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KONY 2012: Doing the Right Thing

Is there Hope for Victims of Joseph Kony and Other Victims of Unspeakable Crimes in Africa?

We can question the motives of filmmaker Jason Russell in making the film KONY 2012 and how donated funds have been used by the non-profit organization, Invisible Children. We can question his use of mostly white people to tell the uniquely African story of child kidnappings, abuse, forced sexual slavery, coerced mutilations of children’s faces, and forced killings even of one’s parents. We can question the relative simplification of a complicated story that extends beyond Ugandan borders. However, what we cannot dispute is the emotional effect of the twenty-seven minute film that went viral since it first hit You Tube on March 6, 2012, with more than 84 million viewers to date. We cannot dispute it is the right thing to do to bring the matter to the collective consciousness of the entire world.

If you haven’t heard of it, you haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter within the last two weeks. The social media attention that this issue has gotten since its release has shocked everyone, including the producer himself. Perhaps that explains Russell’s recent mental breakdown ("reactive psychosis") following scores of interviews and international attention never before seen.

The twenty-seven minute video can be viewed on You Tube. It is well worth your time given the educational and (anti-) humanitarian story of a man and has actions that led to his being named the world’s worst criminal by the International Criminal Court.

Joseph Kony is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group that has abducted an estimated 66,000 children since 1986 to become soldiers in his army. Kony kidnaps the children and enlists them into the LRA. He forces them to commit atrocities not in the name of a cause but to retain and gain more and more power by driving the population to fear him even more than death itself.

KONY 2012 was released by The Invisible Children group to raise awareness of the criminal acts of Joseph Kony. As stated on their webpage, Invisible Children’s mission is to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity”. Three young filmmakers had traveled to Africa in search of a story, and came back with a documentary that aired in 2005 on the invisible children of the Lord’s Resistance Army. However, very little attention was paid to the story until the video.

U.S. involvement was minimal until Invisible Children urged the government to take action. In May 2010, President Obama signed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Not much happened until November 24, 2010 when Obama sent a document to Congress to acquire more money for the cause. As of October 14, 2011, Obama deployed 100 U.S. military advisors to assist, train, and offer intelligence to the Ugandan forces to help combat the LRA. This is not a military action by the U.S. but one of technical assistance in part to find Kony in the jungle so he can be brought to justice. It is the right thing to do – the humane thing to do.

Current efforts are to publicize the story and plight of Ugandan children including making the Invisible Children visible for the whole world to see the atrocities committed in the name of Joseph Kony. Invisible Children are targeting 20 culture-makers (Hollywood types) and 12 power-makers (with influence on governmental affairs) to lend their name and help spread the word.

Invisible Children wants to make Kony even more famous in the U.S. by having young people plaster their neighborhoods with posters featuring Kony’s picture. At sundown on Friday, April 20, the organization is urging young people to gather together and work all night putting up posters. They have printed hundreds of thousands of posters in preparation for the event. The organization believes once people find out more about what Kony has done then justice will prevail.

The story of Joseph Kony and the Invisible Children is played out endlessly in other African countries. While attention should be focused on the plight of Ugandan children forced into unspeakable acts we must not forget other struggles and atrocities. Most recent are the ethnic clashes between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. Fighting continues in the Jonglei region of South Sudan, where battles have claimed thousands of lives since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. According to the United Nations, more than 300,000 South Sudanese were displaced due to internal violence last year.

Then there is Joshua Milton Blahyi, once dubbed to be one of Liberia’s most feared warlords, who was responsible for the killing of nearly 20,000 people during Liberia’s 14-year civil war. Recently he converted to Christianity and proclaimed to be an evangelist, traveling the nation as a preacher and asking for forgiveness from those whom he had hurt in the past. A film documentary was made of his past, “The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” and asks the question whether a transformation so great can ever occur and how will we know it is real.

Africa has been a troubled region of the world for many years. Millions have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) during the conflict between warring rebel militias and the national army as they vie for control over the country’s vast mineral wealth and control of slaves, many of whom are women and who are forced to work in the mines and into a life of sexual slavery.

Who can forget the Rwandan Genocide and the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 due to ethnic strife between the minority Tutsi, who had controlled power for centuries, and the majority Hutu peoples, who had come to power in the rebellion of 1959–62 and overthrown the Tutsi monarchy.

Is there hope for Africa to become more peaceful and end the bloodshed formed by many years of ethnic and tribal conflict? One place to look for a useful perspective on the issue is the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who made an impassioned plea for an end to inter-religious strife in his country. Speaking at the official opening of the 11th General Assembly of the World Evangelical Fellowship in Kuala Lumpur on May 4, 2011, Dr Mahathir said that once started, religious disputes often lead to violence over several generations.

"Intolerance breeds injustice. Injustice invariably leads to rebellion and retaliation, and these will lead to escalation on the part of both making reconciliation almost impossible. It would appear that during times of stress, despair and frustration, people become increasingly irrational, and they do things, which they never think they are capable of. And so we see hideous brutality perpetrated by the most gentle people.”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 19, 2012