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Published: Sunday March 18, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday May 25, 2013 MYT 5:53:48 PM

Kony or phony?

Dramatic fiction can overshadow blunt truth, so it’s up to us to look beyond outdated facts and fragments of information.

BY the time you read this, I suspect Joseph Kony will be a famous man. And he might be furious about it.

At least that’s the intent of an organisation called Invisible Children which has a video titled Kony 2012, that has exploded onto the Internet in the past fortnight (youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc).

If you’re not one of the 73,999,551 people (at time of writing) who have seen the video, then I would need to explain that Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group infamous for its practice of coercing children into its ranks. These children are then made to fight as soldiers or be given away as “wives” to the officers.

In last 11 years of conflict, the LRA is believed to have abducted 25,000 childrenfor its “cause”, and is said to be responsible for the almost two million people made homeless, and the hundreds of thousands killed in Uganda.

Invisible Children hopes its video campaign will bring the world’s attention to the fighting in Uganda – a problem once identified in a poll organised by the news agency AlertNet of humanitarian professionals as the second worst “forgotten” humanitarian emergency in the world (trust.org/alertnet/news/congo-war-tops-alertnet-poll-of-forgotten-crises/).

As a call to action, Invisible Children encourages viewers interested in stopping Kony to purchase the Kony 2012 Action Kit, which will set you back US$30 (RM93). (Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the kit has been sold out, but you can console yourself with a Kony bracelet for only US$10, or RM31.)

I watched the video and was struck by how slick the production was. More disturbing was the use of abrupt edits to string fragments of sentences together – something I’m always suspicious about in documentaries, because how you stitch phrases weaves the kind of story you want to tell.

As you may guess, the story presented by Invisible Children isn’t quite the complete picture. Yes, Joseph Kony exists, and the atrocities described above have been documented and are accepted as true.

However, the AlertNet poll and the statistics presented are from 2005.

In fact, Kony is no longer believed to be in Uganda, while the LRA now numbers, at most, hundreds of members, and is only one of many armed groups patrolling the jungles intersected by the borders of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One commentator slyly pointed out that more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2,838), than have died in the past three years from LRA attacks in the whole of central Africa (2,400).

Those who are crying out for the arrest of Kony do so for the wrong reason. The video, while compelling and informative, fails to mention that the information it packs is mostly out of date, and that the problems the region confronts go beyond the existence of just one man.

The arrest and indictment of Kony will probably bring some sense of justice to all the victims of his cause, but it probably won’t change people’s lives in northern Uganda on a day-to-day level. Much of that part of Uganda is affected by poverty, and children are the most vulnerable group. But they are suffering more from hunger and disease, than as a result of Kony’s sensational cause.

This whole episode reminds me of urban legends, like when your email in-box gets stuffed with warnings about the chemical dangers of plastic bottles, or how serial killers track their prey. The information is true enough to acknowledge at some level, but there is usually something else that is completely out of proportion to reality.

I don’t think I ever got a word of thanks for pointing this out in my mass email replies. I was that horrible person you met at parties who killed your joy after a particularly entertaining story by pointing out the flaws in it.

It annoys me no end how people love dramatic fiction over the blunt truth. Gossip-mongers telling tall tales of conspiracies end up getting so much print, with evidence of so little thought.

“So what?” you may ask. It’s not unusual to love a good story. And what’s the harm in a little fun?

The problem begins when the truth really does matter and does make a difference – for example in a court case, in policies affecting public health, or even during a general election.

In the case of Kony 2012, I was lucky: the website for the British newspaper, the Guardian, has a very interesting set of links that tries to cover both sides of the story. I encourage everyone to read the source material and judge for yourself (guardian.co.uk/politics/ reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/mar/08/kony-2012-what-s-the-story).

Similar resources exist for more general issues. Snopes.com is fantastic for urban legends (some of which indeed are true!), while factcheck.org is an excellent website for finding the truth behind what US politicians are spewing out these days.

Is there a similar website in Malaysia? Where is the resource for facts, minus the rhetoric?

We can only depend on the newspapers, all of which seem to either be owned by political parties, or were set up expressly to counter the fact that so many are owned by political parties.

So the only way forward this time round, I think, is for each of us to be accountable to ourselves, and be sceptical of every accusation, and to find the truth behind every claim.

At the end of the day, Kony 2012 did bring attention to central Africa, and apart from what’s happening in Uganda, you can also find out about the wars in the Congo (the conflict voted the worst “forgotten” humanitarian emergency in the world in the same AlertNet poll).

Well, at least if you bothered to learn beyond what’s in the video.

> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make of life’s vagaries and contradictions.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle

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