Reaction to Kony 2012

Geoffrey Botkin on the African reaction to Kony 2012

On the day the viral sensation Kony 2012 was released to the web, Geoffrey Botkin happened to be on the ground in Africa, in one of the villages once raided by Joseph Kony’s terrorists. Fighting, burning, genocide, rape, torture and cannibalism had long ago emptied the village, but fearful residents were beginning to return, building new mud huts, and new lives, in the infant nation known as the Republic of South Sudan. They spoke to Mr. Botkin about the past, present and future. Since Geoffrey Botkin’s return to the US, the Jason Russell video has garnered some 100 million internet views, Time Magazine has published a cover story, Congress has debated legislation, and the director of the Kony 2012 documentary was detained by police because of alleged criminal conduct. These events have raised important moral issues about moral standards and the consequences of crime.

The first time I saw her she was standing outdoors behind a privacy screen trying to shower, pouring water from a rusty can over her crooked shoulders, which protruded above the tattered plastic sheet stretched between flimsy vertical stakes. Esther was getting ready for her interview. All the children in her village had Biblical names, and Esther’s parents had named her after a Queen. When she sat down for her interview she looked much like a queen, though she had been a slave three separate times in Joseph Kony’s empire of violence, one of the few women to survive such an experience.

Esther’s back had been crippled carrying ammunition for Kony’s notorious army, and somehow they let her live and return to the village they had destroyed years earlier. During the interview Esther spoke quietly and carefully about the horror of Kony’s camp and her years of torment. “I have endured more suffering,” she said slowly, “than any man could ever know.”

She could not bring herself to speak about the continual rape, and her eyes never did leave the ground to meet mine until I spoke to her about my seven children. She is a remarkably beautiful woman. She too has seven children, and reason to hope. The men of her new nation, the Republic of South Sudan, have pushed Kony far from her village and completely out of her country. Her village is coming to life, and she believes the peace will hold.

Law, justice, violence, guns, foreign policy, bad guys, and evil

I had no idea at the time of the interview that Esther’s tormentor was being made a cult personality over the internet. In her remote village, there were no power, water, or sewer lines. Our team later traveled to the location Kony had been known to encamp, further South, near the Nile River. No sign of Kony, his army or any other outlaws. There was no mention of Kony until I arrived in Nairobi a week later and people were complaining about the Kony 2012 internet sensation.

I watched it right then. I could see why so many Africans were offended by the shallow, childish approach of the American director. Many were also offended by the blind enthusiasm of the film’s American viewers.

African wars are not like Disney movies. The solution to complex African violence will not be found in entertaining American teenagers with trinkets, self-esteem programs and flash-mob parties.

“[Kony] knows the youth of the world is after him,” said former actor Jason Russell on the TV program Access Hollywood. “He can hear us so we need everyone that’s listening to hashtag ‘Konysurrender.’ One word ‘Konysurrender’ that’s what we need everyone to do," explained the video director.

What Russell is advocating is not just a voluntary surrender of one deeply wicked warlord; his film stakes out this whimpering recommendation for all of East Africa: Pretend this is not your problem. Surrender all personal responsibility for this problem to others, like tough American GIs who can arrest Kony, and like confused judges in the Netherlands, who can sentence him.

Here’s a quick word of advice to filmmakers who want to address the demanding subjects of law, justice, violence, guns, foreign policy, bad guys, and evil. Argue from a position of lawfulness. Do not recommend courses of action that are illegal when lecturing others on bringing outlaws to justice. Do some research on the war powers clause of the U.S. Constitution. Do some research on the lack of jurisprudential credibility and jurisdiction on the part of the International Criminal Court. And do some serious research on the subject of Joseph Kony’s patron or your film will be labeled as grossly dishonest and cowardly.

Russell probably did not mean for it to come across this way, but Africans have been receiving lectures for so long about the changing morality of the West, Russell's message came across like the patronizing slap of a colonial slave-master. To some Africans, the message sounded like this: Since moral thinking is beyond you, just delegate it to a movement of American hipsters and celebrities who can win the peace through media hype and emotional personal sentiment. We know how to think and feel about things that are important. Just trust us and there will be a happy-clappy ending to all this African nastiness.

My brief response: Africa is not America’s fantasyland. Africans know where to find the world's unchanging moral standard, and they are perfectly capable of doing the hard work of executing justice. They don't live on a playground. They know better than Americans that evil must be confronted head-on.

The Real Force Behind Joseph Kony

Kony is a wicked man, but he is not the face and focus of African evil. He is not the man most deserving to be vilified. If the filmmakers are so indignant about evil, why don’t they feature the monster who hires Kony to commit crimes of terror? Why don’t they target the criminal who pays Kony big money to mutilate, rape, plunder and commit genocide? Is it because it is not politically popular in Hollywood to criticize Islamists?

In an apparent effort to be politically delicate, the filmmakers have refused to draw attention to a man who has an army six hundred times the size of Kony’s, which routinely attacks vastly more people, which abducts and enslaves more children, which traffics in more women, and which practices genocide as a matter of racial extermination. This criminal is Omar al-Bashir, the man who really made Joseph Kony famous. He is Kony’s boss. Bashir has a raging blood-lust and he boasts of his brutality to non-Muslims. He is an outlaw. He is a hate-monger. He is a jihadist. He is a moral criminal. He is a racist. He has ordered the complete extermination of black Christians. He has ordered the complete extermination of black Muslims. He is responsible for the deaths of more than two million of his own countrymen, and the forced displacement and forcible transfer of an additional four million. He has used his military to slaughter civilians, and he has used his money to pay other outlaws like Kony to terrorize civilian villages. Bashir is presently using his army to provoke another war with South Sudan. He is a covenant-breaker. He will never keep his word. Bashir will never surrender. And Kony continues to learn from Bashir's example of greed, pettiness and brutality.

Yes, Kony must be stopped. But he does not need to be stopped because 51 percent of Americans feel a strong emotional sentiment that he must be stopped. He does not need to be stopped because emotive American celebrities say they are mad at him because he’s inhumane. He does not need to be stopped because millions of impressionable teenage groupies paste posters on fences. He does not need to be stopped because college students feel the impulse to vilify him above all other African warlords.

Kony must be stopped because he has committed crimes against God and against the souls of individual men, women and children. The people of Africa must defend themselves forcefully and confidently from Kony’s capital crimes, and apply justice to those specific crimes. And the people of Africa are capable of arresting and punishing bad guys for crimes of injustice.

The people of Uganda have driven Kony out of their nation. The people of South Sudan have already pushed Kony out of their country. They also pushed the well-armed soldiers of Omar al-Bashir out of their country. They are the first people in nearly a century to push back a Jihadist Muslim army. These triumphant people have won their freedom and they are leading Eastern Africa into practices of maturity, justice and, now, moral conquest.

Perhaps Americans could learn from this example and stop surrendering moral certainty and moral authority on matters of criminal conduct. My advice to East Africa: When you arrest the outlaw Joseph Kony for committing unlawful acts, do not do as the Americans do, dodging the issues of maturity and responsibility. Don’t treat Kony differently because he is “famous.” Don’t redefine Kony’s lawlessness as a “reactive psychosis.” Don’t try to get Kony to search his heart on a TV talk-show. Don’t put Kony in an indulgent mental hospital for famous people to try to make him “well.” Bring swift justice on him, and other Africans will learn a profound lesson in maturity. Perhaps America, too, will watch, learn, and grow up.