Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kony 2012 - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I must confess – I really don’t have “good, bad, and ugly” to write about, but I thought the title might get a few more people to read this. My motives are not pure! Maybe that’s the ugly part. Let me say up front – this is not an evaluation of the Kony2012 campaign (but please, don't stop reading!). Instead, I want to reflect on some ideas prompted in my thinking by the campaign.

First, we live in a very messy world. A world largely ruled by unbelievers. A world with many evil people. A world that will not experience full healing until the return of Jesus. Kony is but one man in a long list of cruel men in Africa who have ruled or created havoc across the continent (think of people like Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe, Félicien Kabuga).[1] In fact, Kony may not even be the worst figure in recent African history![2] In saying this, I am not denying the horrors that have occurred at the hands of Kony and his people.  Abducting 66,000 children since 1986, and committing who-knows-what horrors certainly qualifies him as heinous and worthy of justice (although I must admit, I’m a little uneasy about what “justice” at the hands of a Ugandan and/or Congolese army looks like). However, we must not think the battle is done should Kony be eliminated. He is only one of many problems we must face.
Second, the makers of the Kony 2012 video make two statements (well more than two, but only two that I’ll mention) about Kony worth noting: “Nobody knows him”, and he’s “not important enough” to garner U.S. attention. The first statement is generally true (I’ll come back to the second later) – few people knew about Kony. But that is likely true of the vast majority of “international villains”. Of the four names I listed above, you probably knew the first two, fewer of you knew the third, and I suspect very few knew the fourth! (By the way, Kabuga is “accused of bankrolling the Rwandan genocide, inciting bloodshed through his radio station and even supplying the machetes and hoes used in the massacres… of more than 800,000 Rwandan men, women and children in 100 days.”[3]) I decided to look up a “World’s Most Wanted List”, a list once headed by Osama bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the internet provided several such lists; the most recent that I read listed Kony as number seven, Kabuga as number six[4]. I knew only one of the remaining eight names, and that is only because of his association with bin Laden. So, saying that most people did not know about Kony is true, but that should not surprise anyone, nor should it necessarily serve as an indictment against anyone. Sadly, we live in a world with too many bad-actors to keep up with them all.
Third, how rapidly the video went “viral” demonstrates how easily we can stir passion about an issue. But, passion must be balanced with knowledge. I am reminded of how often things get spread that, upon some investigation, turn out to be fraudulent, out-of-date, or incorrect on some level. In fact, “” and other websites exist to help us discover the “real”, the “false” and the “partially true”.  So, we should absolutely stir and act on passion, but we must do our homework first. Check the information before passing it on. Make sure as best you can that it is solid and current. For example, where is Kony now – Uganda or someplace else, as best as we can determine? Is “International Children” a solid agency? Whether they are or not does not change my point here that we should check them out, as we should any agency we don’t know. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people who passed the video on knew little or nothing about them.
Fourth, I heard many respond to critics of the project with the sentiment “doing something is better than doing nothing”. Sadly, that is not always the case! For example, giving money to a need is sometimes helpful, but sometimes counterproductive. Simply giving money away may develop a sense of entitlement in the recipient and may not really solve the core problem (see, “Welfare System, United States”).  I am not saying we should not give money to causes, but we need to give money, training, equipment because it helps, not just because it makes us feel better to do “something.” Doing a “right” something is the key. True compassionate care focuses on the needs of others,
Fifth, the campaign should make us evaluate how we expend our energy and resources. I should be generous with my time, money, and talents, but I’m limited in what I can do. The world has far more needs than any one person or any one ministry can address. How do I decide what to address, what is “most” important? What is most important: Justice against Kony? Or against Kabuga? Or against the abortion doctor down the street who takes who-knows-how-many lives? Or against the Mexican drug cartels just across the border? Or compassion for the homeless man in the shelter? Or mercy for the remote village that desperately needs a water well? There is no right or wrong answer – all these needs, and more, are important. How you prioritize them shows something about the passion God has given you. And remember to be gracious to those whose priorities and passion are different in kind or intensity than yours!
Sixth, the video forces us to think about when America as a nation should insert herself into the affairs of another country. The Kony video asserted Kony “wasn’t important enough” to garner U.S. attention. I’m not sure that is a fair statement. Fundamentally, should the U.S. actively pursue every evil actor in the world? Opinions about when the government should get involved run from never getting involved outside of the United States to getting involved on every front. Most of us lie someplace between those extremes, and we won’t always agree. I suspect that some of the same people who say we should help pursue Kony are the same people who argue we should not have done xxxx (you fill in the blank).  
I hope Kony is brought to justice. I hope the campaign challenges us to think “outside the box”. Whether or not we agree with it individually, I hope it forces us to carefully think about our own convictions. And I hope each of us acts upon the convictions we hold, for the glory of God.

    [1] I’m not singling out Africa, per se. I mention it simply because it is Kony’s turf. Obviously, countries on other continents have faced (or are facing) the same sort of cruelties!

     [2] For more on recent African history, read Martin Meredithe, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (New York: Public Affairs,Inc.,2005)

     [3] See footnote four below


  1. Thanks, Pops. My mind has been pretty muddled about KONY 2012 campaign. It's obviously a pretty big deal to people my age.

    "remember to be gracious to those whose priorities and passion are different in kind or intensity than yours!" - To me, these are gracious words in themselves.

  2. Very thoughtful, Roger. As you say, doing good is not as easy as meaning to do good.