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Over the last four days, a phenomenon has been sweeping the virtual world. This is KONY2012, a campaign by an American NGO called Invisible Children to stop Joseph Kony. This is reminiscent of the Save Darfur campaign a few years back.

A bunch of us have been discussing this extensively in office, in coffee breaks, on blogs and on twitter. Some part of the discussions were tinged with envy at the enormous success of the campaign in getting eyeballs. I thought it was a good idea to collect my thoughts about this campaign and having done so, blog about it. One more blog to the hundreds out there.

At the outset let me say that this is probably a very good example of a campaign being run using social media. The presentation is very slick and the issue covered is very real.

The campaign has no doubt brought to fore atrocities on young lives. However, the basic premise of the campaign that this was unknown is simply not true. Everyone working in Africa knows who Joseph Kony is. Most of the policy makers and security experts in the developed countries ALSO know who Kony is. Have known for a long time.  After all the man is one of the first to be indicted by the International Criminal Court many years ago.

Those who know, also know that he is just ONE of the many warlords who deploys child soldiers and brutality. It has been a common strategy of rebels across all of Africa (Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo etc) and even in Asia (LTTE in Sri Lanka). This is not an ‘invisible’ problem. Perhaps it has been invisible to majority of American citizens.

While there is no doubt that the issue of child soldiers has been highlighted, I have four problems with the way it has been done.

  1. Solutions have been presented in a simplistic way. It is fine to be simplistic when explaining something to a 4 year old but when you are talking to the world at large? Also it is always dicey to think that just because the problem is evident, the solution is too.  More often than not, it isn’t. That is the mistake that people make about climate change and what they should do about it too.
  2. The campaign is just another version of the White Man’s Burden. It presents Africa in the usual stereotypical way – weak, poor, helpless and violent waiting for the knight in shining armour to come to the rescue. Decades (centuries in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo) of this intervention has not helped and it is time to revisit this strategy?
  3. The campaign is exhorting the US government to take up the mandate to do something about it. The big assumption here is that the US can / should / will do something about it.  IMO there is really NOTHING that the US can or will do. 100 soldiers supporting (advising) the Ugandans will not really help. Kony is a bush fighter with 30 years of experience. Who knows where he is now? For all one knows, he could be in Uganda or South Sudan or the DRC or the CAR. The Ugandans have no mandate to operate there. How do you find him then? Even if you do find him, how do you arrest him? The Eichmann way? Let us not forget that thousands of operatives were hunting for Osama bin-Laden over a relatively smaller area and it took 10 years of concentrated effort to get him.
  4. Oprah, Clooney etc think that Kony should be made famous, as famous as them! Is there not a danger that the hype (to make Kony famous) will attract loonies to him. Have we forgotten what Rush Limbaugh said a few months back about the LRA?

The campaign also seems to think that once Kony is sorted out, the same strategy can be used against other warlords and despots around the world. A huge reality check is needed here. I really don’t think this will happen

  1. In the first place, it is NOT the prerogative or the mandate of the developed world to change regimes. If peoples of a country want to do it, a-la Egypt, so be it.
  2. The developed world has tried to restore order and democracy in despotic regimes {Somalia (1993) Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003)} and not done all that great a job.
  3. Human rights and development take a distant second place when it comes to realpolitik. In the cold war, the US and NATO governments supported many a brutal regime round the world under the guise of ‘He may be a bastard, but he is OUR bastard’. There is no cold war now but there is ‘war on terror’ and this war makes the same demands of moral suppleness.
  4. Governments don’t take strategic decisions based on what is trending on twitter / Youtube, even in election year. They may take some steps that seem right but nothing major will change in strategic terms.

There are some learning from this campaign that other campaigners can pick from:

  • Framing the issue (poor and plain wrong in some cases) – avoid avoid  avoid
  • Presentation – very slick : use
  • Solution – simplistic : think more

Therein lies its value.  Nothing more.

PS

One very respected blogger, Chris Blattman, is one of the few who have a rather positive view of the campaign. Read his blog here.

There is already ONE spoof up on Youtube. See here.