Perpetuating the idea that justice in the periphery is unattainable without assistance from the core, suggests that paternalistic theories of development and justice seem to be recycling themselves and reappearing as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Jason Russell the film maker of Kony 2012 suggests that modern science and technology must firstly, be provided by the United States and secondly, that they are key to the capture of Joseph Kony in 2012. These ideas, which I might add have not worked since their emergence in the early 1950’s, are quite similar to the varying theories of development that suggest these elements as preconditions to alleviation of sufferance. This movement brings to light that old ideas of the African continent and its people still persist in contemporary –north American- thought, and it enraged me that some people, including Jason Russell validate this language and imagery.
I have come to be very aware of langue use, and the power it has to mobilize people with good intentions in the wrong way. I have long been conflicted with the use of the word Africa to generalize and minimize a place and its people who vary in so many ways, from lived realities, language, customs and ideas, to values. Throughout the film I found myself cringing at the use of the word Africa, why? While the main focus is on events specific to Northern Uganda with Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the term “Africa” was used too often, homogenizing 54 countries into a particular conflict that has more recently expanded into Central African Republic and parts of Democratic Republic of Congo. I must admit that I am mad and I had a lot of questions;
1. Why is this group suggesting military action to target a man who has child soldiers and sex slaves?
2. Why are Ugandans not at the forefront of this initiative?
3. Why are Ugandan efforts over the last 26 years being ignored? Such as the reintegration of escaped child soldiers through Acholi mato oput; (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2011/10/20111012152024670219.html)
4. Are they examining the more particular issues that have stemmed from Konys 26 year tirade? Aside from building schools, what about community needs assessments, which include addressing increased HIV rates as a result of sex slaves, and the mental state of former child soldiers.
5. If the periphery must be involved, why are they not suggesting the United States facilitating a United African effort empowering African nations to help one another? Such as was done with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) during the fight for the liberation of Mozambique from the Portuguese, prompting and promoting African solidarity, sovereignty and unity.
6. Why are they not trying to build capacity in a way that empowers the disempowered?
7. Why is this group not creating a platform for Ugandans and Central African Republicans to speak upon for themselves, instead of speaking on their behalf?
8. Are they looking at the bigger picture, those involved, his supporters? As with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, it has not stopped it is simply at a smaller scale and the militia group had moved into parts of Congo.
9. I also question the transparency of the group, and where funds are being allocated (as with most large-scale Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs))
All this touches on my point of perpetuating ideas of helplessness within the continent and regurgitating the idea of “otherness” and “backwardness” a dialogue and language started by Europeans, that has haunted African countries for centuries.
Now believe me when I say that I am able to give credit where credit is due, Jason Russell was able to create a contextual movement. By this I mean he came up with a perfectly innovative way of using social media for social movement, and I commend him for that. Russell was able to take an international issue and localize it, making it relateable to North Americans by challenging the idea of “I can’t do anything I am only one person.” He has increased awareness on an on-going issue and has mobilized youth globally, which on its own is very impressive, and much more than I have ever done or could imagine myself doing. Yet my points still stand.
The new face of the scramble for Africa is evident. In the beginnings of colonization, the scramble for African countries -more over its resources and available laborers- began simply as a “saving and civilizing Africa” movement and evolved to what it was during colonialism, to what it is now. Many people can argue that colonialism ended decades ago, but I strongly believe in the idea of mature colonialism, just as much as I do in new racism. Just because it no longer exists in the form it did when it first appeared does not mean it has since ceased to exist. I believe that this Kony 2012 initiative disempowers Ugandans as capable rulers and decision makers of their own country – invading on their sovereignty as a nation-, and serves to further perpetuate the age old idea that stems back to the partition of Africa, where European powers decided that Africans were uncivilized and could not govern themselves, thusly prompting outside –European- intervention. The language of “saving Africa” and “saving Africa’s children” is one of the more elusive and clandestine scrambles for Africa, masking its intentions and through dialogues that openly exclude the voices of African people, – except of course as the innocent victims- creates a vast knowledge gap, while also creating a void validated to be filled by western values and ideas. I am not suggesting that Kony 2012 has imperial motives behind it – although I am skeptical-, but we have to question the potential backwash effects of this movement. In context ask yourself, what role are Ugandans playing in this Kony 2012 movement? Are they in positions of power and decision making? How will Ugandans and their country be affected by US military backing and intervention? What role will existing Ugandan institutions play?
In short, my main worry is the resurfacing of large scale of colonial language that once justified imperial occupation within most African countries. I ask that we always keep mind the politics of representation, whom is speaking on behalf of who, are the real issues being addressed and question if the right voices are being heard or even considered. I ask that as global citizens we do not take the things presented before us for face value, and that we challenge these ideas before leading each other blindly, and most importantly, we have to learn from and understand the past and the cumulative causations of seemingly simple issues to be able to examine future courses of action.
Is anyone else sensing another free the children on the rise? As if one wasn’t enough -_-
Beware the “new” paternalistic discourse