Over a period of 24 hours, my facebook news feed has been spammed with many posting links to a video “Kony 2012”. The idea behind the video is to create a mass uprising against Joseph Kony, a Ugandan army lord who is responsible for the slaughter of many children in Uganda and Central Africa using the most effective techniques known to mankind – child soldiers.
Before I continue, I’d like to clarify. I am NOT against the capturing of Joseph Kony. My point of view is that before a person agrees to support a cause, no matter how noble it is, you need to step back and look at the most important element – in this case, it is the children involved in the war.
Child Soldiers: They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children
Child soldiers have always existed in Africa. Children were used in the Sierra Leone civil war (which lasted for 11 years), Rwandan genocide of 1994 and still being used by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why? Because child soldiers are, to sum it up, more brutal than an adult soldier. Adult soldiers use reasoning. Child soldiers are devoid of any reasoning.
MAJOR (RTD) OKWIR RABWONI, MINISTER YOUTH AFFAIRS, UGANDAN GOVERNMENT –
“… all of my bodyguards were child soldiers, and they were highly disciplined, because they have no distractions when they are on the job, and they take orders and they perform them faster than the adults. So if they have a good leader, they are very efficient soldiers.” (Source: “Child Soldiers” ABC Australia, broadcasted in 2002)
A child’s mind is a beautiful thing. Young children have tremendous capability to absorb new knowledge at a very fast rate. Let me give you an example. I am currently teaching Prep (also known as Kindergarten in some parts of the world) children (aged 5-6 years). When these children first come to school, they come with varied degrees of literacy and numeracy skills. Some are able to recognise a few letters. Some are aware of counting. Irrespective of their prior knowledge, by end of their Prep year, these children would have learnt to recognise numbers upto or past 20. Their vocabulary would have significantly extended. And they would be able to read by recognising the letter-sound relationship. A child’s mind is like a sponge.
Now apply this in the situation of a warfare. Your main motive would be to crush your opponents in the most effective manner and to instill great fear in their hearts. You take an adult soldier and train him. But there is a great chance of an adult soldier to leave or to create conflict within your army due to ego or leadership issues or change of view.
Now take the case of children. You take a child by removing him/her from his/her family. You act as a “teacher” to the child, promising to nurture him/her and brainwash them with your beliefs about what you would like your world to be. You use punishment to ensure they abide to your beliefs. You intoxicate their body and mind with drugs and alcohol. You pretend to be the “cool parent” by allowing them to run amuck and abuse themselves with drugs. You assume the role of a “nurturer” by giving them the idea that they would get food, a place to live and a “safe haven”. You give them the gift of revenge against those who might have inflicted pain on their family or relatives.
The first induction of a child soldier is done by telling the child to kill someone. The child is handed a gun and commanded to shoot an innocent person. This could also be the child’s parents, siblings or friend. The child has no option here – it is do or die – kill the other person or risk being killed by the rebels. The purpose is to fill the child’s mind with the idea that since he has performed the “deed”, he has no where else to go but join the rebel’s cause. Telling a child to kill a loved one and then saying that he/she can’t go back to their neighbourhood because everyone will know what he/she has done is embarrassing to the child. In this way, you induct a child based on guilt. The war lords are not stupid. It is indeed a very clever tactic. Manipulation of a child’s mind to think in a particular way.. YOUR way.. is one of the most cunning methods of “disciplining”.
The guilt binds the child soldier to the rebels. He/she is then forced to be an adult. This is the biggest crime. Robbing a child of his/her childhood and forcing them to be adults has long-term consequences on the child. When you include drugs and alcohol in the mix, it all becomes a twisted game. The addictive power of the drugs is used to numb the child’s mind and conscience. Add to this the addictive feeling of having “power”. POWER is the most euphoric feeling to anyone and it is more intensified in the minds of children, especially those seeking revenge.
Back to Kony 2012 – What about the Aftermath?
The video uses the example of the use of social media in the uprising in Egypt. For those of you who are unaware, the protesters used facebook, twitter and other social media as a tool for communicating and organising the protests which eventually led to the disposal of their president, Hosni Mubarak.
I’d like to point your attention towards the news. What do you see in the news? An earthquake somewhere. A war somewhere. A conflict somewhere. Fast forward to a few weeks after. Do you hear about how people are dealing with the earthquake in Japan? How are the Iraqis living and coping with democracy? What is happening in Egypt? Sadly, no. A new set of problems occurring elsewhere takes the centre stage.
What people fail to see is that removal of a tyrant is only one part of the equation. It does not solve the problem.
When the US glorified its mission of “liberating” Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein or the war in Afghanistan, the world rejoiced. But what people ignore is the aftermath.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the capture of Joseph Kony. A man who has inflicted such pain on children definitely needs to be brought to justice. I, however, worry about what will happen afterwards. Will the world rejoice on his capture and then forget just like Iraq and Afghanistan? What about the other rebels using child soldiers – will they be brought to justice too? How will the disposal of Joseph Kony stop the use of child soldiers by rebels? Most importantly, what about the children?
The important piece in this are the children. We must not forget that. What the Invisible Children video lack was explanation on the aftermath – the explanation as to what they will do to help the children. They asked for donations but what about a statement or a detailed breakdown on the allocation of the money. Having volunteered in Africa, I have too often seen that things are not black and white there. Which leaves me wondering where will the money go towards?
Okay let’s leave the money out of the equation. These child soldiers need more than just the Kony 2012 video. They need a loving home. They need safety. They need the assurance that they will not have to go through the atrocities again at the hands of another mad man.
Disposal of a mad man often leads to the rising of another mad man with more cruel tactics. How will this be stopped?
A lot of reforms will be needed to eradicate the use of child soldiers completely. A change of attitude is needed not only by the Ugandan government, but also people like you and me too!
We need to ask more questions about the bigger picture, the aftermath.
Clicking on a viral social media is easy. Buying bracelets to show your support is easy. Making a cool video is easy. Talk is easy. Too often we overlook the hype fog to be able to uncover what the children need now. They do not need to be another news headline or a social media fad to only be forgotten tomorrow when the world has applauded the capture of Joseph Kony. They are not disposable.
OLARA OTUNNU, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT, UNITED NATIONS –
“The best (solution) is to prevent children being recruited in the first instance. Which is why the importance of the standards, the norms, the protocol and pressure to bring to bear on parties in conflict so they will not recruit children in the first instance. So that is the first line of this struggle. And then of course the second stage is if, God forbid, they are already recruited, they are within these fighting groups to seek their release, to seek their demobilisation within the fighting groups. And then, the third stage of tackling this on which we need to put a good deal more emphasis, is what to do with the ex child soldiers.” (Source: “Child Soldiers” ABC Australia, broadcasted in 2002)