I just came across this brilliant commentary on Kony 2012. In this article, Teju Cole describes Kony 2012 as “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” I don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s spot on about a lot of things.
Basically, Cole points out that Kony’s LRA is symptomatic of a much deeper, systemic need for a more equitable civil society, robust democracy, fairer system of justice, better infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education. He argues that militarization of poorer countries, short-sighted agricultural policies, resource extraction, and the propping up of corrupt governments by the U.S. in various direct and indirect capacities must stop before Americans can be credible activists for Kony 2012. The fact of the matter, as Cole contends, is that “success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo.”
Cole is a little more abrasive than I would have liked. What I fear is that our respect for the agency and self-determination of Ugandans will lull us to passivity and indifference. I do resonate with Kristof’s statement that it is “even more uncomfortable to think that we as white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster because the victims are of a different skin color.” “Western guilt” or “white guilt” for that matter should not prevent us from humanitarian work across the globe. We just need to think “constellationally,” or holistically, to make profound and genuine impact. If we do that, Americans will not get such backlash for these well-intentioned projects (and I include myself in this, though I am not white, I am American). Especially when it comes to Christian missions, “Western guilt” should not prevent us from proclaiming the Gospel. There’s a great article on this by Bishop Hwa Yung.
What bothers me about the Kony 2012 campaign is that it purports to pioneer a new method of social activism (social media publicity) that will revolutionize international criminal justice. While it is true that, in just a few days, Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video garnered 75 million views on YouTube alone, I’m always skeptical of “this-new-formula-will-forever-change-the-world” type of campaigns. Ultimately (and I don’t know if even Cole gets this), the heart of the matter is sin. There is no silver bullet for solving sin. Sanctification is a slow, painstaking process and it is impossible without Christ. A group of idealistic youngsters can rally behind a good cause once, maybe even a few times, but so long as they are sinful people who are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit, they will eventually weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9). The world’s problem does not boil down merely to the human condition, but to human nature. And for that reason, even if we “think constellationally,” we will never attain utopia. Heaven won’t come down to earth until Jesus comes, but nevertheless, pray we shall that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and work we shall to accomplish this ‘til our dying breath. Let’s get to work Christian brothers and sisters!