Now that the progressing phases of #Kony2012 (endorsement, backlash,
backlash-to-the-backlash, and meta commentary on these phases) have played out, they have left behind a residue: broad interest in central Africa. Invisible Children’s slick movie moved many, but its arrogance and elisions set off alarms for a heartening number of others. There is now a clear gap separating the charity’s fantasy of “Africa” from the sense of “what’s really going on.” Providing texture and context can displace that fantasy; making visible the ligatures that tie central Africans to people tweeting to save them might turn this moment of Western self-promotion and aggrandizement into something less tawdry and tragic.
Kony has been the way in for millions, let him be the way out. His peripatetic habits — traversing northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and back — present a moving point from which to track the stunning death-making and rent extraction that occurred there over the past two decades. It’s a massive total to which Kony contributed almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. Four million people died from conflict in the DRC during the 1990s and early 2000s, and there were no media campaigns to ‘raise awareness’ about them. This death-making is tied to resource extraction in what we might call the necroeconomics at play on the ground in many of the spaces where Kony and other militias have trod.
If successful, the #Kony2012 campaign might actually buttress this death-making because it relies fundamentally on the legitimacy and ability of the United States military to patrol and control Africa and works to provide symbolic and discursive cover for the creeping penetration of the U.S. military’s AFRICOM across the continent. In the spirit, then, of raising awareness, we might train our eyes on the AFRICOM project: What are its goals? What are the legacies of U.S. military involvement in Africa? What is the relationship between AFRICOM and these economies of death?