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'Kony 2012’ finds UM fans, foes Sam Hodges, Mar 16, 2012
PHOTO COURTESY GENERAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES
Dr. Caroline Njuki
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
Caroline Njuki longs for the day when Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army are brought to justice.
She’s a native of Uganda, as well as an assistant general secretary for mission and evangelism at the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries. She’s keenly aware of the horrors inflicted on Uganda by warlord Kony and the LRA, including forcing many children to become soldiers.
“It will be a great day when he is apprehended,” she said.
But Dr. Njuki does not applaud the Internet video sensation “Kony 2012,” a U.S.-based effort to raise awareness about Kony and hasten his arrest. She considers it misleading about key facts and arrogant in its Western-focused approach.
Focusing on a bad guy, she believes, may make for emotional video-viewing but fails to deal with the underlying reality.
“The root problem is poverty,” she said. “It results in child soldiers, prostitution, trafficking – you name it. … Kony is symptomatic of what is wrong. So you get Kony today, and another Kony comes up tomorrow.”
Many around the world, including United Methodists, have lately been coming to terms with “Kony 2012.” Through YouTube alone, the 29-minute video has had more than 76 million views since debuting early this month.
Produced by the San Diego-based group Invisible Children, “Kony 2012” aims to make Kony so infamous that the international community will do whatever it takes to bring him to justice by the end of the year.
The group’s co-founder, Jason Russell, made the video and is featured in it, with his five-year-old son Gavin and a Ugandan youth who lost a brother to Kony and the LRA. In the video, photos of maimed children are interweaved with footage of U.S. youth rallying to the cause of stopping Kony. And Mr. Russell is heard explaining to his little boy, in kindergarten-level language, the damage caused by the terrorist group.
With the video’s staggering reach has come a hard-hitting backlash.
For example, Alex de Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation, accused Invisible Children of “peddling dangerous and patronizing falsehoods.” Max Fisher, writing for The Atlantic magazine, wrote of “the campaign’s uninformed and almost infantilizing over-simplifications.”
Dr. Njuki is willing to credit the video with raising awareness of Africa and sparking activism among American youth, but she’s mainly in the camp of critics. She notes, as have others, that the film fails to clarify that in recent years Kony and the LRA have not been in Uganda, instead hiding out in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring countries.
She also questions the video’s championing of U.S. military intervention, “especially coming at this time when oil reserves have been discovered in the country.” To her, “Kony 2012,” however well-meaning, oversimplifies and sentimentalizes complex African problems that the West bears some responsibility for through a history of colonialism and arms sales.
Only a sustained approach to improving education and combating poverty will, in Dr. Njuki’s view, make a long-term difference.
“That is what needs to be attacked,” she said. “Otherwise, Africa is at the whim of anyone with a video camera and their interest at the moment.”
The Rev. Stan Cardwell, pastor of The Vine—a campus of Bel Air UMC, in Bel Air, Md. —is more supportive of “Kony 2012.”
He and his wife, Michelle, traveled to Uganda in 2009 and met victims of Kony and the LRA. The couple adopted a Ugandan orphan boy, Laz, now 16.
Mr. Cardwell questions the $30 cost Invisible Children has been charging for an “action kit,” but has been impressed with the representatives he’s met from the organization, and believes they do “good stuff.” He feels the video is a force for good too.
“I was excited that it was going viral, raising awareness of a despot who committed crimes against humanity,” he said. “I was surprised by the backlash. I think some of the critiques are majoring on the minor and missing the point. Capturing Kony won’t solve Uganda’s problems, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
The Rev. Wes Magruder is an associate pastor at First UMC in Rowlett, Texas, and a former missionary to Cameroon. He hasn’t yet watched “Kony 2012” or paid close attention to the controversy surrounding it.”
“The only thing I will say is this—there are a lots of Konys in Africa at the moment,” he said. “Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is perhaps the worst of them, and he’s still in power as the head of a major country.”
At Arkansas State University, many students have seen the video and formed an opinion. Among them is Muriel Aston, who is active in the Wesley Foundation. She watched with friends, and was moved.
“All three of us really took it to heart and came away with the want to help,” she said.
The Rev. Eric Van Meter, who directs the Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State, has heard a variety of reactions.
“Some think it’s a fine idea to go after this one person, but doubt whether the hunt will be expanded to similarly brutal militia leaders,” he said. “Others think the campaign is self-righteous with any sacrifice—that people re-post things and feel like they’ve done a good deed, but don’t have to give any real time or effort. And still others feel a deep emotional revulsion to Kony and cheer on those who are out to bring him down, regardless of where he fits in the larger scheme of things.”
Mr. Van Meter is glad for the debate.
“It’s stretching our students to think about some terrible things happening in the world and consider what their response should be,” he said.