As people who have toiled in relative obscurity for years over the very issue this extremely widely viewed video raises, the abduction of children by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), we have to admit we felt a pang of jealousy along with our gratitude at seeing such hyper attention paid to this ongoing tragedy. Yet, as we view and review the YouTube sensation, we are moved to take a more critical look at what can and has been done before Kony 2012 brought about the media explosion.
Game Changer. Global meme. World connectivity. Digital media miracle! Viral Spiral! TV and computer screens have screamed the story of the invisible children over the last few days. Last we looked the film had over 70 million hits. The campaign is slick and compelling. But we are deeply disturbed with the direction all this enthusiasm is taking.
Don’t get us wrong: it is wonderful that millions of people are now prompted to act on behalf of the children abducted and exploited by the LRA (or other warlord factions in Central Africa today). It is even better that millions, especially young people, are recognizing that wars impact real people and that they can help to end one.
Telling the story of Kony’s victims through the figure of Jacob is brilliant — was it Stalin who said, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”? But to demonize a single individual and urge others to “take him out” is not only over simplistic, it’s dangerous.
Joseph Kony is not a lone rogue who is “not supported by anyone.” He stays armed, fed and alive because he serves a multiplicity of political leaders in a sinister multi-state balance of terror in east-central Africa. And to vilify one person, however deserving he seems to be, as the lightning rod for our hate does not solve conflicts. It reinforces the belief that we can use violence to solve them. History has shown over and over, that disciplined and sustained nonviolent strategies can change violent regimes. Ask Marcos or Mubarak.
It was painful to watch the director, Jason Williams, teach his son that the world is divided into “bad guys” (them) and “good guys” (us) — the very rhetoric, and mindset, that has caused the waste of tens of thousands of lives over the last twenty years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most disturbing is the film’s call to join “an army of peace” and urge Congress to continue supplying US Military advisors for a military response for removing Joseph Kony from the battlefield. Here a revolutionary medium reduces itself to a reactionary solution.
Kony must be stopped and brought to justice. Children must be released and protected. Yet, there are transformational responses worthy of this revolutionary media call. And the fact is, we have been doing this, albeit at a small scale so far and well below the media radar, with a real army of peace.
Gandhi coined the term “peace army” (shanti sena) for the network of unarmed, nonviolence-trained volunteers he had begun to send throughout India to stem her regional and communal conflicts. Today, following his lead, Nonviolent Peaceforce has teams of specially trained unarmed civilian peacekeepers coming from several countries living and working in a village on the western border of South Sudan. Florington is one of those peacekeepers. He comes from Sri Lanka where he trained communities on how to protect their children from abduction to child soldiering during the long civil war there. He now teaches communities in South Sudan how to protect themselves and prevent abductions by Kony and the LRA. Other unarmed peacekeepers retrieve child soldiers. They do all of this without guns and therefore without escalating the violence.
These are just two examples of courageous peace work that if properly brought to scale could break this cycle of violence by demonstrating an effective nonviolent approach that empowers local people to protect themselves. If we had ten trained nonviolent peacekeepers in each threatened village working closely with local people to prevent abductions, it would not only allow thousands of children to sleep in peace but herald a methodology that could change the face of war. Remember: we are not talking about a “maybe” here — nonviolent teams of this kind, sometimes numbering far fewer than ten, have protected lives in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Columbia, Mindanao, and places too numerous to mention — many of them, like most of these, embroiled in severe conflict. And all this could be done at a fraction of the cost of military interventions.
Civilians, especially women and children, are now often the intentional targets in violent conflicts from Colombia to Syria. Demanding military interventions in each of these desperate situations will only escalate violence and feed geopolitical agendas unknown to most Facebook Friends. Indeed, as the wildly popular film reminds us, what we do and don’t do will affect every generation. But how we do it can be even more important. Let us seize this moment while we have to world’s attention to not only show that we care but also reshape the way the world responds to violent conflict. Then, indeed, the transformational message would match the revolutionary medium.
Crossposted from the Nonviolent Peaceforce blog: http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/blog/%5Buser-raw%5D/kony-2012-message-should-match-medium
President, Metta Center
Professor emeritus of Classics
and Comparative Literature