Kony 2012: don't be fooled

The viral video is an attempt to further the US's economic and military interests in Africa.

If you do anything on the back of watching Kony 2012, the new viral sensation currently embarassing the world wide web, it's to investigate exactly who or what is behind it and why people have been so taken in.

US charity Invisible Children wants the Ugandan Lords' Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, responsible for forced recruitment of thousands child soldiers and sex slaves, brought to justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

I actually find it amazing that people can suddenly care so much about an issue that they presumably have a superficial awareness of already, just because of a social media campaign led by Twitter and Facebook twinned with a campaign that aims its cross-hairs on the western all-feeling heart.

How many people have seen Blood Diamond? On its opening weekend in January 2007 it took £1,471,104, two months later it had grossed £7,269,409. One of the main sub-plots of the film, amidst vicious militias, is saving Dia Vandy, an abducted child soldier, before returning him to his family.

This is not a new issue, nor is our awareness of it.

Aside from Invisible Children's suspect finances (pay $32 for an "Action Kit" and 10% of that goes to "direct services," the rest on salaries, travel expenses and so on), worse is the fact so many people could be duped by a video that explicitly calls for US-led intervention in Central Africa. Invisible Children wants its young and beautiful activist community to directly fund the Ugandan army (itself guilty of atrocities against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch reports), which will be led by "American advisers."

For someone who portrays himself as a good Dad and a great all-round guy, Jason Russell is peculiarly fond of using Pentagonese, the opaque, Orwellian language of the military-industrial complex that gave us "collateral damage" (civilian dead), "immediate permanent decapitation" (death) and "pacification" (destruction).

What are these advisers going to be advising about? Who will their advice be advised to? Will it be good advice?

If Invisible Children is anything to go by, probably not. Because Russell and his Hipstomatic-schmaltz wants "direct foreign intervention" in Central Africa - that means boots on the ground, drones and jets in the air and the next inevitable step in America's programme of endless war.

You would think we had learned something after Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that have already killed over 1 million innocent people with a 90 per cent civilian to combatant death rate, and a "textbook" intervention in Libya which has resulted in regime change and with it the total destabilisation of yet another Middle Eastern country. This, as they say, is what democracy looks like.

A coincidence, perhaps, but the United States military has been running an extensive continent-wide programme under AFRICOM, the United States African Command. This includes a string of new drone airfields in the Horn of Africa (conveniently in-land enough to deal with Uganda and Kenya too), and the trans-Saharan Operation Enduring Freedom, to "fight al Qaeda in the Maghreb."

But what about Central Africa? Last October President Obama deployed around 100 US special ops troops to Central Africa, reportedly "to assist African forces in the removal of [LRA leader] Joseph Kony and the leadership of the LRA from the battlefield." Perhaps these are Russell's faceless "US advisers."

And yet there has been no reported (and verified) LRA activity in Uganda since 2006, and it is widely accepted that Kony is no longer in Uganda. Does the west really want to inflame another region by pursuing a small, embattled radical organisation and giving it indispensable credibility and victimhood?

There is clearly more than Kony at stake here. Central Africa is well known for its rich natural resources - including copper, cobalt, gold, uranium, magnesium and tin. Once ravaged by King Leopold II of Belgium, the 21st-century American Empire now wants in.

At an AFRICOM Conference at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller declared the programme's mission meant maintaining "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market."

Not only that. Ugandan President Yower Museveni has for some time courted Iran and President Ahmadinejad "in all fields." This is the new Scramble for Africa - a sick twist of history in which global powers are returning to old hunting grounds and fiefdoms in preparation for a new proxy war.

If Invisible Children does not turn out to be some Pentagon-CIA front, the charity is still attempting to align social media, activism and youth political disengagement with the United States' hawkish economic and military interests in Africa.

So please, don't be fooled.

Tom Rollins is a freelance journalist. Find him at Enlightenment Blues or @TRollins88.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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