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Invisible Children and Visible Egos: White Masculinity on International Women’s Day

8 Mar

I woke up this morning and found that my Facebook feed buzzed with a greater number of doleful testaments (surprisingly from both apolitical high school associates and close friends alike) about how “Kony must be stopped,” than the short, upbeat, but nevertheless inspiring “happy women’s day!” status updates I was expecting to see.

So I clicked the link to what I was told would be a short, but life-changing video.

For the next 30 minutes of my life, I was bombarded with propaganda. My heart-strings were manipulatively tugged at by a cute, blonde five-year-old and some sensational neo-colonial rhetoric about how “we, the [Western] people” have the power to use social media for good. I love democracy as much as the next girl, but I don’t appreciate that our International Women’s Day has been hijacked by a handful of white, middle-class American males and a  moral crusade that reeks of White Man’s Burden.

Here are just a few of the things about the viral vid that I take issue with:

Firstly, the narrator keeps condescendingly claiming that “we” need to “save Africa.” Last time I checked, Africa was a big-ass continent, with countries and cultures so diverse that to lump them together as “them” who needs saving by “us” is way beyond offensive; it’s just inaccurate.

Ugandans and their children are not “invisible.” They are very much alive and existing, and they can not only speak for themselves, they can solve their own problems. Invisible Children would have us believe that all the progress in Uganda over the years has been due to charity efforts, meanwhile, the Ugandan military had already been pushing out Kony (pronounced “coin”) before the IC was even created. They even had American backing way before Obama, although this hard-lined stance against Kony resulted in a Phyrric victory, with many children as casualties.

This video conveniently ignores this fact, as well as the input of any Ugandan citizen, let alone politician. It focusses on informing Americans, celebrities, and Obama about an issue that has decades-old roots. Why are these children “invisible”? Because Kim Kardashian  hasn’t heard of them? I’d be surprised if some of the celebrities the IC is lobbying can even name the 50 states, let alone talk international politics.

Moreover, this video does not only patronize and invisibilize African agency, it also talks down to Americans, through the dumbing down of complex issues with sweeping blanket statements about “the good guys vs. the bad guys,” as explained to a five-year-old, and by using flashy words and imagery any serious documentary filmmaker would find most unprofessional. It manipulates facts and attempts to pass for current events a situation that is quite frankly no longer current.

Starkly one-sided, Invisible Children conspires to make us think that the answer to all of life’s problems is direct military intervention, because that has just worked so well in the past.

Those who have researched the issue, or even simply typed “Uganda” on a Google search engine, may find Ugandan journalist Angelo Opi-aiya Izama‘s input to be of interest to them:

“One salient issue the film totally misses is that the actual geography of today’s LRA operations is related to a potentially troubling “resource war”.

Since 2006, Uganda discovered world class oil fields along its border with DRC. The location of the oil fields has raised the stakes for the Ugandan military and its regional partners, including the US.

While LRA is seen as a mindless evil force, its deceased deputy leader, Vincent Otii, told me once that their fight with President Yoweri Museveni was about “money and oil”. This context is relevant because it allows for outsiders to view the LRA issue more objectively within the recent history of violence in the wider region that includes the great Central Africa wars of the 90s, in which groups like LRA were pawns for proxy wars between countries.”

It is clear that military intervention would do more harm to the very people that Invisible Children claims they want to help.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with how passive this video appears to viewers on the one hand, sold to us as a campaign that requires merely word of mouth to spread and flourish. But Invisible Children’s goals are not at all peaceful.

For those who genuinely want to improve the world beyond a superficial means, please note that Uganda is now facing problems that are much like those of most other countries (yes, including America): an interest in improving health care, education, human rights, etc. It’s great that millions of privileged people all over the world are suddenly taking an interest in the lives and history of another country, but it would be even better if their efforts were well-informed.

The world is not a great place right now, and there is a lot that can be done. As Uganda heals itself from a conflict that essentially ended several years ago, Tibet continues to suffer human rights abuses that are utterly totalitarian, and even extreme forms of protest, such as suicide, continue. Why don’t people cry for these Tibetan women? Whose country, wealthy in arts, culture, and literature, is being drained by an invasion that has been going on for about half a century.

Or better yet, this Women’s Day, why don’t we celebrate rather than cry, because just over a month ago in Ecuador, news landed that hundreds of lesbian torture clinics, opened with the machismo logic that you can “straighten out” a “bad girl,” are finally being closed down for good by the health ministry. This was done without the use of arms, but via a social media protest using the popular petition site Change.org.

Yet right now, on this International Women’s Day, people are not celebrating Ecuador’s victory over misogyny, nor mourning the loss of those two Tibetan female protesters.

Instead, while people cry for Uganda, the beautiful, resource-rich country Democratic Republic of the Congo — a country that should be filthy-rich with earnings from their valuable exports — continues to be looted, significantly (but not uniquely) by North American corporations, who are funding a devastating civil war that kills 40, 000 people a month. Did you know that The Congo has the highest rate of rape and sexual violence in the world? This is International Women’s Day, so let’s focus on tangible issues that affect us now. Every woman in the world can and should care about the Congo, and the reasons are feminist, sincere, and legitimate, without a trace of the egotistic white-male burden complex. To quote playwright Eve Ensler,

“Congo’s the heart of Africa, Africa is the heart of the world. Women are the heart of the heart. So if the heart isn’t functioning, the rest of the world’s not going to function.”

All of our electronics are made with minerals that come from the Congo, and internationally, us ladies (and gentlemen!) as  consumers are fuelling a civil war in which the casualties who will suffer the most, are women. To support the Congolese, the West actually does not need to help, but they also don’t need to hinder.

For those of you who have just watched “Kony 2012” and have been blasted with images of a malnourished and underdeveloped Africa, let me level with you. The Congo is a culturally advanced, resource-rich nation with a beautiful, modern, and infrastructurally developed capital city and financial district. Unfortunately, the eastern part of the nation is suffering from a complex civil war wherein I cannot point out the clear “good” and “bad” guys for you, but I can assure you that there will be no winners. What we, as global consumers, can do for the Congo, is not simply press our governments to call for military action; that would be capricious and ill-informed. What we must do is transform ourselves from global consumers, to informed global consumers. We must lobby our governments to regulate its corporations, not only the ones who deal within the country, but those that deal abroad as well. We should also press corporations to not deal in minerals from mines run by armed groups. Now that you have learned that Western powers are already funding neo-colonial ventures in Africa, let’s not donate to the IC and fund another.

Despite the claims of Invisible Children, at the end of the day, it will not be the West whose “civilizing mission” will empower a so-called voiceless and “invisible” Africa. It has and will continue to be done from within. Again, the West does not need to help, but they also don’t need to hinder. Africa does not need anyone to make its issues “famous.” Africa has always been a powerful continent, and whether this view has been legitimized by the West or not changes nothing.

So in honour of International Women’s Day, let me end with a quote from Yaa Asantewaa, a Ghanaian Queen Mother with the balls to take on her fellow-queen, Victoria of England, and all her colonizing efforts head-on. This is what she had to say to the Asante soldiers before the Uprising of 1900, the last major African anti-colonial rebellion led by a woman:

“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. […] Is it true that the bravery of the Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women.”

It’s a poignant quote that oozes female empowerment. And isn’t that what today should be about? So I have to side with the women’s website, Jezebel, on this one, that while it’s great that all my apolitical associates are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon of pseudo-social justice, the phony sense of empowerment that “Kony 2012” gives to tweeters and Facebookers misses the point that “charity isn’t really about feeling empowered.” International Women’s Day, on the other hand, is.

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