Defend Truth


There’s a Light in the Get Kony Campaign


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

One of the great advantages of the social media is that they can identify and mobilise people against thugs of all stripes. Globally. No one can hide from decent citizens anymore, not even in “darkest” Africa.

I have read and discussed many analyses of the Kony 2012 phenomenon. I have watched the movie. I have sought out and met the team behind Invisible Children, which is running the campaign. As  with anything in life, I could have chosen to pick all the negatives in the narrative. And there are negatives, as were when we set out on our journey to free ourselves from apartheid.

I chose not to.

I am an African. My soul pulses with the spirit of our beautiful and troubled continent. Like my brothers and sisters across our lands, I endure the painful lashes of our tyrants and warlords. But now that I know deep that below the human greed of a few that drives our wars and conflicts is the inextinguishable force of the generosity, human dignity and strength of our people.

Yes, it pains me that Kony and the predatory elites feed off the flesh and blood of our innocent children, mothers and fathers. And it angers me that the world and its powerful and privileged elites allow it to happen over and over again.

Why do we allow this to happen? Is it that we just do not care? What if this was my teenage son or daughter snatched from my arms, raped and forced to kill innocent children or elders because of the fear of death? What choice would my son or daughter have but hold that heavy AK-47, close their eyes and pull the trigger that kills a human being in an explosion of flesh and bone? What will happen to their humanity?

So when I look at the commentary I am perplexed. Kony has committed his atrocities over the last 20 years. He has slaughtered thousands and robbed so many of our kids of their childhood innocence. We have stood by and watched. What has allowed the powerful in Africa and the world to ignore the unspeakable horrors of Kony?  Are we really expecting his victims in the villages of Uganda to mobilise a global campaign?  

The question we must pose is why Kony survives when we have such sophisticated technology and recourses available? The Great Lakes region is a rough neighbourhood, dominated by “big men”. War often is a necessity for the most corrupt economic interests to thrive. They need a Kony to do their dirty work.

It feeds a global economy with low-cost raw materials, and the sponsors who supply them with arms are determined to extract the wealth at huge human cost. The critical question is what are the rules and systems of power that allow the Konys to thrive in our world today.

So I have a different take on the Kony phenomenon. There was a naivety that underpinned the goal of the campaign, which is  well and good for me. I was as naïve to believe in 1976 in the midst of our massive student uprisings that freedom was around the corner. It was our Tahrir Square. We were confident and defiant. We were smashed and it took us 18 years of painstaking organising to build the power to install Nelson Mandela as our first democratically elected president.

Can an American non-governmental organisation ever capture Kony? Frankly, no. But Invisible Children did succeed in  building a campaign, like we did in South Africa, over many years. That got American youngsters and now others around the world to take a stand. Their passion, their determination, their smart use of technology and the social media tools of the 21st century have built a tsunami that exploded across the world. That is a remarkable achievement.

So why am I positive about the Kony campaign? Because it demonstrates the depth and power of civic engagement. If we could move from being subjects to active citizens we are capable of shifting the citadels of political and economic power in the world. The cornerstone of the Kony campaign is our deep sense of a shared humanity. We do care if innocent children are forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves.

It is possible that criminal leaders who loot our countries and serve their own interests are held to account in the citizen jury of the world. We are capable of building a countervailing power that places the interests of the innocent, the marginalised and the forgotten on the global radar screen.

Coming on the back of the Arab Spring and the “Occupy Movements” and the growing outrage against corruption worldwide, people are once again expressing their anger at the deliberate negligence of the global elite that dominates our public multilateral, global and national institutions. Our leaders cannot insulate themselves from the glare of us as the citizens of the world.

As we said in our struggle against apartheid sekunjalo ke nako: now is the time. Citizens are beginning to take a stand against the new apartheid that divides the world into the global rich and the global poor. There is a new confidence rising in the world. The wrath of the majority is growing in the world.

It was that tsunami of public opinion and action in support of our mass struggles in South Africa that created the political stalemate. It allowed extraordinary leaders on both sides of the conflict to choose negotiations as the political alternative to a scorched earth policy. That’s how the political miracle of a democratic South Africa was born.

So where does that leave us today with regards to Kony? The African Union has agreed to assemble a 5,000-man force to ensure that Kony is captured and put on trial. The world will be plastered with images of Kony. He will be famous, but for all the wrong reasons. This is our modern-day Nuremberg Trial. And, as the world convicts Kony our collective consciousness will be shifted by what we participate or even watch on our TV screens.

We will demonstrate that we do care, that we do have a sense of our shared humanity, that it does matter in our global village that the suffering of our fellow human beings is our collective challenge, that we are interconnected by the umbilical cord of our shared humanity and belief that every life has human value.

To me a victory against Kony is more than a capture of a single warlord. It is about a global discussion on what the rules and systems are in a world that allows Kony and so many others to dominate our world and subject our people to such human suffering. It is about those who allow our children to die of preventable causes, even though we have the science and the resources to solve it. It is about the senseless exploitation of our world resources by greedy corporates and their political allies who do not care whether our children and future generations inherit a devastated wasteland or not.

So as I travel the world and spend my time in the villages with poor women, experience the human suffering caused by our senseless addiction to consumption, I am happy that there are groups like Invisible Children who strike a flame in our conscience and make us sit up from the comforts of our armchairs and make us think, and act.

There are still many Konys in our midst. They don’t just live in the jungles of Africa. In fact, the more obscene ones inhabit the glass towers of our capitals sipping champagne, eating caviar and commenting on the savagery of us natives in the developing world. Their actions as a connected, powerful global elite condemn more than half of humanity to the unspeakable horrors of poverty, social inequality and violent conflict.

They must know that their time is also coming. DM

Jay Naidoo was an anti-apartheid activist and founding general secretary of the most militant labour movement at the centre of the struggle for freedom. He went on to become the minister of reconstruction and development and then telecommunications under president Nelson Mandela. Today he is the chairman of GAIN, a global foundation fighting malnutrition and hunger in the world.


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