Kony, Cruelty, Kindness and Complications

We live in a cruel world. For most of the folks reading this, and the person writing it, this is more of an abstract idea. We know the horrible things that go on around the world, but they often do not touch us in any real way. Most of us will never know what it is like to go hungry. We will not know what it is like to fear we will never have a roof over our head. Recent events with the Occupy protests not withstanding, if you are white in this country you likely do not know what it is like to have the police arbitrarily hassle you and even brutalize you. Today in America you do not have to worry about the state gathering up groups of people to starve, beat, enslave and/or murder them.

For many of the folks who will never have the chance to read this, though, the world’s viciousness is very tangible. Petty men, with petty ideas inflict their rule on them, depriving them of all manner of security.  So when comfortable Americans take notice, for whatever reason, I feel a pang of hope for humanity and its potential. Sometimes this feeling is justified, sometimes it is not, and sometimes the circumstances bring to light so many complications in our interactions with the less safe world and each other. Such is the case of Joseph Kony.

To those not in the know, he is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Over the years he has used some clearly monstrous tactics in his efforts most notably the recruiting of child soldiers. He is now on the run and many would like to see him brought to justice. A not for profit organization, Invisible Children, has started a social media campaign, complete with a documentary, to facilitate that end. I want to like this. I do like that so many people are being made aware of the situation in Africa in general and Uganda in particular.

There is a problem, though, with oversimplifying the issue. The terrible conditions in these countries are not the fault of one man, or even one group of men, and they are not independent of our lifestyle and wants here in this country. Leaving aside Invisible Children’s own dubious motives, how can we justify getting in bed with a government like Uganda’s, one with human rights problems of its own? Meanwhile we have to look at our own country’s foreign and energy policies, both relics of a bygone era and the result of our military-industrial complex, and how they influence all the players on the African political stage.

With that in mind, I also feel the need to call out those that are overly worked up about such “slacktivism” (though I admit I love that term.) As I said, the issues in Africa, and around the world are complex, far more complex than most Westerners realize and more complex than many can wrap their heads around. I studied political science, in particular the sort of comparative development issues that are relevant to the situation, and I find myself scratching my head at some of this. People live busy day to day lives and often do not have the background to fully appreciate the circumstances or the time to keep up with it. Which is not to say you shouldn’t educate them about the complexities involved and the inherent dangers of latching onto a particular, narrow cause or savior. One can do that, though, without name calling and anger, without putting those you want to enlighten on the defensive and without raising your own blood pressure.

I think you folks would find you are on the same side. If those who understand the nuances of the situation are patient, and those whose hearts are in the right place keep an open mind you can all do amazing work together. I feel fairly confident in saying you would rather be allies than enemies. How about you all take the time and energy to prove me right?


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