Giles Fraser: Unleashing the power of viral video

14 March 2012

ALL of a sudden, my eldest daughter, who is 15, wanted to talk about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the politics of Central Africa. I had no idea where this had come from. She certainly hadn’t picked it up from the music channel on TV. “We need to do something about Joseph Kony,” she kept on badgering me.

What does it take to get young people interested in politics? Appar­ently, the answer is a half-hour YouTube video made by Californian activists, focusing on the murderous work of the LRA in Uganda and its abduction of child soldiers. The video went viral — several million of young people watching and sharing it with their friends at school. But the problem with the film is that it feels all a bit after the fact.

Some years ago, the LRA and its undoubtedly evil leader Joseph Kony terrorised the border area around northern Uganda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Formed in the late 1980s on the back of a long-standing resentment by northern Ugandans, and in parti­cular the Acholi tribe, that they had been marginalised by the powerful and more affluent south, the LRA be­came increasingly violent in the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2002, the LRA forced a funeral procession to boil and eat the corpse that the mourners were were bury­ing, before shoot­ing them all. On Christmas Day 2008, they attacked a Roman Cath­olic church in Congo, massac­ring 189 people and abduct­ing 120 children: the boys forced to become child soldiers; the girls were forced to become sex-slaves for the army (News, 2 January 2009).

It did seem like the heart of dark­ness — although, incredibly, all this horror was dressed up in the lan­guage of Christianity, claiming to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the Ten Commandments. “The Lord’s Resistance Army are Chris­tians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan,” the right-wing US political com­ment­ator Rush Lim­baugh idiotically claimed.

But the LRA is now a shadow of its former self. Its troop strength is now a few hundred, hiding some­where in the bush. The United States has sent military advisers to help track down Kony — although a direct attack on him is complicated, as he surrounds himself with children.

Like my daughter, I hope that they catch him and that he is brought to justice. Indeed, the existence of men such as Kony is a threat to my instinctive universalism concerning salvation. I want him to rot in hell. But I am also suspicious of the ease with which statements such as this can be made. Anger makes for power­ful videos, but often for poor politics. That said, if it gets my daughter and her classmates interested in politics, I find it hard to complain.

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