I’m sure you’ve heard this line before: If you’ve been anywhere near a TV or computer screen in the last few days, you’ve probably heard about Kony 2012.
And it’s true, especially in my own circles: talk is everywhere.
I have close associations to Invisible Children, and am particularly drawn to the ongoing debate about all sides of the issue. I have exhausted far too many hours reading story after story online in an attempt to form a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. I have my apprehensions about the video, but I also find myself getting a bit upset about what I consider to be mostly unfounded or mis-informed criticisms of the organization and their supposed lack of research and local input. But that is something I’d rather not go into here.
Another hot topic centers around the best way to stop Kony. I won’t answer that question, nor do I think I have the authority to do so. Military intervention of any nature makes me nervous, particularly when an army of children is involved. But if you’re unsure of whether Kony needs to be stopped, have a look at the ongoing activities of the LRA in the CAR, DRC, and South Sudan. I just don’t feel comfortable to claim, from my couch here in San Diego, to know the best solutions for that region, nor the worst.
Here’s what I do know, and what I hope we can all agree on; this issue needs to be brought to attention. And whatever your opinion of the video, it has accomplished that task in a very big way.
There have been a number of interesting questions raised by this video, but I’d like to take the conversation away from Invisible Children, directly, and speak to a broader topic: the role of westerners in Africa, in general.
You’ll see that even Africans have wildly differing opinions on the issue, from this Ugandan blogger who bemoans the west’s inclination to share a single (negative) African story, to this Nigerian journalist who invites his fellow intellectual elites to stop whining about such things and let somebody do something.
My own opinion, based largely on time spent in Uganda, is somewhere between the two. People who’ve been affected by conflict and poverty are quite capable of taking care of themselves and their families and working toward a better future. But many don’t have even the meager resources to take those first steps. When we, the west, can intervene on a level that is beneficial to BOTH of us, I think it levels the playing field a bit. I love that, when one of the women I work with in Uganda said to me, “You must continue this work, because we are depending on it, it is so good for us,” I can respond by saying “Make sure you continue this work, because without you, we don’t have jobs either.”
But I also think that there are places where a balance like this is currently just impossible, and I’ll give two examples.
I find the article and this video to be incredibly disturbing for a multitude of reasons.
First and foremost, the situations these people have faced are atrocious, end of story. No one should ever have to go through through things like that. And I’m not entirely comfortable with the depiction of these intelligent people as hopeless and in need of rescuing. (By the way, can we all take a minute to appreciate the extraordinary courage the men in this region show by defending their villages against armed militias with just slingshots and bows & arrows? Seriously.)
But mostly, I’m disturbed that their circumstances somehow merited this, that grown men and women feel compelled to sit in front of a video camera and say to the world that their “hands are empty,” and that they are “powerless.” I cannot even begin to imagine how broken they have to feel to say things like that, especially to confess them before an audience. And that is what just wrecks me.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to plead for help. To call my mom, as an adult living on my own, and ask her to take me grocery shopping because I didn’t have any money or anything to eat. Or to send an email to friends asking them to consider buying some of the jewelry that I make for mother’s day presents because I still hadn’t found a job and couldn’t pay rent. It’s humiliating. It’s humiliating to ask for help, and it’s humbling to receive it.
But my own troubles seem silly in comparison.
These people did nothing to deserve their circumstances, and as one even said, their lives were good before. I am confident that each of those people, given the opportunity, will work hard to support their families and create brighter futures for their children. But how can they be expected to write their own stories when they are living in such paralyzing fear?
So I say this. There is certainly validity in the question: “Who are we, the west, to intervene in international affairs?”
But when these people have cried out for help and asked us to stop Kony, who are we to respond by saying, “Sorry, I wish I could, but you see: it’s this incredibly nuanced and delicate situation,” or “Yeah, we could probably stop him, but I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that Africans need Westerners to rescue them.”
Perhaps we’ll make a mistake, but at the end of the day I’d rather add more tarnish to our international reputation than to look any of those people in the eye and say that we didn’t even try.