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The Kony 2012 viral video may have tapped into a mood for social justice, but once more beats the drum for an extension of US imperial power, argues Dan Poulton.

Kony 2012

A viral internet video has gained 70 million hits in a week and has sent the hash-tags 'Kony 2012' and 'Stop Kony' into the Twittersphere. Kony 2012's single goal is to have Lords Resistance Army leader, and the International Criminal Court's most wanted man, Joseph Kony 'stopped'. This means arrested, but Uganda's Yoweri Museveni has already said he will capture Kony 'dead or alive'.

Kony 2012 reveals how, after filmmaker Jason Russell's NGO 'Invisible Children' spent eight years lobbying 'trend setters' and policy makers, US president Barack Obama announced in October 2011 the deployment of 100 US Africa Command (AFRICOM) troops to Uganda. The 'advisory' mission was tasked with 'removing Joseph Kony from the battlefield.'

The extent to which this was the direct result of the Stop Kony campaign is highly questionable. Ironically the reason for this lies in some statements made by Russell in the film. 'It's always been that the decisions made by the few with the money and the power dictated the priorities of their government and the stories in the media,' he tells us. 'They'd determine the lives and the opportunities of their citizens.' But, Russell claims, Facebook has changed all that. Because the whole world can now 'see' each other, the era of 'government by the few' is over.

This is at best naive and at worst cynical hyperbole. This rhetoric cashes in on the wave of optimism generated by the Global Revolt and attempts to argue that the US is being repositioned as a benign agent of peaceful change. But war is war, and Kony 2012 makes no attempt to spell out the probable cost of such an intervention, benevolent or not.

Obama's Uganda move didn't come out of nowhere. In 2008 the US gave backing to the Ugandan government in their war against Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Kony and the LRA have terrorised Ugandans for well over two decades, with little international attention. Kony failed to win the popular support he needed to destabilise the regime of Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, which is responsible for crimes against humanity in the DRC according to a leaked draft of a UN report.

To bolster his forces, Kony forcefully recruited child soldiers and engaged in sex trafficking girls. Uganda launched air strikes to wipe out the LRA, killing more civilians than it did LRA 'soldiers', most of whom are of course children.

The LRA are thought to be weaker than they have ever been, numbering only a few hundred soldiers, but the US, who supported Uganda's war against them in 2008, aim to establish more bases in Africa to rival the presence of China in the region.

Anyone who has seen Jason Russell's smash-hit viral video may have a different understanding of the conflict. Sadly, for all its moral fervour, this understanding is dangerously faulty.

The direction of US foreign policy is set by its strategic interests as a global power, not by the misplaced moralism of a few thousand college students who are drumming up support for the further extension of American military interests into Africa.

According to the film, the US government would have embarked on a military engagement which did not benefit them strategically, but because 'the people demanded it.'

The American people also demanded, in chorus with millions of citizens around the world, that the US and its western allies did not attack Iraq in 2003. One might joke darkly that it's perhaps easier to convince America to start a war than to stop one.

We just need to look at what US military strategists themselves have to say about AFRICOM's Ugandan mission. AFRICOM commander, General Carter Ham, stated in October 2011 that "We are first and foremost a Department of Defense geographic combatant command, and our primary responsibility is to protect America, Americans, and American interests from threats that might emanate from the continent of Africa."

That tells you all you need to know about US commitment to 'humanitarian' intervention.

The US is no doubt concerned, as Carter Ham claims, about 'the thought of an American passport holding person who transits to a training camp in Somalia, gets some skill, then finds their way back to the United States to attack Americans here in our homeland,' but higher on the agenda is the prize of victory in the new 'scramble for Africa'.

Kony 2012 leads its undoubtably well-intentioned supporters into thinking that a rather ingenious PR campaign and a few colourful demonstrations influenced US foreign policy in a positive direction.

Mass movements can change the world, but that's not what we're dealing with here. The film is pretty vague about just how many activists were involved in the campaign, which relies on Jason Russell laying out a plan of action in which supporters can only passively participate.

It focuses on lobbying influential figures, not on building a mass movement. Russell explains that 'celebrities, athletes and billionaires have a loud voice.' They do if they're shouting for something that fits with US foreign policy.

If it could be proven that the US does not stand to benefit in any way from the mission the argument would carry more weight. But the facts tell a wholly different story.

Uganda is a key player in AFRICOM's war in Somalia, a strategically vital, not to say oil-rich country, torn by civil war, famine and now US led drone strikes. The deployment of US advisors to support an ally at a time of increasing instability in Africa is no great mystery.

And this is where the Kony 2012 narrative begins to take on an even darker tone. It makes no mention of Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni and his use of child soldiers in the mid 1980s.

Museveni mounted a violent coup in 1986 and used calls for 'national unity' to rule with an iron fist. In 2005 he removed term limits on the Presidency, effectively consolidating his dictatorship. He has grown increasingly wary of dissent, worrying that he may fall victim to an 'African Spring', and supressing protests with violence last year.

In Kony 2012, Invisible Children entreat us to 'join our army of peace'. The irony is presumably lost on Russell, who at one point orates to some high school kids, ''Who are you to end a war? I'm here to tell you, who are you not to?'.

This is no anti war sentiment. Russell entertains the same notion of stopping a war as does Barack Obama. Stopping a war means winning a war. This kind of 'victor's peace' argument should be consigned to the theoretical dustbin along with the white man's burden, but campaigns like Kony 2012 drag it kicking and screaming back onto the liberal agenda.

The Kony campaign has sparked one positive development, the 'Tony 2012' campaign which wants to see Tony Blair, responsible for a million dead in Iraq, arrested and brought to justice. No amount of PR will compel an AFRICOM deployment for that mission.

Kony 2012 once more provides liberal cover for imperialist intervention. It must be rejected by all campaigners for social justice and peace.

Dan Poulton

Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.

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