KONY 2012: A Year Later

Remember KONY 2012, the short film created by the private organization Invisible Children? Recall all the drama of Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose soldiers kidnapped children and massacred civilians in their homeland and neighboring countries? I can forgive you if it slipped your memory, as it’s as out-of-date as a Tim Tebow Jets jersey.

During the debate over whether or not the non-profit Invisible Children (IC) was right to convince high school students to demand the US fight against Kony and his gang, one theme kept reoccurring: we have to do something.

When one website published an article that criticized IC and KONY 2012, irate defenders of both IC and the campaign rushed to their keyboards. The response of one “Heber Butt” is a typical example:

You guys suck the life out of this incredible achievement. Lets get this bastard and allow these beautiful people to live a decent life. Who gives a shit about how much money they take in as long as we end this murderers reign of terror. It’s people like you, the negative side of this wonderful idea, that need to be shut down. If you consider all the monies we spend on crap and electronics and toys, and compare it to what this cause represents, there is no comparison. Get a life and stop your negativity, and use you own organization to further this noble and worthwhile cause. You are no better than he is, for trying to shoot this down.

Odds are that Heber Butt has moved on. KONY 2012 is in the rearview mirror, save for the money we keep spending on the stalled operation.

So what happened?

In one sense, KONY 2012 worked. People phoned their congressmen and complained, and it paid off. The US Congress passed a bill to provide military aid that sent roughly 100 US soldiers to the far eastern end of the Central African Republic (CAR), situated northwest of Uganda. They worked with nearly 3000 Ugandan soldiers to hunt down scattered LRA groups. The film campaign demonstrated how to effectively awaken consciences and force political action.

Seleka Soldiers

Seleka soldiers detaining CAR citizens

Too bad reality intervened. The Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world, underwent a brief civil war. This past spring, François Bozize, a corrupt authoritarian leader who had seized power in a coup ten years earlier, was overthrown by Seleka, a loose collection of rebels unaffiliated with the LRA. The CAR is a wreck plagued by food shortages and daily brutality inflicted by Seleka soldiers. The US embassy has since closed in CAR’s capital of Bangui, and joint military forces have halted their search for Kony.

This writer has been to the eastern CAR during better times, 20 years ago, and that very thinly-populated area suffered from a dearth of roads, even then. Today, the Ugandan government under US ally Yoweri Museveni continues to toss opposition leaders in jail. The same Ugandan government—which KONY 2012 relied upon—has imprisoned its opposition for crimes as heinous as walking to work in protest of rising bus ticket prices. CAR civilians have the option of either being trapped in a collapsed state or being held as political prisoners in Uganda. What are we to make of all this?

US military interventions are quite good at squandering US taxpayer dollars and killing people, but does it make any sense for a country, itself teetering on bankruptcy, to send money and soldiers to dictatorships in a region possessing little strategic value? Why can’t African governments or organizations—particularly the African Union—be allowed to manage conflicts without having to heed the advice of ill-informed American teenagers or US Congressmen, no matter how furious those well-meaning and far removed Americans might be? Joseph Kony’s actions were horrendous. So is the regime of Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, the Saudi royal family, and the jihadist elements in the Syrian rebel coalition. Yet our government finds the money to offer aid to these paragons of freedom.

One quick drive over the crumbling Harrison Avenue Bridge in Scranton should indicate that our country is in trouble. Somehow, we can find the time to maintain bases all over the world and to pay for expensive excursions abroad, even as our roads crumble to pieces. It’s time to consider abandoning the role of “world’s policeman.” It is has been done before. Just ask the British, the French, and the Russians.

The US intervention in the CAR does give me hope in one way, though. If Invisible Children can inspire people to demand the US rush off troops to places most Americans cannot even locate on a map, then those of us weary of US interventions around the globe can do the same. Doing something just for the sake of doing something is what my four year-old son is fond of, and he isn’t quite so broke as our national treasury. Ask Senators Casey and Toomey why we still have to pay for special forces troops to sit around in the CAR, and how much this little escapade is costing our nation. Ask them how they can justify sending weapons to Syrian rebels aligned with al-Qaeda, or where the money will come from to rebuild Aleppo and Damascus if “our” side wins. Ask them how drones slaughtering civilians in villages in Yemen is going to protect America. This isn’t a matter of Democrats or Republicans. Too many members of both parties just can’t help themselves from dragging our nation into the middle of other countries’ civil wars and internal affairs.

I’m looking forward to speaking out for our country to return its focus home, away from foreign adventures. I hope you will join me, Heber Butt, wherever you are.

  • Dr. Jeremy Rich
  • Dr. Jeremy Rich is a history professor at Marywood University. He has lived in the Central African nation of Gabon for over a year, and his specialty is modern African history.

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