We Gotta Do Something

So who is this guy Kony? He seems to get a lot of support from my friends on facebook. Is he some third party candidate I don’t know about?

I’m kidding. I know who Joseph Kony is.

Odds are, by now you do. But did you do more than watch the video?

I admit I did not watch it because I already knew about him, but I am worried people don’t know/haven’t thought much about:

  • How this situation might actually be resolved, or
  • Or the charity that is running such a slick video,

Here are some selected comments my friends made on facebook:

“Joseph Kony is probably in Pakistan with BinLaden’s family hiding out!”

‎”KONY 2012 sets American Record for shallow activist concern for African Children at a whole 35 hours.”

“What were these Kony people doing during the Sudan Crisis?”

“You know the video that’s been going viral? It’s primarily a pro-war tool to get Americans and people around the world to pressure their politicians to manipulate Africa. It’s taking sides in a “bad guys against bad guys” conflict.

Child soldiers are a tragedy, but getting foreign governments involved in empowering Uganda isn’t the answer — they have atrocities as well.

Ironically, make sure to “fight back” against the emotional pro-intervention video by sharing this article whenever you see someone discussing the video. Education is a good thing.”

“confused by the Kony video… it seems naive to me. Did they ever even say where the money would go?

Ugh… could I for once not play devil’s advocate?!!”

“Cynicism of a cause because of its small scope shouldn’t mean that it isn’t important. Nor does it mean that it can’t be a starting point for a greater movement. Getting rid of Kony won’t mean the problem is solved. He’s not the first or the last to use such terrible methods of control. There are a bunch of similar organizations as the LRA all over Africa and rest assured someone else will hop up to take Kony’s place whenever he is arrested/dead. But notice how quickly this Kony 2012 thing started up debate about the issue overall. People are complaining that its a way bigger issue that people don’t know much about. Well guess what? Thats EXACTLY what this Kony 2012 thing did in like…2 days. Now the scope has been broadened to an overall issue because someone effectively utilized social media to shed light on a particular situation. At least its a start…”

“Everyone is talking about Kony as if this is a sudden revelation.


“Alright, so with all yall folks lambasting the Kony video, Ima just be the hipster on this one and say I knew about child soldiers thanks to THIS awesome video, before it was cool:


“Plastering his name everywhere, I bet Joseph Kony will suddenly win the next GOP primary.”

“Haha yaaaaaay for Kony!!! Africa’s been a God damn mess for years. We could’ve fixed this problem ages ago, but because we didn’t my newsfeed gets blown up by people who all of a sudden have come to the realization that the world FUCKING SUCKS. Like chill the hell out. Stop sharing a stupid video and call your congressman; do you really think this Kony man’ll stop because your 15 year old ass is sad? Let’s throw some Tomahawks on his ass; that’ll shut him up.”

Clearly, my friends have some pretty diverse views on this recent new media phenomenon, ranging from pessimistic to absolutely bat shit crazy. Of course, the mere knowledge of war crimes is a good thing, but what is not good is:

  • People blindly being activists,
  • Blindly supporting any charity that purports to “help”, or
  • Being blind about how we might go about solving this.

Disclaimer: I’m not pretending to know how to solve this issue, but at least I can admit that. Nor am I saying that any charity is “good” or “bad” or that any one solution is better than the other. It is an insanely complicated matter, and while awareness helps, it doesn’t always lead to thoughtful awareness. If enough people say “do something” Congress often takes that to mean “do anything.”

Did you know about the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act? Probably not. It’s a law now. I only remember it when it passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Similarly, it passed the House by voice vote. Seldom does meaningful legislation reach a President’s desk that way.

In short, the bill:

  • Has a title (Sec. 1)
  • Offers findings (Sec. 2) — these are like bullet points about why the bill is needed.
  • Has Statements of Policy (Sec. 3), which are that it is the policy of the U.S. to be:
  1. Providing political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters;
  2. Targeting assistance to respond to the humanitarian needs of populations in northeastern Congo, southern Sudan, and Central African Republic currently affected by the activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army; and
  3. Further supporting and encouraging efforts of the Government of Uganda and civil society to promote comprehensive reconstruction, transitional justice, and reconciliation in northern Uganda as affirmed in the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-283) and subsequent resolutions, including Senate Resolution 366, 109th Congress, agreed to February 2, 2006, Senate Resolution 573, 109th Congress, agreed to September 19, 2006, Senate Concurrent Resolution 16, 110th Congress, agreed to in the Senate March 1, 2007, and House Concurrent Resolution 80, 110th Congress, agreed to in the House of Representatives June 18, 2007.

Section 3 says we can (a) rally the politicians of other governments (b) provide money (3) give them guns, advisers, or send in troops or (4) put our spies on it. “Apprehend or Remove” means pretty much what you think it says, capture or kill in the “absence of a negotiated solution” (read: a surrender) and “disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.” Given that he employs child soldiers, how do you think they would fare if we tried capturing, killing, disarming of “demobilizing” them, or encouraged others to do so? (Something to chew on, I’m not taking a side.)

  • Requirement for Strategy (Sec. 4) gives the President 180 days (6 months) to come up with a strategy and give it to Congress’s committees. That strategy has been submitted, and you can find it here.

Basically, it has three strategic objectives:

  1. Protect civilians better.
  2. “Apprehend or remove” Joseph Kony and his senior leaders
  3. “Promote the defection, disarmament, demobolization, and reintigration of remaining LRA fighters.”
  • Humanitarian Assistance (Sec. 5) The law gives the administration authority to “provide additional assistance to the Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Sudan, and Central African Republic to respond to the humanitarian needs of populations directly affected by the activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army.”
  • Opinion that we give more humanitarian assistance for recovery and reconstruction (Sec. 6) — This is a sense of Congress section, meaning it does jack squat, other than to say that the administration should work with Congress to appropriate and provide more assistance.
  • Opinion that we give more humanitarian assistance for reconciliation and transitional justice (Sec. 7) — This is a sense of Congress section, meaning it does jack squat, other than to say that the administration should work with Congress to appropriate and provide more assistance.
  • A report (Sec. 8) — Requires that the administration send along a report a year after sending along its strategy, which you can read here.

The report says we did some things to help (sent 100 troops), gave them $102 million, and notes that “regional militaries have reduced LRA’s numbers” (without saying how.) Alas, Joseph Kony is still alive and well as far as we know.

  • Opinion of Congress on funding (Sec. 9) — Says it is the opinion of Congress we give them $10 million for Sec. 5, and $30 million over 3 years for Sec. 7
  • Definitions (Sec. 10) — This is just technical stuff.

Some questions:

Will this issue be solved by one of our laws? Is this slacktivism? Do people put as much thought into sharing the video as they do into sharing the political news stories du jour? Is this something that is worth us using military force for? If so, should we do it in every instance? If not, why not?

The good thing is that the video raises a lot of questions. The bad thing is that most people who become aware of it will not think about answers.

There are a ton of unanswered questions about how to, or whether or not to deal with people like Joseph Kony. Blind activism does not yield good results. When you donate to a charity, do you know what that charity is advocating? When you call your Congressman, what will you tell them to do?

In my time in public service, one of the biggest annoyances was under-informed pleas saying “we gotta do something about ____________.” Whether it is gas prices, Rwanda, Kony, or climate change…. instead of advocating that we do “something” get informed and advocate what that something is.

Because if you don’t do that, other people will, and you might not like what happens. The title of this post comes from a song featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall by Infant Sorrow. You’ve likely seen it. Here’s an excerpt:

You gotta do something,
We gotta do something,
Sometimes I sit in my room and I don’t know what to do,
but we’ve gotta do something!

It’s time to do something,
Someone should do something,
We gotta do something,
and that someone is you,
and you and you and you!

My advice is this: before you go promoting the video, think long and hard what you want done about it, and go from there. I’m not saying you have to solve it yourself, but (for example) knowing what you don’t want to be done is a lot better than not knowing what you want done at all.

Some links:

Monitor: Kony resumes attacks in DRC

Mashable: Kony 2012: Is the viral video a scam?

Atlantic: Solving War Crimes With Wristbands: The Arrogance of ‘Kony 2012’

Know Your Meme: Kony 2012

LifeHacker: How to Determine If a Charity Like Kony 2012 Is Worth Your Money

FP: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)

Gawker: The Idiot Who Mixed Up Joseph Kony and Predator’s Carl Weathers

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One Thought on “We Gotta Do Something

  1. Here’s a facebook comment from a friend:

    Regarding the article on Kony,

    Pulling out the Infant Sorrow lyrics really encapsulated the debate. As someone who likes to use pop culture to make a point, Aldous Snow is about as good as it gets when it comes to explaining the “Do something” generation.

    No, your tone is not condescending. Your experience working in The Senate gives credibility to your closing argument, which is why…

    If it was me, I would have saved the intricate details of the “LRA disarmament…Act” for the end of the post. Perhaps just give a quick synopsis of the Bill. Reason being the the blog flows a long well, but I felt it got bogged down in too many details about the act.

    I would have written that there WAS an act addressing Kony, and then notify my audience that should they want to read it, the details of the act could be found at the end of the post.

    Your strongest points were in the “Some Questions” section. From MY viewpoint, and I say this as if I was writing it and had to expect my friends to read it, I imagine a lot of them would tune out upon reading the details of the bill, and then miss the most common sense part of your argument, the finale.

    The links at the bottom were a good touch.

    Pretty good article, Jim. Course, it supports my opinion, and you were smart enough to include my brilliant statuses in the piece, so how could I not like it?!

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