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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

I scream Kony

As someone who once did something, people occasionally come to me asking me to promote worthy things and, because I am a living saint, I generally do. Sometimes I spend literally seconds of my own time crafting a nifty tweet about someone who's being sponsored to race pigeons for their local library. No need to thank me. Generally I reckon this can't do any harm, and it might just dull the edge of my otherwise keen prickishness.

Today it was the turn of Invisible Children, a group whose moving video about the horrors of the child soldiers in Africa has recently gone viral. To make up for all the kittens I beat to death with a baseball bat this week, I sat and watched the whole video. It's good. You should watch it. I learned things. Not all of those things were true. So you should also read this.

The video is brilliantly made, at once moving and empowering. So I tweeted about it, because I'm a bad muthafucka, and no children are getting enslaved and forced to fight while I'm at my keyboard. More to the point, though the entire thing smacked of liberalism, and the video had made disquieting noises about "intervention", I felt it did it's job pretty well: I'd been forced to care about an important issue I was largely ignorant of before.

Yet while the video works well as a metaphorical call to arms, it also works worryingly well as a literal call to arms. Invisible Children want the U.S. to militarily intervene in Uganda. In this they've already had some success, despite the fact that Joseph Kony left Uganda several years ago. While the video is at pains to point out that killing Kony isn't in the U.S.'s financial or strategic interest, it's probably worth viewing any Ugandan military adventures in the context of the recently discovered oil fields near Lake Albert - along with deposits cobalt, diamonds and many other covetous things. Chinese and American colonial interests have been competing in Africa for some time now and, while I would hate to be cynical, I think Obama may have more than the kids in mind when he sent boots abroad.

Still, I don't want to get too bogged down in the rights and wrongs of military intervention in Uganda (spoiler: I think it's a bad idea) because, as disingenous as I find this campaign, it worked. Once I tweeted the rapturous half hour piece of propaganda I was inundated with people pointing me to the problems with the campaign, and wider reading on the issue. I got into a Twitter debate on the right way to deal with a problem which, an hour ago, I didn't know existed. My awareness: raised.

I don't think this lets the campaign off the hook - trying to start a war is a pretty reckless way of trying to start a debate, and it seems like some of the people in charge might be assholes - but it remains the case that the campaign succeeded where duller, more accurate sources failed. The credit for this desperately unimportant but oft reproduced victory belong to Invisible Children. It belongs to the vibrant exchange of social media itself #socmedfanboy.

I can't finish this blog with a firm conclusion. I think that Joseph Kony must be stopped, and raising awareness, or at least making him famous for being a dickhead, seems like a good idea. Yet the whole thing also smacks of white man's burden, it's also patronising and simplistic. I don't know how to stop Kony. But at least now I know who he is.

P.S. the best website on why Invisible Children might be bullshit is visiblechildren.tumblr.com/

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