Mobilising the Lord’s real army

Jim Wackett

I was at my gym this morning, and one of the personal trainers there – not known for his knowledge of, or interest in world affairs – was talking passionately and animatedly to one of his clients about just how easy it would be to capture Kony if we really wanted to.

Of course, he was referring to Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed during his pointless insurgency in central Africa over the last three decades. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the last few days, you’ll now no doubt be aware that Kony is now the subject of a viral, social media campaign advocating for his capture by the end of 2012.

Today your children, your work colleagues, your friends off line and most of all your ‘friends’ online will be talking about Kony and the barbaric acts he has committed against children in Uganda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

The Kony 2012 campaign run by the organisation Invisible Children has challenged people to make Kony so ‘famous’ that that something will have to be done to stop him. I am both excited and perplexed by the Kony 2012 campaign. Excited, because social media (a medium which in the west has been developing into the 21st century equivalent of ‘bread and circuses’) is beginning to give us hints of its real positive potential. This potential has been apparent for some time in the Middle East where platforms such as facebook, twitter and YouTube have come into their own as a means for circumventing traditional communication power structures. Perplexed, because as a journalist and aid worker in East Africa over several years in the 1990s, I found it almost impossible to get the story of Joseph Kony and his atrocities out and into the mainstream Australian media. Some Australian journalists came to Gulu in northern Uganda and covered the story, but mostly the decision was made by editors and producers back here in Australia that the story was too grim, too complex, or too intractable for the average Australian reader or viewer.

In 1999 I arranged for TEN journalist Hugh Riminton (then working for the Nine Network) to travel to Uganda to cover the story. He saw just how important an issue it was and shared on last week's special ‘Kony 2012’ edition of TEN’s ‘The Project’ his own frustration when his Executive Producer back in Australia refused to run the story he had made. Social media has now enabled people to bypass these traditional gatekeepers and communicate stories, both profound and puerile, directly to their intended audience.

The film promoting the Kony 2012 campaign (now viewed by over 40 million people on YouTube in just three days) is a powerful and compelling piece of story-telling, but it is not journalism. It is a carefully crafted piece of advocacy aimed at the US Government to undertake specific actions to bring Kony to justice. So, let’s be clear about what this campaign is actually calling for.

The Kony 2012 campaign is advocating for the ongoing deployment and resourcing of US military forces in Central Africa aimed at conducting a limited counter-insurgency operation. It will pit military forces from the Central African Republic, the DR Congo and Uganda (along with their US Advisors) against Kony’s child soldiers. It will not be a quick, simple, or bloodless affair. I know that Kony will face ultimate justice as we all will one day before the one true judge of all. But I would also certainly like to see his movement (however small its current remnant may be) stopped once and for all this year. I’m under no illusions though that this will simply involve an online ‘love in’.

What lessons, if any, are there in the Kony 2012 campaign for Christians who have their own special message they wish to communicate as widely and as passionately and to as many people as possible? The Kony 2012 campaign has a strong message which identifies a serious problem, the solution to that problem and the action that needs to take place for that solution to become a reality. It has a deadline – 31 December, 2012 for this to happen by and uses a compelling medium to communicate all these things to a growing and passionate constituency.

As Christians, we have a strong message which identifies not only a serious problem, but the root of all problems in our fallen world. We are incapable of rectifying this problem by our own efforts and the solution involves the direct action of our creator to put things right. That direct action involved God sending his son to live amongst us a life we cannot live, and to die the death that we deserve so that that the problem, the gulf of sin that separates us from God, would be dealt with once and for all. This is great news. News to share as much as we are able, by as many means as we are able, before our own looming , unknown deadline.

The current media interest in the Kony 2012 phenomenon in Australia has as much to do with a fascination in the medium as with the message itself. You can be sure that marketers and advertisers are already dreaming up ways to capitalise on it and ride on its coat tails. With the Christian message, the most compelling medium will always be what it always has been: Imperfect believers leading transformed lives and sharing (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) the good news of Jesus with their friends, family and acquaintances. We may use social media at times, but there is nothing more powerful than real words, spoken in real, organic, ongoing, and face-to-face relationships.

Jim Wackett now works as Public Affairs Manager at Anglicare, Sydney


Feature photo: Robert Raines