No Kony Is an Island: Death and Profit in Central Africa

Essays_invisiblekids_nariward1-383x378Elliott Prasse-Freeman in The New Inquiry:

Now that the progressing phases of #Kony2012 (endorsement, backlash, Despite a vast number of takedowns, the video’s sheer arrogance tempts one to spend at least a couple grafs deconstructing it (I mean, note how IC’s Jason Russell uses his four-year old as a metonym: By speaking to a child about Kony’s evils he is literally treating us, his audience, like children!). But I will demur. backlash-to-the-backlash, It should shock no one that Kristof was a #Kony endorser, as he portrays the same type of arguments — as I note at TNI. One could even argue that Kristof’s consistent antipolitical and sensationalist “reporting” on the region has empowered and enabled Invisible Children’s ill-advised “awareness raising” militarism.and meta commentary on these phases) have played out, they have left behind a residue: broad interest in central Africa. Invisible Children’s slick movie moved many, but its arrogance and elisions set off alarms for a heartening number of others. There is now a clear gap separating the charity’s fantasy of “Africa” from the sense of “what’s really going on.” Providing texture and context can displace that fantasy; making visible the ligatures that tie central Africans to people tweeting to save them might turn this moment of Western self-promotion and aggrandizement into something less tawdry and tragic.

Kony has been the way in for millions, let him be the way out. His peripatetic habits — traversing northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and back — present a moving point from which to track the stunning death-making and rent extraction that occurred there over the past two decades. It’s a massive total to which Kony contributed almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. Four million people died from conflict in the DRC during the 1990s and early 2000s, and there were no media campaigns to “raise awareness” about them. This death-making is tied to resource extraction in what we might call the necroeconomics at play on the ground in many of the spaces where Kony and other militias have trod.

If successful, the #Kony2012 campaign might actually buttress this death-making because it relies fundamentally on the legitimacy and ability of the United States military to patrol and control Africa and works to provide symbolic and discursive cover for the creeping penetration of the U.S. military’s AFRICOM across the continent. In the spirit, then, of raising awareness, we might train our eyes on the AFRICOM project: What are its goals? What are the legacies of U.S. military involvement in Africa? What is the relationship between AFRICOM and these economies of death?