Political campaigning as we know has been changed this week by the emergence of the latest viral phenomenon. Within the space of less than a week Kony 2012 has taken over the internet, with almost 70 million views at the time of writing.
The film is a 30 minute long manifesto with the goal of bringing to justice one of the greatest criminals in the world today. Kony himself is one of the leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, a theocratic army that has based its campaigns of violence on medieval interpretation of the Ten Commandments. The film itself is produced by Invisible Children, an admirable group of activists and campaigners that among other things want to eradicate the evil of child soldiers.
In marketing terms they have created one of the most important films for a generation. They have used it to launch a high profile campaign which is being built around a day of action of 20 April. The idea is that through raising awareness and facilitating large scale campaigns they can bring about positive change by lobbying western governments to demand the arrest of Joseph Kony himself.
The campaign is based around the idea of the public being able to influence world leaders and others. This in itself is important as it is the lifeblood of all campaigning and communications. In order to do this a petition has been launched, which also comes with the option of letting signatories directly email 'culturemakers', a host of world figures that include figures as diverse as Bill Clinton and Jay-Z.
So how could anybody be against this?
Well that's where it gets tricky.
The campaign is not simply an awareness raising campaign, although raising awareness is important to its end goal. The website itself defines the campaign goals as:
1) That Joseph Kony is known as the World's Worst War Criminal.
2) That the U.S. military advisers support the Ugandan Army until Kony has been captured and the LRA has been completely disarmed. They need to follow through all the way and finish what they have started.
I don't think many people would object to the first part of the equation (although I would dare say that there possibly are greater war criminals, but that feels too much like splitting distasteful hairs.)
The second part of the equation is the tricky part.
As the film itself acknowledges Kony is no longer in Uganda, he's actually most probably in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This makes the task significantly more difficult. In effect the film makers are lobbying powerful governments to help one nation's dictatorship to go into another nation to arrest a war criminal and have him tried at the International Criminal Court.
The first thing to say is that Uganda is not a nation that is known for promoting human rights, and has a government that have been criticised by a lot of leading NGOs for their treatment of their own people. Having reigned unopposed since 1986 the government are lacking any democratic legitimacy, and as many of you will be aware there have been recent moves on their part to have homosexuals killed for existing. The peaceful rhetoric of the film is actually already being countered by the Ugandans who have declared that they want Kony "dead or alive." Kony's death would be no bother to me whatsoever, but it suggests that, at least in the view of the unelected Ugandan Defence Minister, the notion of the International Criminal Court being able to solve the matter is fanciful.
Even more to the point, the idea of allowing the Ugandan army unrestrained access to Congo is rigged with difficulties, not least because of the role that the Ugandan government have played in the exploitation of resources in Congo. This problem is only compounded by the serious allegations that the very people who are hunting Kony are committing their own atrocities at the same time. Furthermore in 2005 the International Court of Justice found Uganda guilty for violating the principles of non-use of force in international relations and of non-intervention. All of this suggests that relations between the two nations are complicated to say the least.
The idea of the west helping to capture Kony is not new, as CBS have pointed out, since 2008, the U.S. has spent approximately $500 million helping to strengthen the Ugandan Army in its battle against the LRA. Through further aligning themselves with the Ugandan dictatorship they risk legitimising Kony in the eyes of a continent that has every right to be dubious of western motives. The US Africa Command (who are leading their operations in Uganda) cites its third key objective as being to "ensure U.S. access to and through Africa in support of global requirements" which sounds faintly like the language of imperialism, are we really to expect these same generals and same self-interested forces who have already helped to inflict untold misery on the people of the Middle East to intervene in Africa and maintain a permanent presence without causing further bloodshed?
All of this is possible, and maybe it is the least bad option. My natural cynicism tells me otherwise, although I would be glad to be wrong.
In the interests of being even handed you can find the defence of the campaign against similar allegations by clicking here.