Fighting Words

04.19.12

Ishmael Beah Says ‘Kony 2012’ Simplistic and Unrealistic

In a live chat, the former child soldier and ‘A Long Way Gone’ author had very critical things to say about the Invisible Children campaign, which is planning a ‘Cover the Night’ event Friday.

Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier and author of A Long Way Gone, joined The Daily Beast Thursday for a live chat to discuss Kony 2012 and his own experiences. He spelled out many of his objections to the Invisible Children campaign, which is planning a “Cover the Night” event Friday. Here are some of his most powerful responses.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about the Kony videos?

The Kony videos, especially the first one, provide a very simplistic narrative about a complex situation, and offer a feel-good solution that, at the end of the day, does nothing on the ground. It went viral because there are lots of people wanting to be engaged but do not know how. Also, some people, like myself, had to see it to respond.

What do you say to those who say Westerners shouldn’t care about children being used as soldiers in other countries?

Westerners should care, of course. The conflicts are not isolated incidents. They should try to make a long-lasting and sustainable impact by looking at some of the root causes of these conflicts.

Since Kony 2012, over 100 members of Congress have signed on to a resolution on the Lord’s Resistance Army; over 65 lobby meetings have been held on the subject in the U.S.; 3.5 million people have signed a petition on the LRA; the African Union has announced they’re coordinating a 5,000-member force to address the LRA crisis; and the European Union has issued a statement expressing their support for international efforts to stop the LRA. Doesn’t this provide a great opportunity for anti-LRA efforts to succeed?

Kony 2012 did raise awareness, but these bills and resolutions that you speak of were on the way before. I work in this field so I know. This all didn’t come about because of the video. For example, the video mentioned that one of the reasons for their campaign was to make sure that the U.S. didn’t pull out troops. There has been no indication from Washington to do so.

Instead of Kony 2012, is there another organization we should support that would do more good on the ground?

Yes, lots of local initiatives on the ground in northern Uganda. UNICEF works with countless of them so you should be able to find out via UNICEF.

Why can’t Uganda’s government stop Kony? Are other countries doing anything to assist in the effort?

The Ugandan government isn’t interested. It is part of the problem. They get millions of dollars and Euros in military aid every year so they want to keep Kony at large.

The Kony videos, especially the first one, provide a very simplistic narrative about a complex situation, and offer a feel-good solution that, at the end of the day, does nothing on the ground.

I understand being critical, but I just don’t feel like anything like this has been attempted before. Do you think the Kony 2012 campaign is doing more harm than good?

OK, the Kony videos tugged at lots of people’s heartstrings. That is good in its own way. But what they are suggesting people do and what that will accomplish isn’t realistic.

What do you think about organizations like Invisible Children using Africa as a marketing tool? Do you think that it’s dehumanizing—that it silences those they’re trying to “save”?

It is indeed dehumanizing. Once you make others your subject, and their suffering a marketable tool, you are no longer concerned about them but yourself.