Kony 2012 is a movement that once again reminds us of the growing power of social media in the electronic age. This campaign has successfully re-introduced to the world “Kony” the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Though Kony and his rebel group were flushed out of Uganda, he is still at large in the Central African Republic and a wanted man by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for horrific crimes committed against humanity during two decades of guerilla warfare. The group Invisible Children has suddenly sprung to fame and garnered tremendous support across the world to capture and prosecute Kony but has also reignited among the critics, the historically contentious debate surrounding the pillars of sovereignty and non intervention.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Sir Winston Churchill
Though I agree with those words of wisdom, it is imperative that we highlight the difference between constructive criticism and misguided criticism. The non-intervention argument can easily be won by restrictionists feeding off the fatigue and lost appetite by the international community for interventions made in pursuit of national interests masquerading as humanitarian intervention. Selective-response and prosecution of leaders who have committed crimes against humanity is also a legitimate criticism of humanitarian intervention—and has for long been branded as a weapon that the strong will use against the weak. This sobering reality of David losing to Goliath in international relations should not however be used as a pretext to allow states to abuse human rights while hiding under the umbrella of sovereignty.
“If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violation of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?” Kofi Annan
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Restrictionists forget that non-intervention has often left the world chanting “never again” after millions were massacred in Rwanda, “never again” after millions lost their lives in Darfur (Sudan), “never again” following the massive genocide in Srebrenica (Bosnia), “never again” as millions perished in Cambodia and with the Syrian government currently wiping out civilians, you would never know that the international community said “never again”. Whenever we blow the trumpets of African solutions to African problems and fly the flag of Pan-Africanism in protest of foreign intervention—we forget that among us are leaders who have betrayed the responsibility to protect their citizens. Sovereignty is not a license to kill citizens without consequences. Failure to defend and uphold human rights is unacceptable and the global community has a moral responsibility to protect.
Critics of Kony 2012 undermine a historic movement that gives people hope and courage to overcome tyranny. There is a difference between “citizen led” and “nation state” driven humanitarian initiatives– with state actors often driven by national interests. President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) once met with a group of activists who were seeking his support for bold legislation. After the activists made their closing arguments, FDR stated that, “You have convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.” The Invisible Children activist movement is following this template exposing Kony and effectively swaying public opinion. They have inspired millions of people and created the political will for the global hegemony to pursue a foreign policy defending values– beyond the realms of national interests. Calling Kony 2012 a scum is reckless and misguided rhetoric. Children were abducted and turned into child soldiers; thousands were tortured, raped and killed. A successful movement to point out the atrocities committed by Kony is a victory for human rights that should be celebrated.
“Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.” Howard Zimm
Humanitarian intervention is a complex subject but we should understand that the end-goal is to preserve and protect human rights. Pessimism and disagreement on how we should go about it, what should or shouldn’t have been mentioned in a 30 minute video is a conversation worth having but should never be used as a pretext to undermine efforts to curb injustice. African solutions to African problems should be and engine to drive political will and not a protest anthem for foreign intervention while millions are massacred under-the watchful eyes of our nations and regional organizations. Let Kony 2012 be a call to action for Africans to mobilize domestic support, find a cause and make the injustices happening in their communities and nations visible. Go out and make your leaders take action. Doing nothing and complaining while others persevere to make a difference makes us part of the problem and not the solution. Our interests are better served by taking into consideration the interests of others. We are tired of saying “never again” once again.