Kony Filmmakers


3 years ago a friend introduced me to Tyler Batson. Tyler had just returned from Kenya (he had been before) armed with hours upon hours of footage that he wanted to transform into a documentary illuminating the strength of the Kenyan people as they recovered from the brutality of post-election violence.

The promotional trailer is under my projects tab for those who are interested.

While I was familiar with some of the issues of the 2007-2008 Kenyan violence, I was no expert, but the subject (obviously) interests me. So today’s brouhaha viral anti-Kony launch from the Invisible Children folks has piqued my interest. On the surface I can’t help but want to root for the IC people. They seem nice and I actually sat through one of their presentations while I was in college. Save the African people? Cool, I’m on board for that.

Unfortunately if you spend a bit of time researching what they are trying to accomplish and how they are doing it you might be a little less enthused.

Firstly, before I get to my tactical complaints, Invisible Children was only able to allocate 31% of total donations to actually help people in Africa. So, right off the bat, that note is a bit disconcerting.

Secondly, being able to hear 30+ hours of interviews with everyday Kenyans only scratched the surface of the motivations behind their own horrific civil unrest (unrest is such a poor word for the violence, rape, murder, etc.) In 2009 the scars were still vivid. On the surface the violence was an election dispute. Dig a little more and you realize that the tribal lines that etch out the rules of Kenyan society had been simmering for a long time. Government corruption run rampant and combination of these factors led to a brutal confrontation and crackdown. But, I’m no expert. What I do know is that African conflicts are often dumbed down and packaged in easy to understand platitudes for an American audience to digest.

For instance, It might be a bit of revelation to hear that the Ugandan people had already begun their own healing process, independent of American sentiment.

To wit,

As many observers point out, the [Ugandan] negotiations, based in Juba, South Sudan, were all the more remarkable because, for the first time, issues of justice and accountability were negotiated between the warring parties. Indeed, an agreement between the LRA and the Government of Uganda on these issues was entered into. It combined traditional justice mechanisms with formal prosecutions, not through the ICC, but a special division of Uganda’s High Court. In turn, Kony was offered an amnesty and a guarantee that the government would work to ensure that the ICC arrest warrants were dropped.

This peace process & negotation is not easy. That article refers to events that occurred in 2008, but it was a start- and a good one. Uganda is enjoying peace. An uneasy peace to be sure. Many parents have to wrestle with their sons and daughters somehow returning home from an army (the LRA) that may have murdered their neighbors.

As one article eloquently put it:

Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.

Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

So this isn’t a case of “GET ER DONE LET’S GET EM.” And I wonder why the IC movement seems to have latched onto that mantra. Raising awareness that Kony has torn apart many, many lives isn’t going to make him disappear or return kids to their homes. (One could argue, if anything, we’re simply raising his profile).  And what happens when we catch him, this new icon of America’s conscience reborn? His army is made up of Ugandans who were kidnapped. Whom do we encourage the Ugandans to punish? We certainly seem to suddenly have to do SOMETHING.

I admired Tyler because the story he told thrust no solutions upon the Kenyan people. There was no villain. The story was simply the strength of a nation determined to rebuild itself. The violence was merely a backdrop a few moments to tell how we arrived.

One last bit, emphasis mine:

While sporadic violence continues, particularly as a result of bitter land disputes, there have been no LRA attacks in years. In the mid 2000s, the ‘LRA problem’ was exported out of Uganda. The LRA is currently residing in the DRC, CAR, and perhaps parts of South Sudan and even Darfur. Today, land issues and the recent Walk to Work crisis are higher on the agenda than the LRA in northern Uganda.

So internet, we’ve found our next boogieman. Now what?