In defense of KONY2012

The following is a guest-post from my colleague Dr. Robert Bosco on the Kony 2012 campaign:

The annoying Leftier-Than-Thou academic machine is chewing up and spitting out the KONY2012 campaign, but the campaign should stay focused and continue on.

Warmongering narcissists line their pockets with gold while innocents pay with their lives. Privileged Westerners send their armies to plunder and loot the Third World. Shameless hucksters manipulate our children through cheap sloganeering and mind control. Paranoid conspiracy theories, you say? Nope. The Tuesday-Thursday rants of a Screw-It-I’m-Tenured-Now professor? Not this time.

No, these insults are real. These are the descriptions, collected here from recent editorials, of the people behind the campaign to bring Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony to justice, known as KONY2012. In fact the insults heaped upon these activists are so condescending you’ve got to hear another: according to one anthropologist at a top American research university, the KONY2012 group “has no shame” about their campaign, which is “based around the idea that Justin Bieber carries more diplomatic weight than Ugandan policy advocates” because after all, most of the hits on the KONY2012 youtube channel are from kids under 17. Pity this “idealistic youth,” the professor goes on, “trying to make a chaotic conflict seem easy to control.”

I can’t resist one more. An Assistant Professor of Political Science who teaches at a U.S. research university but is currently in Uganda has a “few proposals” to sort out the “irresponsible” “narcissistic” “warmongers” behind the KONY2012 campaign. These proposals include such things as “learning,” and asking us all to just cool our no-whip low-carb free-range chai lattes for a moment and consider how we as rich Western consumers contribute to Africa’s long standing conflicts. O.K., there’s truth to that. But something seems repulsive when, after grinding up and spitting out these “young Americans who just want to feel good about themselves,” he then offers us his syllabus. I’m not making this up.

The KONY2012 group is mostly made up of comfortable Americans—mostly young people–who want to do something about some horrible things being done in Africa to other young people. Inspired, perhaps American “emo” kids, be they bi, gay, or straight, will take to the internet to somehow find a way to call attention to the recent murders of about 60 “emo” and/or homosexual kids in Iraq who have had their heads smashed in with concrete blocks. If they do, we now know what to expect from the American academic establishment: those whiney American emo kids with their “online voyeuristic justice,” thinking they can help those poor Iraqi emo kids who can’t help themselves. They probably just feel guilty because we invaded.

I’m a professor, too. I know the games we play with activism and intellectual life in the U.S. These days it’s about a bastardized form of structuralism that would like to inform you that you are always more disempowered than you think: not only are you motivated by privileged guilt whenever you actually want to do something, but you are also guiltier and more complicit in the system than you can ever know. But take note:  if Iran or China or Egypt cracks down on internet activism, you should frenetically tweet postmodern resistance.

As a professor, I never thought I would say this, but kids, on this one, don’t listen to your teachers.

Joseph Kony is a war criminal guilty of grave breaches of the law of armed conflict and human rights. He is literally at the top of the list of the International Criminal Court. Other campaigns, agencies, and organizations focus on other aspects of the wider political problem, but KONY2012 focuses on this one. Some skepticism is probably called for. KONY2012 is perhaps naïve in thinking that increased U.S. military presence in Africa will achieve the objective. After all, America too has recently committed its share of grave breaches of the law of armed conflict and human rights. The idea of U.S. Special Forces working with Museveni’s Ugandan army (which has itself used child soldiers) to “fight terror” in the deep bush of East/Central Africa certainly sounds like a recipe from hell’s test kitchen.  And America doesn’t even support the International Criminal Court, the very place where KONY2012 would most like to see Kony go.  Nonetheless, if we in the academy can’t bring ourselves to be serious or charitable in our approach to KONY2012, we can at least admonish supportively and take things in the spirit in which they are intended instead of condescendingly tearing the campaign to pieces at every turn.

One response to “In defense of KONY2012

  1. amen. dina & shea.

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