For years, I’ve been reading and learning about Joseph Kony and his reign of terror over northern Uganda, ranging from Lake Kyoga to the southern border of Sudan, through his leadership of the Lord’s Resistance Army. As a student of political science and political theory, and an ‘Africanist’, I’ve always known of Joseph Kony, yet never thought much of him – aside from the obvious; he’s heinous.
Several months ago, during an independent research project advised by Prof. Jeff Rice, I authored a paper entitled “The Social Media Contract: A Political Philosophy of Marketing,Communications, & Collective Consciousness”, to culminate a quarter-long study of the evolution of marketing into a popular and democratic dialogue which turned the citizen-king/queen first into a consumer-king/queen and then finally into a journalist, entertainer, singer-song writer, activist, community organizing, public opinion candidate.
Essentially, social media heralds the ushering in of a newly flattened world wherein everyone is not only equal, but equally powerful, and potentially keenly aware; this, I argue is a ‘deadly’ and prospectively promising combination in the wake of the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, and the Obama Campaigns, all of which featured the power of the commoner to mobilize, both on the web and off.
While I argued that collective consciousness is expanding and becoming more collective and more conscious through both social media and the internet, and that this new, high speed, boundary-less collective consciousness had limitless potential for whatever (that’s exactly what Kony 2012 is), I never imagined that I would be proven right so soon and so demonstratively.
I was proven right with the explosion of this Kony 2012 viral campaign. In 2006, during a social justice coffee house at my high school, I watched the original documentary “Invisible Children”, made by the guy at the head of this new campaign, and after that I made note in my head that if I ever ran into Smokin’ Joe Kony… to go into kill mode immediately and that was that, I didn’t think much of it. Now, here we are in 2012, a time predicted by many, including the Mayans, to be the dawn of a new era of information and dynamic consciousness.
Certainly, every time I see a new movement that inspires the masses, I am moved and inspired simply because I love people and crowds and human noise and all that. However, we still need to keep reality in our view. This is a matter of global politics, of global importance. So, is this movement a fun project for a guy who made some promises to a kid named Jacob in Uganda years ago or is this a movement that will come to fruition and change international human rights, international law, international criminal justice forever? Quite frankly, hopefully mostly the former and not the latter – let me tell you why.
I can pretty much sum it all up in one word: Sovereignty. I don’t believe in the arrival of any new world order; I don’t really like conspiracy theories, but we shouldn’t put our heads in the sand. When a movement like Kony 2012 makes noise worldwide, unprecedented noise, and it’s being heralded by an ICC prosecutor, and the demands are being made for the intrusion of the ICC in the matter of the 20-year Ugandan conflict, I get nervous about where world politics is headed.
My main problem is with the ICC as an institution: it is a potential threat to the sovereignty of nations worldwide and its international law is not representative of any democratically vetted ethos or collective morality. If a court can waltz into a country which submits itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction and take captive an accused war criminal, it can take anyone for any accusation- soldier, militant civilian, or even an elected official and it will probably only take the losers who commit war crimes, not the winners.
Imagine (completely hypothetically) if a task force from the UN Security Council comes to take away former President George W. Bush for ‘war crimes’ during the War on Terror at the behest of angry Liberals. We might all have reason to feel uncomfortable and feel our civil rights as citizens as compromised under international law, which we did not cosign directly enough (granted – this would never happen because the US would never come under the ICC’s jurisdiction). After all, we all tacitly or explicitly sign up for this ‘civil rights thing’ as citizens and we make that contract with a tangible governing body which has a working relationship with we, the body politic, the People. Government is indebted to the implicit & explicit contract with its people and is obliged to maintain a monopoly of rule over the land and over its self-determined people, in combination with a constitution, valuable treaties, and inalienable popular sovereignty itself. International law does not fit into this recipe for preponderance and strong, functional statehood. Any nation that brings itself under the jurisdiction of the ICC is admitting failed statehood and the question would by why the focus is not on building functional statehood as opposed to compromising sovereignty and preponderance.
One might reply, “Paul, you’re ridiculous, all of this is conjecture and wild postulating about stuff that’s far too unrelated – this is just a group of people who wants to see an evil man brought to justice. If the ICC can bring someone like Kony to justice, then the ICC is a good thing. After all, the ICC and international law exist to give weaker or smaller developing countries a safety net to fall back on in their most vulnerable and tumultuous times. The ICC would never even mess with powerful developed nations or their leaders — powerful or strong states would never comply with the ICC.”
Firstly, if the strong states of this world won’t come under the jurisdiction of the ICC or a larger international legal governing body, why would weak or developing states who want to develop strong and functional statehood accept the ICC as a crutch? What kind of impact can an organization like the ICC have if it is not supported by strong, developed states? If only ‘developing’ states successfully support the ICC to in turn support them, do they need the ICC?
Secondly, if International Justice as institution and/or legal norm is simply going to enforce law in weakened, underdeveloped parts of the world, and leave powerful countries to their own devices, this does not seem different than anything that has been going on to date in this unjust, but somehow balanced global political system. That would not be a system of international justice, but merely the codification of an international power structure; such a system which already exists, just without a name.
Third and finally, if the aim is to protect the interests of colonially underdeveloped and structural destabilized nations and help them build institutions for justice and law enforcement, doing it for them isn’t the way – it’s the kind of accepted imbalances of power which have underdeveloped nations around the world and left little faith in their state institutions with those that matter, their citizens.
The US Government has already deployed military advisors (smart troops) at the behest and request of the Ugandan Government, and assuming that the Ugandan Army, with allied help, captures Kony (which they can if he is actually in Uganda… reports indicate that he’s 3 borders over somewhere unknown; if these reports are true Kony2012 is even more useless than we thought and perhaps hurtful) the only thing to do would be to turn the man over to the Government of the people who he terrorized for over 20 years, that of Uganda (the same way we handled Saddam in Iraq). Under George Bush, the United States, in all its anti-sovereignty imperfections in dealing with the underdeveloped world, promoted a policy of sovereignty reverence within the realm of state-building. This respect for sovereignty needs to continue as the prosecution and execution of Joseph Kony in Uganda by Ugandan institutions will restore faith in justice in Uganda, and send a message throughout the land that Ugandan institutions of justice are capable and committed to the fruition of their collective ethos – a collective ethos that can’t be mediated over the internet, an ethos for action and accomplishment.
If the court were to turn out to not be committed to this ethos of active justice, flying Kony to the Hague to be tried tens of thousands of miles away would not reveal this deficiency, would not set a mark for improvement and reform, and would give the Ugandan people nothing to hold accountable for their own future. After all, it is the failure of Museveni’s Ugandan government in catching Kony and human rights violations over the pass 30+ years that need to be scrutinized as surely as Joseph Kony is hunted down. The Ugandan government should first and foremost be held accountable by the Ugandan people and its neighbor nations by hook or by crook. This is the age of revolution — let the revolution be televised, let it go viral, but don’t let it die at the hands of privileged, uninformed, distant, and personally unfulfilled Westerners.