acholi sectarians or bridging the cultural rift that really lies at the source of the nation’s woes. To blame these crimes on solely one individual (no matter how heinous Kony has shown himself to be) is to ignore the larger dilemma, and thus pursues only a half goal. While the IC campaign is commendable in its interests, short of an internationally supported military endeavor the nature of this problem lies beyond a purely grassroots solution.
    On that note, I am glad Africa is getting a bit of attention.”

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