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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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?