Kony 2012: Or, the White Man’s Continued Burden and Willful Ignorance

The “Kony 2012” video is viral. It has received around 70 million views on youtube. From the beginning of the video until its awe inspiring, empowering end, one cannot help but feel moved by some of the imagery and repulsed by much of its content and what it symbolizes.

The campaign by “Invisible Children” has a dialectical effect that champions a noble cause on the one hand whilst perpetuating all that is wrong with the West’s idea of international law and who and what should be subjected to it. These two ideas of the heartfelt and repulsive are synthesized well enough for anyone that has the courage to view what is happening in Uganda from a perspective that is, dare I say, African? Or by someone that believes that Africans are not helpless children that depend on US paternalism in order to bring someone to justice. I am certain there are many Ugandans that are both in favor of the US intervening as well as opposed to it. The problem is that the “Kony 2012” doesn’t seem to take their views very seriously, or at all. And that’s a problem that has been around ever since before the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the “Scramble for Africa.”

One cannot watch this video and wonder where the African perspective is. Do they all see themselves as so defenseless and reliant on the Great White Savior to come to their rescue? Do they all want the US to militarily intervene in their country? Does the average Ugandan feel as though the conflict in Uganda is that flat and simplistic?

One also can’t help but wonder why the court is not named the African Criminal Court and not the International Criminal Court. No one disagrees that Joseph Kony is  vile and wretched man that should be arrested and brought to justice for his crimes, that is indisputable. However, how can it be that someone like Kony could be the focus of so much international attention for war crimes while other war criminals, such as George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, to name a few, continue to walk freely?

The International Criminal Court has hitherto pursued cases almost exclusively in AFRICA of men that are AFRICAN. It is true that poorer states with fewer resources tend to defer to the ICC for various reasons. But that does not explain the disproportionality  between those indicted in Africa versus those indicted here in the West. After all, it is here in the US that the war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos,  Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc, have been engineered and carried out, yet not one person has faced charges for their “crimes against humanity.”

It does not matter if  crimes against humanity are carried out with depleted uranium, napalm, agent orange,a machetes, an AK-47, or a laser guided missile. Nor does the geography of where such a crime matter. A crime carried out by a US warplane in Baghdad against innocent men, women, and children is no different than a member of Joseph Kony’s army indiscriminately raping and murdering a young girl or forcing a boy to kill his parents. It just makes us in the West feel better if we condemn these African monsters while ignoring the monsters on our own soil.

Noam Chomsky once observed that if the standards employed during the Nuremberg Trials against the Nazis afther WWII were employed today every US President since WWII would have been hung for war crimes. Perhaps that helps to explain the need and desire for the West to continue to validate its legitimacy by continuing to accuse “the Other” while maintaining the myth of dignity and policy of humanitarian imperialism abroad. While the “Kony 2012” video should be recognized as a very well intentioned and effective campaign to make Kony “famous,” it should also be recognized for what it does not address and the broader significance that such willful ignorance perpetuates.

Link to ICC’s most wanted list:



2 Responses to Kony 2012: Or, the White Man’s Continued Burden and Willful Ignorance

  1. Anselme says:

    This is a good article and you make some great points but there are a few things you fail to mention. Yes “Kony 2012” may perpetuate some sort of western stereotype but what it has done effectively is bring awareness to conflict that has been going on for 20 years. The fact that most people in the west have not heard of Joseph Kony or many issues in Africa is a major problem and I think the members of “Invisible Children” are trying to correct that. Also if you are going to make the point of Bush, and others as war lords (which I agree with 100%) you should also mention that all of the rebel groups in Africa and/or the Middle East are funded by the very western super powers they are seeking aid from. It’s common sense someone who can’t afford a bag of rice surely can’t afford a gun. Our governments keep a lot from us but we as citizens and human beings need to become aware. I think “Kony 2012” is a good first step but now we need to do more to educate ourselves and make a change because war is a business and the government doesn’t care about anything other than money.

    • I agree, I think the “Kony 2012” campaign brought a lot of attention to the LRA, which is why it has been effective in that respect. The more people that know about Kony and others like him the more likely we are to see some of these conflicts come to and end. But we must be vigilant and fair in how we apply our standards of who constitutes a war criminal. Thanks for the comment .

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