Thursday, March 8, 2012

Power: Africa, Social Media and Meaningful Change

For those of you who do not choose to earn a liberal arts degree in the International Relations and have not sat through a number of courses that focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, here is the 30 second version of history:
There were thousands of small and large communities, states, and nations that lived, grew and shrank for thousands of years in Sub-Saharan Africa with as many government, political, and religious structures as there were communities, states, and nations. There were times of peace and prosperity and times of strife and war.

Then Europeans showed up. Stuff started changing. We can talk about the raping and pillaging if you want but what is key is that European powers saw the continent as a place for raw materials, from minerals to rubber to slaves. LOTS of things happened over the next five or so generations but here is the take away: Africa was a place for resources and nothing else.

Then "Africans" -- that singular group of people (...) -- started demanding independence and started getting it. Through this process some bad stuff happened, most notably the violent expression of repression tactics employed by the Europeans to control different groups identified as different by the Europeans.

You are now up to date.
Clearly this is unbelievably abridged and painfully flawed but so was that video you told me to watch yesterday.

I don't care about Invisible Children as an organization. There are many very well researched critiques out there about this project and major campaign to get attention. I do not care about this organization. The thing that gets me, is the ignorance/guilt-based cyber activism that has hit the web on this campaign.

The exploitation of children takes place in every corner of the world. However there are not videos made about these other situations on a regular basis partly because it doesn't make for good war and poverty porn. I wonder how many people watched the video yesterday on an iPad without a second thought.

As Kate points out this isn't the first time we have the opportunity to raise awareness for global issues, nor will it be our last. This is so obviously the cause of the hour.

It is unbelievably sad that a group of formerly uninformed people are all excited about Kony and his army of kids but will do jack shit about it. The 30 minutes people take to watch this slick video is nothing more than 30 minutes. Watching this video isn't going to change anything.

There is no international economic or geo-politcal reason to end this guy's or the other horrible peoples' reign of terror. There is a social justice reason to bring him to court or kill him in the field, but when has that reason ever mobilized international policy(see: Armenians, The Holocaust, Rwanda, East Timor, Sudan and the list goes on).

Sure, things can change but shaping international policy for reasons other than economic or geo-politcial gains takes sustained effort from large groups of people for long periods of time. And sure, every post yesterday was that "30 minutes is a long time but you should take that time to learn...blah blah blah." 30 minutes is not an investment, it is 30 minutes or 1/48th of your day. If everyone who saw that video over the past few months, took 30 minutes a day to influence policy makers in Washington, Brussels and more importantly in Uganda, Congo and South Sudan, that might be enough time. But most likely not.

This post is not intended to be a deterrent of action in support of child solders, but rather a call to take a step back and know that a 30 minute YouTube clip isn't enough information to take action nor is re-posting it to your Timeline taking action. Raise awareness all you want. Feel connected with a bracelet or t-shirt. But take real action. Start something more than watching a video.

Call Congress (House or Senate). Call the White House. But know what to ask for...that I will leave up to you.