Today has been a very disturbing day for me and I guess for all the millions of people around the world who were fortunate or unfortunate to have watched the Kony 2012 30-minute video that has been making waves across the web. I have hitherto prided myself on knowledge of African history and how this is instrumental in understanding and shaping the future but my reaction to the video made me to have a rethink. Yes! You may have guessed right – I reacted like the million others who were so moved by the story that they immediately shared it to their friends and followers. I shared it on twitter and within a few moments it was retweeted.
This piqued my curiosity and going back to the video within a few hours, I saw that the viewership had risen from about 26 million to 32 million. Impressive! If the world could respond this quick to the plight of Africa, then famine, diseases, torture, rape, child soldier and all the ills associated with the continent will be history. Unfortunately, all this was about one man Joseph Kony and the organisation Invisible Children that was championing the cause was calling on the world to legitimise military intervention into the whole Central African region.
This video taken in isolation will seem the best possible thing to do to stop a psychopath like Joseph Kony. However if we hearken to Santayana’s popular quote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, it becomes expedient to look back a little at Africa’s past, for as John Paul II wrote, “if you want to understand the situation in Africa, its past and its picture, we must start from the truth of the African person – the truth of every African in his or her concrete and historical setting.” (John Paul II, Pilgrimage to Africa, 1980, 200)
In the narrative of the video, three things seem to stand out:
- Africans cannot solve their problems and so need external help – which takes us back to the ideology that shaped slavery and the slave trade.
- There is need for sustained military presence in the Central African Region since Kony cannot be tied to one single country. Given the threat on the stronghold on power and capital in Africa posed by China, this represents the ideology of the Partition and colonisation of Africa.
- Finally, with the effective installation of AFRICOM within the region, most decisions will come from outside the continent reflecting the effective reaffirmation of neo-colonialism.
Slavery and the Slave Trade
If you think that the idea that Africans cannot solve their own problems is a recent one then you need some more history lessons. By the 18th century there existed a Western intellectual bias which denied rationality to the African. This made Africans to be considered as still living in the primordial stage of the human species. This presumption of the African as sub-human was used by the Western world to justify slavery. For them, Africans were more or less beasts or sub-human. What made Africans close to the human species was their possession of language. But since they had no rationality, they could be used as beasts. Even the name given to Africans connotes negativity. ‘Negro’ is derived from the Latin word “Niger – Nigri” which means ‘Black’. George Ekwuru further explains that:
In this connection, the thinking of Africans was branded as “black thinking”. Ideologically, from a racist point of view, “thinking black” as opposed to “thinking white”, would be something amounting to “incoherence”, “pre-logical” or simply “irrational”.
Basing their arguments on the supposed fact of Africa’s lack of rationality the western world introduced and carried out the inhumane slave trade unhampered for several centuries. This left an indelible mark on the African. The treatments meted out on the slaves are better left untold. Mokwogo Okoye recalls graphically some of the aspects of the torture as whipping, mutilation of limbs, ears and private parts. Other forms of treatments include the use of red-hot iron rods to make identification marks on the slaves, the throwing overboard of sick slaves and the terrible mode of ‘packaging’ experienced by the slaves in the Trans-Atlantic phase of the triangular trade.
The crème of the African society was deployed to work and develop other lands especially present day USA while the aged and the very young ones were left behind to nurse the wounds of the painful loss of their loved ones. All these animalistic treatments kept the African in a psychological state of an inferior frame of mind. This, the African has continued to pass down through generations,  such that the problem of inferiority complex is almost becoming perpetual especially among the present breed of leaders. In order to authenticate their existence, African leaders try to seek approval from foreign powers for almost every action they take regarding governance. It is therefore not surprising that the governments of Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic think themselves incapable of stopping the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) but feel the USA can send foreign troops to achieve the feat.
The Scramble/Partition of Africa and Colonialism
China has already been accused of re-colonising Africa. Their strategy of tapping into the strongholds of power and capital may be different but the outcome is similar to that of the 19th century project. By the third quarter of the 19th century, the scramble for, and partition of Africa was fully realized at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. African states were arbitrarily divided amongst the European states, leading to the complete enslavement of the continent. Ekwuru presents the picture prosaically thus:
While most of the African chiefs in their cultural naïveté were gathering with their communities to drink and chat over the new gin from a strange land, a siege was being laid at the head of the continent – discussions were going on for the eventual partitioning of their land and their consequent subjection to slave status. In this conference, Europe arrogated to itself the international right of appropriating the whole continent with the so-called doctrines of spheres of influence and effective occupation. With the Berlin Conference, Africa lost its sovereignty and became an enslaved continent.
Slavery was therefore given a new face with the introduction of colonialism. This period marked the advent of scientific slavery, racism, cultural dilapidation and imperialism. Colonialism was therefore an evolved form of slavery. Colonialism was a higher and disastrous form of slavery – the depersonalisation of a people within their own land. Colonialism made effective use of ideology as its instrument of slavery. Everything that the African culture stood for was cancelled as primitive, fetish and uncivilized. As a consequence, many African societies have been destroyed, disorganised and are in a state of cultural paralysis by the successful implementation of the ideology of imperial domination. This had far-reaching effects.
First of all, it led to the collapse of the old cultural setup, since it involved the destruction of African cultural values ranging from shrines, sacred grooves, places of worship etc., which were at the very core of the African social and religious life. This shattered the traditional world view and cosmology of Africa with its basic symbolic mind-set, and the set of values that characterise the typical African society.
Secondly, colonialism led to the phasing out of old values. With the collapse of the African traditional set up, Africans began to loose grip of their basic values. Values like the dignity of the human person, respect for life, communalism and egalitarianism amongst other values were lost. While for the Europeans, this was the beginning of civilisation for Africa, little did the Africans realise that they were gradually being plunged in to an identity crisis that will manifest in the many civil wars that are still being fought in the continent.
Finally, with the colonial conquest, and a state of cultural paralysis effectively installed, the next move was for the imperialists to implant their own culture on African soil. At the meeting of two cultures, there is the natural tendency for the two to integrate, borrowing from each other. In the case of colonialism, it was a one sided acculturation. A new system of governance was introduced, with the novelty of having some Africans act as government officials. This brought about the problem of class-distinction which hitherto had been alien to Africa. Those who were educated by imperialist, seeming gained the status of Europeans. By this new status, he or she was elevated up the social stratum to constitute a middle class. Thus, a formerly socialist society transmuted into a capitalist society. Franz Fanon characterised the forged middle class as an “underdeveloped middle class”, since it has little or no independent economic power, and no capability or inclination to play the historical role performed by the bourgeoisie of the Western society.
The Kony 2012 project, like colonialism is making use of ideology. Like the Berlin conference, it was conceived, designed and is being executed with an audience in mind other than those concerned. Of the 20 celebrities that were targeted, none is African and of course the 12 policy makers could never be African – yet it is about Africa. While the earlier colonial project claimed to be a mission to civilise, this one is a mission to ‘protect’. But whose interests are they protecting? The video makes it clear that the US has no interests in the region and that would have been true had China, who is threatening to take over from them as the world power, not been making massive progress in Africa. The second scramble for Africa is effectively underway!
A close look at most African countries especially the most chronically poor and the former French colonies will dispel the myth that political independence was fully won by African states from their colonial masters. The granting of formal independence by the colonial masters to their erstwhile colonies, was (with a few exceptions) never the achievements of popular based national liberation movements but rather the result of a compromise reached between the former colonial powers and an almost negligible African bourgeoisie they created. This is a compromise that is aimed at continuing the dependent-satellite status on a new basis and which is now becoming more important, especially in the wake of growing challenges to the international capitalist system. The result is a neo-colonial society, tied in a multiplicity of ways not only to foreign capital but relying on a foreign military for survival.
The problem here is what Nkrumah had already pointed out that colonialism was slavery from without, but neo-colonialism was slavery from within, and as such more dangerous. The situation is made more bizarre by the fact that most of these Africans have been stuffed with foreign ideas such that they are Africans with imperialist mentalities working against their own nations.
Some Questions though…
While I will like to commend Kony 2012 for its great sweep, I think it will be fair if we do a little brainstorming. If Kony is as elusive as he is made to seem in the video, where did they get such clean and seemingly recent shots of him? Who has been funding this man for the over twenty years that he has been in operation? Which countries are selling him arms? Of course since he is not producing them, he must be buying them from somewhere. Should this campaign not involve calling to book those arming such a dangerous creature? If Bin Laden with a far more sophisticated network could be traced and a few Navy seals sent in to capture and kill him, what makes such a mission difficult in Kony’s case? Kony has not been seen since 2006, why has catching him become so urgent?
Before jumping to a conclusion, like I did immediately after watching the video, I think it will do some justice to history and posterity to answer these questions before joining a campaign that could end up hurting the very people we aim to protect.
 See R. F. Burton, (1864), A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey, 2nd ed. Vol. 2 London: Tinsley Brothers, p. 200
 Emeka George Ekwuru; (2001), Africa and the Myth of the Sleeping Giant: Towards the Age of Afrizealotism (Owerri: Totan Publishers Ltd., p. 105
 Mokwogo Okoye; (1964), African Responses, (Devori Lifrecombe: Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd., p. 97
 Ekwuru, Africa and the Myth of the Sleeping Giant, p.88
 Franz Fanon; (1963)The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press, p. 178
 K. Nkrumah (1964) Consciencism, “Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonisation with Particaular Reference to the African Revolution” London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., p. 50