“Kony 2012” – a fairy tale for children: How “evil” manages to make imperialism look good Ruthless Criticism

“Kony 2012” – a fairy tale for children:
How “evil” manages to make imperialism look good

Recently a movie that can be seen on the Internet, on Facebook and Youtube among other places, created a sensation. “Kony 2012” – its title – succeeded in a few days in being visited by several million interested “views.” The film comes from “Invisible Children,” a non-profit organization in the U.S. which uses the film to inform people about itself and its campaign to put an end to the wicked deeds of Ugandan militia and sect leader Joseph Kony. In public opinion, there is widespread surprise that a political issue attracts so much attention on the Internet – especially among younger users.

The war that is reported on takes place in Africa. The film presents us with images from northern Uganda: children who flee at night from their villages to the cities because they are afraid of nocturnal raids by Joseph Kony and his “Lord’s Resistance Army”; there they sleep in the hundreds in a confined space and return back to their villages every morning. One learns that Kony and his army for over 26 years have been raiding villages and kidnapping the children living there – to use the girls as sex slaves and the boys as soldiers. The mutilated faces of villagers are shown and one learns that the kidnapped children are forced to kill their own parents.

The question as to how the conditions are created which incite a Kony to this end and allow him to become what he is does not cross the filmmakers’ minds. What’s going on in these countries if such figures roam around there, why these types of barbarities are part of everyday life there – the makers of “Kony 2012” don’t want to bother their audience with these questions, even though they probably know very well that Kony is not a unique case and that such small armies are on the move throughout Central Africa and not only there, usually with child soldiers. The filmmakers get at something else: they look at everything from the unsuspecting perspective of a small child who does not need to know anything more about the conditions there than: Kony is evil. The circumstances then only frame the horrible figure who emerges from them and hangs around in them.

Granted – he is really terrible, this Kony. But it’s quite strange: In the midst of a world that is paved over by state authorities which wage wars with their standing armies and their devastating weapons, the kind of violence that comes from a villain in the African bush should be an especially noticeable proof of evil. But merely presenting the victims – even if the pictures are frightening and ghastly – can’t prove that the actions of Joseph Kony are as particularly heinous as the film wants to suggest. In fact, it’s difficult to distinguish the destroyed villages and their dead and mutilated inhabitants from the collateral damage of a U.S. drone attack, not to mention bombings à la the “shock and awe” with which Bush’s Air Force targeted Baghdad in 2003. Not that the victims of such deployments of violence as currently seen in Iraq and Afghanistan would not disturb the filmmakers – but in these cases the victims do not speak clearly for the malice of the perpetrator. The filmmakers explain what they see as the crucial difference: First, “the special perversity of his crimes,” but especially: “As if Kony’s crimes were not bad enough, he is not fighting for a political cause, but only for his own retention of power. He is supported by nobody.”

That’s interesting: because Kony doesn’t fight for a generally recognized cause – perhaps even provided with a UN mandate – but only for his own retention of power, he should be particularly abhorrent. This African militia leader is declared a murderer, a judgment that one wouldn’t dare speak when looking at “our” soldiers. In this county, “soldiers are murderers!” is an unacceptable insult to an honorable profession. Our adult and properly recruited soldiers in the US Armed Forces are sent to war by our Secretary of Defense with Congressional approval of their highly modern weapons. And indeed in service to a purpose which is really not merely about securing the retention of power of a commander who lives on village raids. When the armed forces “follow orders” in Afghanistan and wherever else, then it is about creating and maintaining an entire political order. Then “freedom” is defended – if need be, as far away as the Hindu Kush. And then this honors its armed protectors as heroes, and of course they need the latest and most powerful weapons for their task. In comparison to the military and police force that is necessary to make such relations at home and abroad into a well-established and recognized world order, Kony is just a lightweight. But his casualties lack the good intentions and noble values which imperialist violence dresses itself up in and therefore his victims are just testimony to the perversity of his violence. This identifies for “Invisible Children” who the good opponent is to the evil Kony: It is the order-keeping force which must be charged with eliminating the Evil One. Which is why “Invisible Children” accurately turns to the U.S. government.

And in one respect it is the right address. There is, after all, nothing in the world that is not of concern to the U.S. It is in charge of all the world’s affairs of violence. It’s America’s world order in which Kony and his men roam around – which is also reflected in the term used for these countries: these are indebted states. They are the losers in a world market competition in which they and/or their raw materials are extensively exploited by the winners of this competition. The winning states have from very early on accounted for the fact that participation in the competition on the world market ruins many of the states involved – not to mention their inhabitants, who have nothing to give anyway. These countries have first been supplied with credit on a large scale. And because no significant business can get going, for many years periodic debt rescheduling or some type of debt relief has ensured that a statehood functions in some fashion. As a result, these countries have been ever more ruined; however, their continuing usefulness is assured by the relevant actors in the capitalist world market in this way. Since Africa’s complete opening up as a raw material supplier and the Soviet system alternative’s abdication, any interest in the costs of a functioning statehood in Africa has diminished more and more – so access to the desired local resources can also be organized differently.

Namely, in such a way that for decades a growing number of local rulers stake out a place below the official government level in the wake of the destruction of the world market competition. Often they have their origins in the defense of a persecuted ethnic group – as in the case of Kony, whose army had originally enjoyed local recognition as a protecting power of a tribe in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. Especially in Africa, such formations compete across borders for unmediated control over the raw materials that foreign countries covet because they are used there as means of business; they attack the respective areas and villages with determination and brutality and take control over the mineral resources that are stored there. Governments in the nearby vicinities equip them with modern weapons – which come from the weapons manufacturers of the civilized world.

If one wants to succeed in such conflicts, one climbs one’s way up, if possible, to an internationally recognized government and then one can carry on the fight to manage the raw materials of interest with official means of violence. Something like that is the success story of Yoweri Museveni, the current president of Uganda, Kony’s main enemy, who is now a close American ally in East Africa. In his struggle for power in Uganda more than 25 years ago, he is said to have been the first modern African to have had the idea of recruiting children as soldiers; and 15 years ago, in the so-called “African World War,” he managed to have some success in the competition over eastern Congolese minerals, destroying land and people on an enormous scale.

Less successful warlords consider themselves fairly harmless with the living and the dead they yield from their village raids. So this last variant of armed violence – which Kony represents a particularly horrific example of – may be a deviation from the west’s successful disciplinary violence, but is very much a part of it.

Translated from a June 25, 2012 radio broadcast by GegenStandpunkt