By M.G. VASSANJI - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 0 Comments
Celebrated Canadian author M.G. VASSANJI on Africa’s missing voice in the viral video media storm
Kony 2012, the YouTube film about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa and its leader, Joseph Kony, took the world—at least that portion connected by social media—by storm. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Mia Farrow, and Rihanna went on Twitter to show their support, and within a few days the video had attracted tens of millions of views and garnered large donations for its creator, the U.S.-based charity Invisible Children. Admittedly, much of the media analysis was about how the video actually went viral—apparently we are still in the midst of euphoria about the miracles of social media. No one quite understands the storm; perhaps there was a lull in the news that the short video filled; it was well-made, with a simple message: unless we act, Kony’s crimes against humanity will go on. America, especially, and youth in particular, were awakened.
The LRA is accused of mass atrocities, including brutal killings, sexual slavery of young women and turning boys into killers. Surely there’s nothing too remarkable about this. We have become used to atrocities in Africa—only a few months ago we were told of rapes and kidnappings in the Congo. Who can forget Rwanda? There were the child soldiers and amputations during the civil wars of Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the decades-long war in Angola that left thousands maimed. And so on. And, to be fair, it’s not only Africa that’s capable of atrocities. We had the mass killings of Cambodia; there was Iraq. One feels helpless and bewildered.
There were, of course, immediate objections to the video—its manipulative inaccuracies and timing, its open call for a larger American intervention (a small force of military advisers is on the ground), its missionary tone and simple-mindedness (“pitched to a five-year-old’s sense of right and wrong,” according to a New York Times column). Yet no one could deny that it had brought the evil Joseph Kony to world attention.
What woke me up from my depressive apathy on this subject was one sole news item that reported selected African criticisms of Kony 2012, to which I found myself saying “hurrah,” and “at last.” Suddenly—to interpret these Africans’ responses—their part of the world was in the news; millions in the West talked and read about it, pitied it, and blogged and tweeted about saving it. But where in this narrative, these critics asked, was Africa’s own voice, except as a helpless victim?
Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger, observed, “this is another video where I see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children. We have seen these stories a lot in Ethiopia, celebrities coming in Somalia.” The film only furthers “that narrative about Africans: totally unable to help themselves and needing outside help all the time.” Another blogger, TMS Ruge, wrote, “Africa is our problem, we hereby respectfully request you let us handle our own matters. If you really want to help, keep the guilt and charity in your backyard. Bring instead, respect, and the humility to let us determine our destiny.” And novelist Teju Cole tweeted provocatively about “the banality of sentimentality” and the “White Saviour Industrial Complex.” Others saw a “white man’s burden” message repropagated.
I cannot help but applaud these sentiments, even if some of them seem over the top. They are a shot in the arm. More Africans should raise their voices to tell their own stories, and object to being treated merely as abject victims. For Africans—my own ancestry is Indo-African—depictions such as Kony 2012 are deeply humiliating, often offensive. It is the outsiders who write these narratives of hunger, war, need; self-appointed specialists zealously hop from one horror to another, reporting them in graphic detail. For them, normal life does not exist in Africa—not the markets, the schools and games, the weddings and festivals. And yet, having said that, who would deny that the terrible realities they depict actually exist? And there is an unnerving sense of irony in all this: how to reconcile “Africa is our problem” with the sad truth that much of Africa depends on foreign aid, like a patient permanently on life support. NGOs keep mushrooming, providing social services and jobs. In Dar es Salaam, where I grew up and often visit, it’s difficult to come across people who do not depend on some foreign connection for their living.
But these African responses to Kony 2012 raised a faint hope. The video may awaken the West to Kony and his like, but perhaps it will awaken younger Africans to themselves. They should proudly speak for Africa, yes, but they should also be the generation that moves it toward real independence. M.G. VASSANJI
* M.G. Vassanji’s new novel, The Magic of Saida, will be published in the fall.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, March 9, 2012 at 9:29 PM - 0 Comments
Watching the first four minutes of Kony 2012, the viral online video by Jason Russell, co-founder of the NGO Invisible Children, I thought I had clicked on a faulty link and was seeing a film-maker’s vanity project about himself, or his young son, or Facebook, or something other than Joseph Kony, the gargoyle who has run the Lord’s Resistance Army of child soldiers for the past three decades.
It turns out my initial impression was more or less correct, though I was in fact watching the right video, which has recently drawn support from U.S. President Barack Obama and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, among others.
After an opening sequence that includes statistics about Facebook, footage of the Arab Spring, and the birth of Russell’s son, the film shows Russell meeting a young Ugandan boy, Jacob, about a decade ago. Jacob was then on the run from the LRA and Russell, after hearing Jacob’s heartbreaking story, promises him: “We’re going to stop them.” At this moment, the screen fades to black, and Russell’s vow is re-played with a slight echo audio effect, lest its dramatic significance be lost on particularly thick viewers. Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
If you haven’t heard of Joseph Rao Kony by now, you probably will soon….
If you haven’t heard of Joseph Rao Kony by now, you probably will soon. An online campaign to make the alleged war criminal “famous” has gone viral in a big way. Invisible Children, a non-profit group dedicated to helping children in war-torn and impoverished areas, made a video calling for the Ugandan warlord and leader of the Christian fundamentalist Lord’s Resistance Army to be brought to justice. It’s received more than 7 million hits on YouTube so far. On Twitter, #StopKony has been trending worldwide, and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Rihanna have helped spread the word.
And why not hop on board? As leader of the LRA in Uganda for the past two decades, Kony is allegedly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, the abduction and killing of children, and—perhaps most infamously—for brainwashing and recruiting child soldiers.
But, as The Guardian reported Thursday, some people are raising concerns about the charity behind the campaign. Chris Blattman, a Yale University professor, has criticized the organization for promoting campaigns that are “inherently naive” in their language that aims at “saving” children in Africa. He says this “hints uncomfortably at “the White Man’s Burden,” referring the patronizing term used to justify European imperial exploits in Africa and Asia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Others have pointed out that the Kony2012 campaign encourages Western forces to cooperate with the Ugandan army in bringing Kony to justice without acknowledging that military’s record of human rights abuses. “We have documented numerous cases in which they’ve been involved in torture and arbitrary arrests, as well as a score of killings of unarmed protesters and bystanders during political demonstrations in the past three years,” Maria Burnett, Human Rights Watch’s Africa division senior researcher, told The Guardian.
Is it fair to criticize the campaign for failing to grasp the complexities of the region’s political and social realities? Might some detractors feel differently if Kim Kardashian wasn’t on board?
Sadly, the answer is maybe.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
Will this be the last stand for Kony and his vicious Lord’s Resistance Army?
Patrick Chengo remembers waking as a hand tore him from bed. Rebels roped together 10 boys from his tiny village, marching them into the black June night. Clenching his jaw, Chengo, the eldest at 14, refused to cry, hoping to calm the other boys; the youngest, just six, had wet himself from fear. Whips drove the boys far from home, deep into the northern Ugandan forest, where they eventually crossed the Nile into the Democratic Republic of Congo. So began Chengo’s nightmare—six years as a child soldier for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
Chengo managed to escape 18 months ago, but freedom has proved bittersweet. His parents didn’t live to see his return. He can no longer read nor do even basic math. His village believes he is a murderer. Chengo, who is haunted by the horrors of the forest, wants Kony captured and tried for what he did to him and tens of thousands of other children. So, apparently, does Barack Obama. In a surprise announcement last fall, President Obama declared the U.S. government was sending combat-ready troops to aid in the hunt for, and fight against, Kony, one of the planet’s most reviled war criminals, and the LRA’s senior leadership.
In the beginning, the LRA was allied with northern Uganda’s Acholi people; it formed in the late ’80s in opposition to the Yoweri Museveni government, which it hoped to replace with one led by northerners, who had ruled Uganda after independence. Political aims, however, were subsumed by Kony’s pseudo-religious imperative: the Christian sociopath claims the Holy Spirit has commanded him to keep killing until Uganda is ruled by the Ten Commandments.
By Alex Shimo - Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
Under Kony’a rule, the LRA has killed or maimed 10,000
Since a breakdown in peace talks with the Ugandan government last December, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has hacked, beaten to death or burnt alive more than 600 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ugandan rebel group has also abducted an estimated 160 children since Christmas Eve. They reportedly use the girls as sex slaves, and train the boys to be child soldiers. In the latest incident, on Jan. 17, they entered a crowded church in the village of Tora in eastern Congo around midnight and set fire to the building, trapping many of the worshippers inside. The number of people who were killed or injured in the attack is not yet known.
The group is led by the self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, who claims to model the LRA on the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Believed to be only around a thousand strong and lacking support from the local population, the group’s members are extremely skilled in bush warfare and tend to scatter and then regroup when under attack. They have continued their brutal reign of killing, raping and maiming the locals, despite recent offensives by the armies and militias of Uganda, southern Sudan and Congo, which are working together in an effort to put an end to the brutal attacks.