Joseph Kony: Getting the Bad Guy, or Stopping Imperialism?

In case you haven’t seen it, an organization named Invisible Children has releaed a video which has about 70 million hits in its first week. Impressive, even if many of them watched only a few minutes of the half-hour video.

The video is about Joseph Kony, leader of a paramilitary group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA began in Uganda; they were driven out of that country, but are still operating elsewhere in Central Africa. Their truly horrible modus operandi involves kidnaping children, the boys for child soldiers and the girls for sex slaves.

It has aroused a lot of controversy. The video frames the issue as a father explaining to his young son (5 or 6 years old) what the issue is all about. In sum, it is that Kony is a “bad guy” and should be arrested.

Yes, he is a bad guy. Yes, he should be arrested. But what the video does not mention is that arresting Kony would not change anyting. Just as killing Obama Bin Laden did not mean we could get on airplanes without having full body scans, arresting or killing Kony would not end the exploitation of children as soldiers and sex slaves. The roots are far deeped than that.

The basic problem of Central Africa is imperiailism: not the direct rule of subjugated people, but the indirect rule which takes their resources for the benefit of giant corporations. At this point, the major function of central Africa in the world economy is to supply minerals: oil, uranium, coltan, copper, etc. To get these minerals cheaply, the corporations involved have created chaos in African political and social life. Probably 5 million people have been killed in Congo in resource-driven conflicts, financed by corporations based in the US and the EU. The reason that there are warlords and child soldiers is that this business is so profitable.

Kony deserves severe punishment, but it is important to realize that arresting, trying, and punishing Kony will not change anything at all.