What do Kony and StopKony give our children that we don’t?

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Joseph Kony is on Twitter now. It’s probably not him but it could be. “I give children belonging and respect”, he tweets. If the StopKony campaign has had one result, it is now that all of us, really all of us, are debating on social media. No mean feat.

So I am here too. And am trying to distinguish between warlords who tempt children with belonging, status, shiny items and a cause, and a viral video that does the exact same thing. “In our village, we all wanted to join Museveni’s army. It was the thing to do if you were a boy. From a nobody, you were now going to be a fighter. You were going to ride in jeeps. Your were going to do some good, you were going to matter. It was very exciting”, Frank Nyakairu, now a multi-award-winning journalist, once told me. Nyakairu’s dad wouldn’t let him. The son became a journalist and a human rights activist instead.

If we look a bit further back, we might find a parellel between Kony on the one side, ‘Stop Kony’ on the other side, and the medieval Childrens’ Crusades. Church leaders would come to villages and recruit children to fight for Christ, against the devilish Moors. Children, often leading pitiful existences, would feel elated at the prospect and join, often encouraged by relatives who couldn’t feed them. On the way, the children would service the armoured church leaders, war lords of that time. They were cannon fodder, labour force, and, probably, providers of sexual services to those stronger or higher up the ranks. All for the good cause. Even Kony’s army is called the Lord’s Army.

What do  parents do when our children come to us and want US$ 30,- to join the ‘Stop Kony’ crusade? Do we feel inadequate, since a bunch of slick Americans were able to inspire them, and we weren’t? Do we lecture them to say that they don’t know what they are talking about, that Ugandan activists have been fighting Kony and a corrupt government, and it would be better to listen to these people before you follow American crusaders and an agenda only the Lord (or Obama) knows? Do we inform them that it takes more to fight a warlord than to like a status and order a bracelet online? All of the above?

We are, of course, all green with envy at the fact that 25 million young people connected with each other, and with a cause. Kony gave them belonging and respect. Interesting, that.

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