By John Stang
The new campaign to capture Joseph Kony is making headwaves. One question that has been on my mind: is this type of social activism for human rights advocacy a good idea? Mareike Schomerus, director the Justice and Security Research Program at the London School of Economics doesn’t necessarily think so:
Social change needs subtleties. It needs room for negotiation, compromises, and shifting the debate. It also needs really boring things: tedious days of discussion and engagement, mind-numbingly unsexy drafting of agreements, and an open mind at all stages. And it needs very invisible people committed to working away on these things through small, but important contributions. These are not people who buy action kits and re-tweet. These are people who have just been told by the Invisible Children campaign that hanging a poster and wearing a bracelet is a better way to bring about social change, that the difficult political context in which they operate everyday, often at great personal risk and expense, can easily be solved if one man is removed.
Robert Wright at the Atlantic says maybe:
But never mind all this. I’ll let others debate the pros and cons of the Kony 2012 project. What I think is most important is that something like this is even possible. If the project succeeds, then when you wake up on April 21, an army of newly aware activists will have plastered much of the known world with posters, stickers, and yard signs that say “Kony 2012,” signifying their insistence that Kony be captured this year. This could bring that phrase into the consciousness of hundreds of millions of people and generate enough media attention to acquaint hundreds of millions more people with at least the rough outlines of Kony’s story. Whether or not that does any good, it’s pretty amazing, even given Invisible Children’s non-dinky budget of $9 million per year.
Of course, it could be that the blowback Invisible Children gets will foil its mission. Still, even if the Kony 2012 project falters, this will be a temporary setback for this sort of activism. Other such efforts will follow, and maybe the negative feedback this project gets will give future versions more nuance, more solid linkage to actual policy solutions, and less onscreen time for the co-founder of the NGO.
I’m indifferent. I do like that people are aware the LRA, child soldiers, and Joseph Kony, but I also think don’t think alerting more people who do not live in Uganda is going to lead to the arrest of Joseph Kony. Not to mention the arbitrariness of the project. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is also on the most wanted list of the ICC. There is an actual world leader who has committed war crimes and can be arrested. Bashir has visited numerous countries, including China, and not been arrested. Why is there not a campaign for him? This hyper focus on Uganda can obscure other causes. It will probably dissipate after a about a month, once the newness wears off.
This whole thing is good for the international justice system. International law is not all the binding and it is up to global citizens and nation states to enforce it. The more people who recognize the legitimacy of the ICC and the ICJ, the more promising and legitimate the institutions will seem.