It would seem that I am not the only one to made the link to Tony Blair on seeing the Kony 2012 video currently doing the rounds. When I saw it, it had 40,000 views and a whole heap of response videos – all with no views. This was a remarkably well orchestrated social media campaign, twitter was going mental with it, it was springing up all over facebook. But only on the more extended Reddit site was there proper analysis being done about its merits. Within about 12 hours the first doubters were starting to break through the wall of support. Now – three days in – voices are emerging. Voices which arent usually heard. Voices of Ugandans.
Africa is presented to us as a problem: if its not floods, its drought; if its not war, its famine; if its not a coup, its a sham. Very occasionally you will get good news, often tagged on at the end of something horrific, about the good work that some white Westerner has done there, or a rich white Westerner visiting, perhaps to consume the local culture,or the local children. African voices are silenced. When was the last time you heard a vox-pops from Uganda? Or the Congo? or Sudan? At best you may get wailing, or crying children, or the pronouncement of an official, but when do you actually hear African voices?
Within that video, there was a bit part played by a former child soldier. The very fact that he had travelled to the US to speak in and of itself makes him atypical. He is being influenced by external forces which the average former child soldier never experiences, when these external forces lean towards a particular course of action – a cheerleader is made. It is interesting to note that throughout the video, although his English is very good, he is subtitled throughout. The main narration was by a US journalist with heart-tugging interspersion of an American child. Africans were portrayed as victims or monsters, grateful recipients of charity and grateful advocates of the cause.
But now voices from within Africa are seeping out. Using the same medium, blog-posts, videos, twitter feeds. For all that Central Africa is where 80% of the resources that power our mobile phones and laptops are located, technology is thin on the ground. No smart cafes here offering free wifi, or glossy Apple stores peddling their latest wares. No frivilious consumption of technology – no whimsy facebook statuses; cute cats doing funny things, tweets about having dinner or shoot-em-ups which would put the horror of their lives on screen. Technology here is precious and serious. Primarily the domain of education, government and media, it is the better educated African who has access to this kind of technology. The ones better able to tell their tales and communicate with a Western audience. Patiently explaining the harm that we cause and the damage we do. Fact filled with history and context demanding that we pay respect to Africans. Demanding that we appreciate their lives as they are, not as we see them through Western eyes.
For it is not only us which are reflected in the Kony2012 video. Africans seeing that video also see themselves as others see them. Insulated and pretty much ignored in international coverage, there is little of the West’s view of Africa which reaches them, especially not in a format to which they can respond. Seeing the way that the West view them is eye-opening, especially with the implications that could follow. Central Africa has recent memories of war. Living in Europe or America – other than the Balkans, which was sufficiently remote not to really feel affected – only the very eldest among us would have ever experienced war as a civilian. Its an abstract idea to most of us, that you could be bombed in your sleep, that soldiers could break into your home, that you could be taken away and imprisoned on whim. We know that war is bad and that people die – but those people are not us. Uganda lives in fear of us. There is absolutely no chance of Ugandan troops entering the UK - just no gonna happen; there is a real risk of Western troops entering Uganda. And all it takes is one viral video, with a whimsy intro and cute child followed by a military scenario. God help the whites when Africa gets really twitter. When we hear what we have done. When we see the carnage we cause.
Western leaders invade countries at will.
Iraq was an illegal war. The UK had no mandate under international law. We did not support the war. The UK government told outright lies to justify it. The UK used chemical weapons on civilian populations. The UK tortured prisoners of war. The UK killed unarmed civilians. The UK oversaw a destruction of infrastructure. The UK watched as the assets of the country were looted. The UK is a rogue state, with a former war criminal currently hiding out in Israel.
It is not our responsibility to bring Joseph Kony to justice. While we may have created the conditions for a monster, he was not our responsibility and we were not his victims. This is an African tale and it is for Africans to write the ending. Tony Blair on the other hand is our responsibility. At the moment he enjoys an “elder statesman” role – with a myriad of companies and holdings all enmeshed in a complex web. The tale of Tony Blair currently is “young turk, modernised the Labour party, made it electable, bit dodgy over the war and privatised a lot of stuff by the back door, then got out while the going was good.” How come Kony gets demonised while the hundred of thousands of Iraqi children that died as a result of Blair’s invasion get narry a mention.