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Karthik Palaniappan Headshot

Kony 2012: A New Proposal For Aiding Africa

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Karthik is a teen participant in the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political organization for high school students.

Kony 2012! That is what I first saw when I opened facebook on Tuesday. My first thought was that Kony was someone running for president. My perception soon changed after doing a little research.

In early March, Invisible Children created a video called "Kony 2012." It racked up more than 50 million hits in just a few days, and highlights the atrocities against the children as well as efforts to stop Kony. Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, an army that kidnaps children and uses them as sex slaves and child soldiers. The video calls on people around the world to get their governments to act.

This was a very different kind of movement -- it was and continues to be led by young people. Most of the video's viewers are teenagers. The video promises to give kids a voice -- the voice that many teenagers feel they lack. However, we can be easily misled. As soon as I heard about Kony 2012, I also saw the backlash against the movement. I wanted to know more.

We can all agree that Kony is an evil person who needs to be stopped. His influence reaches from Uganda to Congo to Sudan. However, the video ignores the facts. Kony has not been in Uganda for six years -- he was forced out by the Ugandan military long before the U.S. intervened in 2010. Also, the LRA is only estimated to have 200-300 members, down from the thousands it had. Kony was at his height in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. The Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Ugandan military -- which Inivisible Children works with -- are both accused of human rights abuses. The SPLA has burned scores of villages and raped hundreds of women and girls. When Kony was strong, as an Associated Press article notes, "the Ugandan government was often accused of failing to do enough to capture or kill Kony, with some government investigations showing that army officers profiteered from a protracted war."

The fact of the matter is that the video is misleading. This propaganda was meant to create a popular outcry -- which it did. Millions of people bought wristbands and posters, changed their Facebook profile picture, shared the video, and discussed it. However, not everybody knows, or has considered, the facts. The video is not the whole truth.

Invisible children only spends about a third of the money it collects toward direct aid to the Ugandan military and forces that are trying to stop Kony. The remaining two-thirds is used mainly for salaries and movie-making. As even the Co-Founder of Invisible Children, Jason Russell admits that this is not a traditional charity that does "amazing work on the ground." As a CNN article points out, "Critics say 'Kony 2012' will draw resources away from more effective charity organizations while reinforcing the idea that Africans are helpless and that Westerners must intervene to save them."

Angelo Izama, journalist and founder of the Fankaka Kwawote think tank in Uganda, says: "For many in the conflict prevention community including those who worry about the further militarization of Central Africa, this campaign is another bad solution to a more difficult problem."

The United States does not need to continue to be the police force of the world. The Cold War is over, but the Cold-War attitude has not left us completely. The truth must be told: we cannot stop every bad person in the world. Osama Bin Laden and his forces directly attacked the United States -- he was a good target.

Of course we are the wealthiest and strongest nation on earth, so we can help stop mass killings. Backing Israel if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon could save many lives. Taking down Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad (who is killing his own people) could save thousands of lives.

Kony's forces, on the other hand, are very small and infrequently pop up and kill people. We do not have the resources to make the world violence-free. We must act in our own interests and the interests of our allies, not be the policemen of the world.

The one exception to the rule above, I believe, is the United Nations. If countries in the UN Security Council are willing to step up and take down Kony, the U.S. should pledge its resources. But the time for unilateral police action is over.

We saw this in Iraq and Afghanistan -- it is not as simple as it sounds. In Iraq, creating a government was difficult because many didn't even want a unified democracy. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the government does not even control the region where the terrorists are.

How about a new proposal -- Africa 2012. Let's remove the focus from Kony and put it on the people. Kony continues to survive because the country has very poor infrastructure and economy. The government is not powerful enough to act, and the people are not able to resist him either. A strong, wealthy country would not (and none do) have a similar problem.

But why stop at Uganda? European interference caused the problem of cyclical poverty. It is time the Western countries came together to get rid of this problem. If we are able to modernize their economy and help them compete in the global market, it would solve a lot of their problems.

It would also be in our best interest. This would provide new markets for us to expand into. This is a market of a little over a billion people who currently have little purchasing power.

So we should focus on charities and movements dedicated to helping the people, not committed to violence. Kony 2012 is fighting violence with violence. I say we fight violence with economics.