The viral success of a social media campaign to raise awareness over the brutal Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has ignited an argument which has been brewing for centuries.
The video, “Kony 2012,” which has so far racked up 70 million hits in one week and raised $5 million over 48 hours, could be deemed a subtle reminder to the world that the well-meaning West is yet again needed to step in and save African victims − in this case, those who fell victim to the ruthless LRA.
The video, which presents a criminal whose evil can scarcely be exaggerated, shows how Kony and his army has abducted, mutilated and killed tens of thousands of children and adults for two decades.
But while analysts have quibbled over the motives behind the campaign and the non-profit organizers Invisible Children, it appears that a bigger picture has emerged, that of a personified historic evil.
This is the argument: The Kony 2012 campaign has now led to the Western need to step in and banish the evil that is Kony, all the while supporting imperialistic undertones that present the West as heroic.
It dates back to the 19th Century when Western powers also harnessed “heroic powers” which they used to control African lands. But these had been branded “civilizing missions,” intended to make undeveloped countries more progressive and modern.
“Africans, in this telling, are helpless victims, and Westerners are the heroes,” writes Max Fisher at The Atlantic, adding that “for centuries, [Western tradition has] adopted some form of white man’s burden, treating African people as cared for only to the extent that Westerners care, their problems solvable only to the extent that Westerners solve them, and surely damned unless we can save them.”
Now, as the Kony 2012 campaign rides the surf, it is a similar mentality that has been bred: Western advocacy is needed to pull Uganda out of the struggle it faces.
While Fisher refers to a “Western paternalism,” which has been dramatically felt during the Kony saga, nestling well within social media platforms, the campaign has perhaps honed in on a particular type of Western support: U.S. intervention.
The film highlights how American policymakers have helped push forward Invisible Children’s cause to “Stop Kony,” as goes their catchphrase.
It emphasized that “part of the U.S. strategy to stop Kony is to encourage cooperation between the governments and armies of the four LRA-affected countries,” the non-profit said in response to increasing criticism that its campaign is outdated and that the army, despite having been pushed out if Uganda six years ago, is currently active in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
Kony 2012 criticisms aside, (which include questionable implications over the non-profit’s finances and merchandise profiteering) the support for U.S. intervention and a strengthened Western military presence altogether in the LRA-stained countries has not gone by unnoticed.
“This is the first large-scale campaign to mobilize social medialites to aggregate public support for what would otherwise be, controversial pro-intervention U.S. foreign policy,” writes Nile Bowie at news daily, End the Lie.
And so the “white man’s burden,” remains. Originally a phrase which titled Kipling’s 1899 poem discussing the American colonization of the Philippines, the “burden” here suggests emblematic ties between a Western aspiration to dominate the developing world and an aspiration to help the developing world both run parallel.
What is on the surface an innocent plea for donations after an International Criminal Court-led manhunt went viral, undermines any African initiatives to tackle Uganda’s problem. Instead, it drives Western activism through monopolistic aid.