Kony2012: Let’s Dialogue our Way to a Solution

As an activist for over 30 years I have been extremely intrigued to see the Kony2012 video and campaign go viral. Along with the publicity has come both support and criticism. This could be very promising, as long as it is founded on two basic concepts – openness and is communal counterpart, true Dialogue. In this blog I will start with some of my chief concerns (most already echoed elsewhere):

1. Good intentions and a worthy goal are not enough. Both are virtually off-the-scale here – who doesn’t want Kony captured? But the same was true of early attempts at ending overseas child labour 20 years ago, which sometimes ended simply with the child fired from the factory, on the street and in even more desperate conditions. Critical are solid, trusted partnerships of First World groups with local ones.

Two good balancing perspectives are Stop Kony but do not stop asking questions (he brings in the question of Uganda’s President Museveni’s role) and the more critical You do not have my vote, which critiques the video and Invisible Children (lack of Ugandan context, disempowering narrative for Ugandans, wisps of White savior mentality, etc.)

2. The Kony 2012 push is about advocacy. Advocacy is first of all, an admission of failure of the normal mechanisms to resolve an issue (it should never be seen as something cool to do; I always use the US Civil Rights “Keep your Eyes on the Prize” mantra to gauge this – whenever the eyes stray, such as onto the movement, the cause has lost proper anchoring). Also, advocacy must understand the failed mechanisms and their context, have the proper goal and be focused on it, and have the proper strategies (“Means”) to achieve it. The old post on Badvocacy provides some good reference points.

3. Invisible Children (hereafter, IC) spends most of its money in the US and not on actually helping those in Uganda.

There are more critiques, and properly digested, these seem to be enough to look elsewhere for solutions. But to me there is more to the picture:

4. Awareness and the “Process of Change”: IC has clearly done a phenomenal job of raising awareness. Awareness is always the first step in the process of change. I agree with the above critique of the video. But we live in a world that is not limited to the video’s content – for most people a few clicks and you can start drilling more deeply into the issue. And given this new phenomenon of “things going viral”, it quickly opens up the debate – you can’t be on Facebook or Twitter very long before the critiques seep in.

A simplified version of the process of change, premised on a stance of openness, is a continuing cycle of: (a) awareness; (b) facts; (c) action; (d) reflection. Having followed the Kony story soon after the LRA emerged as a repugnant force in the late 1980s, we have already had a few iterations of the cycle, some military and some a mobilization of local efforts (the latter being the ideal if they have the wherewithal to prevail and that can include strategic alliances with global partners – or simply put, my notion of dialogue). So we are now starting the next iteration, on the next round of awareness. Awareness here involves three levels: the general {US} public, the NGOs (US and local) and the military strategists.

For IC and its video, public awareness and buy-in is needed to form the constituency that would be required to garner the political will to have the US more involved in capturing Kony. Setting aside whether one ought to go this route, this would be no easy feat since any country’s foreign policy starts and ends on the question of national self-interest (aside: This needs to be pushed: can national self-interest be broadened, sometimes called “enlightened self-interest” such that like the Rwandan genocide & the US, a permanent stain on one’s national identity/self-esteem results due to inaction [while heeding Badvocacy’s constraint that sometimes you simply shouldn’t act?]). Anyway, for those who want buy-in, it is the third awareness – the military awareness that is critical. Given the disaster of the 2008 Operation Lightning Thunder, do wise military strategists think they have gained enough new awareness to be successful this time?

Closer to my approach, I would first ask whether, now that the push-back is coming to Western intervention or supporting the Ugandan army, etc., can we hear more clearly from those who live in the region regarding their strategies to resolve the whole issue? Are NGOs like IC open to absorbing such dialogue?

5. There are three potentially complementary goals: (a) capturing Kony and ending the LRA, along with rehabilitating victims on both sides; (b) elevating good governance in the region; and (c) having Kony stand trial at the ICC. Are there ways to align the planets so that all three can be accomplished? The closer we can come to this, the closer we not only save children from being abducted, but also increase the stability of the region, and finally, strengthen the global social fabric in the sense that any law (The ICC here) needs a credible track record for it to start reshaping our dynamics and ethos.

6. I do want to mention the critique about IC and using most money in the US. Advocacy simply requires substantial funding if it needs to create a broad constituency, which for IC is the case here. This mirrors the Darfur crisis in its early days – US advocacy groups formed a substantial backing of citizens, which built a political constituency allowing Save Darfur to pressure members of Congress, resulting in the US declaring the atrocities in Darfur to be genocide, and put the US on its conflicted policy course. Bec Hamilton wrote “Fighting for Darfur” which is a good review of the same advocacy failings (oversimplified narrative due to not understanding or properly consulting the local people, etc.) that hover around IC. One of her main concerns was that advocacy and actual policy-making are separate endeavours and shoud stay separate; and also when the policy end is hastily done in reaction to pressure, the consequences may not advance the cause and may set it back.

In this regard I want to raise David Algoso’s golden rule for advocacy (where one must simplify if the target is a general audience), which is basically, yes, simplify but don’t distort as mentioned in his blog. I think that both Bec and David felt that too much distortion happened with the early and mid Save Darfur days (and I believe both feel the same about the IC video).

Again, there is so much more to this issue. In the end I believe that the basic human desire of most people – somewhere, somehow, sometime – to be part of something truly worthy, something that helps nudge live along, can at times be used to do exactly that. But it doesn’t come easily; there is careful work to do and lessons to be learned. And in the real world this will almost always involve less-than-savoury compromises. The trick is knowing, first, when you are well-founded, and second, when the positives outweigh the negatives. And so to IC, I say “Thank you – you have done a fine service in raising the issue and outlining a stand.” But this is simply the next iteration in the process of change. Thus let the dialogue begin.

[Update Mar. 8: As part of the dialogue, Here is the IC response to the criticism. To me this advances the dialogue slightly in that they did respond (I did my homework and knew they were much more than the video, but time-constrained, I focused on the dynamics surrounding the video, and I may later give my sense of what would have been some better signals within the video, and what they are doing right with the African-side of their work). Anyway at the end they invited exactly what dialogue entails – in essence, “here is our best answer; if you have a better one, explain it and if you convince us, we’ll heed it”. For sure they are being given alternatives (if they can be found among the viral responses), so again, let the dialogue continue and we’ll see – key – who should change and is open to it].

9 thoughts on “Kony2012: Let’s Dialogue our Way to a Solution

  1. Well done! I think what IC has done has placed pressure on the U.S Government to perhaps assist the ICC in their goal to round up the worst of the worst. Going viral may increase the attention in other nations and catalyze the same effect. But we do need to ask the question what next? How can we support East African nations, or any nation, to improve the situations for their people best?

    • Yes one can only hope that somehow Kony ends up at the ICC. I’ve added an update to my post, since IC has responded to the criticisms it received, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold from here in terms of what it may recommend be done next – will it refine its message and process?

      As for your larger question of E. Africa, the IC viral dynamics reinforce how much the answers depend on context – that is, Sudan is very different from Ethiopia, etc. I have also edited point #6 to include the notion that if public mobilization is needed, and thus a simplified narrative is needed, that a crucial rule is that “simplification” must never include “distortion.”

    • What if Ocampo indicts Bashir? I would like to bdaoren the focus of the question beyond the realm of inter-Sudanese politics and take a look at the international environment, notably China and Russia as the main international supporters of Khartoum.Many argued during the Kosovo War that an indictment of Milosevic by the ICTY would reduce the incentives of the then Serb president to agree to a ceasefire and settlement of the crisis. Although this rationale seems to be logic at first sight, it underestimates the effect of international stigmatization that might well apply to Sudan, too. Once indicted by Carla del Ponte, Milosevic increasingly lost the support of the Russian government. Moscow did not wanted to give the impression as being hand in glove with an indicted war criminal. The faltering support of his most important protc3a9gc3a9 in the international system eventually undercut his domestic backing inside the regime and military. Becoming increasingly isolated and stigmatized, he finally gave in to a ceasefire. Although this is not to say that the indictment of the ICTY was the only reason for his choice to leave Kosovo, it certainly seems to have contributed to this result.As we know, the Sudanese central government is also heavily relying on its international supporters in Moscow and Beijing. Indicting Bashir could reasonably lead to the same result as in Kosovo: Stigmatizing the regime internationally, undercutting its basis internally, and finally enhancing its proneness to engage in serious efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Darfur.Robert Schuetter is president of the German NGO Genocide Alert , which advocates for a more proactive stance of Germany and the EU on Sudan, and is currently participating in the Justice for Darfur Coalition.

      • First of all, Bashir has already been indicted by the ICC; he simply hasn’t been arrested. He is a significant test case for the ICC because he is still Sudan’s President, the first time they dared indict a sitting president. And he is also a test case because he has traveled to ICC-backed countries of Kenya, Chad, Malawi and Djibouti without repercussions. Thus in some ways Bashir is weakening the court. That said, he is always very careful to get absolute assurances that a country won’t arrest him, so the deterrent effect does hang over his head and has restricted his travels.

        Your question specifically refers to Russia and China. For sure China has much more at stake as it needs Sudan’s oil (at least until South Sudan has built another pipeline, minimally 2-3 years away). So, current Sudan pipeline shutdown aside, I can’t see a dynamic similar to Milosevic playing out regarding China and unlikely Russia either. For sure, many other dynamics at play.

  2. Very well said. This is in keeping with what I have been concerned about with the extraordinary surge in social networking “action” over the past couple of days.

    That said it is good to see young people so on fire to “help”. Wonderful teaching opportunities abound.

  3. Pingback: March 2012 Newsletter | Blog for "Until All" Newsletter

  4. Rod: Thanx for your awareness raising here … you may be aware we on the HRT have been discussing this at length and at one point was close to requesting a formal statement from leaders but then due to the reality of the complexities of the issues on the ground and the superficiality of the Kony ‘electronic firestorm’ resolved to encourage more dialogue and individual action.

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