Kony 2012: is this film astroturfing for a US invasion of eastern Africa?

Jason Russell, “Kony 2012” (2012)

Having heard about nothing else but this 30-minute feature going viral across Youtube and various social networking sites, I determined to watch this film championed by mysterious US charity Invisible Children for myself. I found it a very slick and manipulative piece of propaganda aimed at young people and families with children. The film starts with director Jason Russell and his family, and zooms in on his young son from birth on to his preschool years before branching out to the lost children of Uganda, children like Jacob who have lost their families and have been forced to join the Lord’s Resistance Army as soldiers (if they’re boys) or sex slaves (if they’re girls) under the sinister charismatic leadership of one Joseph Kony. Russell dwells for a little time on Jacob and his experiences before delving into a drive for support and donations to help other young people like Jacob, and suggesting ways in which people can bring the issue of child soldiers and finding Kony to be brought to justice to the attention of others.

Russell adopts a deliberate personal style to make very subjective appeals to people’s emotions. His use of his son as willing collaborator is creepy as well as exploitative, to say the least. The filming methods used are so slick as to raise my hackles: the editing and the images, even the sloganeering and strategies suggested to raise other people’s awareness, all look as if they’d been cooked up in an advertising agency that’s done work for past TV current affairs programs. The themes pushed by “Kony 2012” are so familiar as to be banal and devoid of genuine feeling: let’s change the world for the better, let’s be pro-active, let’s protect innocent and vulnerable children from exploitation (speak for yourselves!), let’s bond in solidarity with other aware young people and fight this monster Joseph Kony and triumph where older people can’t or won’t.

No historical context is given, which is extremely suspicious: the film never explains who Joseph Kony is, why he is such a bogeyman and who his Lord’s Resistance Army is fighting against. What is his background, how and why is he a rebel, what political / social / economic conditions existed in Uganda in the 1990s that enabled him to rise to his current position as Uganda’s Public Enemy No 1, and why should we get rid of him now when we could have got rid of him ages ago? Is the Ugandan government under President Yoweri Museveni so helpless that it must appeal to the outside world? Is Kony fighting the Ugandan government? Given that Museveni has just been “elected” to a 4th term and has been in power for 25 years with a blemished record in violating human rights, invading parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and holding elections that yield suspect results that support his continued rule, perhaps Kony is doing the right thing in resisting the Ugandan government!

The film’s suggested solutions are pathetic and laughable: let’s make Kony famous by plastering posters of him across cities around the world on 20 April 2012! Support celebrities like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and Bono against Kony! Buy the Action Kit package! Wear the “Kony 2012” bracelets! Donate money to the cause! The Kony 2012 awareness campaign looks too much like an election campaign to ring true. And why should the public be asked to cough up money when famous Hollywood celebrities and other stars in politics and the commercial music industry have more than enough money among themselves to capture and bring Kony to justice and rehabilitate the child soldiers and sex slaves he has abused?

And now that all is said and done, one suspicion remains: the recent announcement of the discovery of at least 2.5 billion and maybe as many as 6 billion barrels of oil in Uganda couldn’t have anything to do with the release of the “Kony 2012” film? How cynical of me to think that a future invasion of Uganda by AFRICOM might need support from young people in the form of a “humanitarian” campaign!

In the meantime, hundreds of children in northern Uganda have fallen victim to a mysterious and fatal neurological disease known as Nodding disease spreading across the border from the newly independent Southern Sudan. It is arguable that this problem deserves more immediate attention and help than pursuing a shadowy warlord who may not even be in Uganda now or be alive still.

Postscript: Since I wrote this review (11 March 2012), I have come across information that Invisible Children has received money from the National Christian Foundation and the Christian Community Foundation, two organisations linked to Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Discovery Institute, the first two of which oppose abortion and rights for homosexual rights, and the last of which advocates the teaching of “intelligent design” (creationism by another name). These organisations have encouraged the criminalisation of homosexuality in Uganda to the extent that Ugandans charged with engaging in homosexual activities can be subjected to the death penalty. In addition, Jason Russell has spoken publicly at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school founded by former Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell who supported South Africa’s apartheid regime in the past.

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