Waylaid Dialectic

June 11, 2012

What the road to hell isn’t paved with…

Filed under: Development Theory — terence @ 7:55 pm
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I missed most of Kony 2012. In internetless isolation doing research. But I have a question for everyone in the development blogosphere who became so enraged: how many people have died as a result of Kony 2012? Oh, and another question, how many people are likely to die?

It always struck me that the old saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ is utter nonsense. Paved with good intentions? Not often. Most of the time the road to hell is paved with bad intentions. Diabolic ones. That’s what causes catastrophe – nastiness. And just as the road is paved with bad intentions most of the time it is also lined with doing nothing.

It’s not the trivial bits of global assistance that caused the Rwandan genocide. It was the perpetrators of this crime. And it was made worse not by the presence of the UN but rather by the absence of any real international attempts to stop it. Not good intentions: bad plus a willingness to look the other way.

And so Kony 2012. The guys who produced it might be dopey and motivated by a desire for fame (fortunately this is not something that ever motivates bloggers). But have they really caused any harm?

And if not, were we right to focus so much ire in their direction when at the same time, in all manner of different parts of the planet, bad people were busy doing bad shit?

Sure there’s lots of well intended Western development silliness. But, only very rarely does it do any harm. And probably occasionally it does quite a lot of good.

So Kony 2012 didn’t bother me that much. Human history is basically mostly about us trying to kill the ‘other’ or at least ignoring someone else doing the killing. Set against that backdrop I reckon attempts to do good, even daft ones are a step in the right direction.

[Update: See comments. Carol writes: ‘Kony 2012 called for military intervention and support of the Ugandan military (which is also accused of some pretty serious crimes). This kind of action did not end well in 2008, when it led to the retaliatory Christmas massacres.’ Fair point.]

[Update 2: I typed this blog post in a hurry last night while I was, somewhat anxiously, waiting to meet a taxi driver for an interview. I did not devote a lot of thought to it but, I thought, what the heck. Mine is a very small blog and it is a very big internet out there. If I’m wrong I’ll be ignored or corrected. What I didn’t expect was that this morning I would be learning via comments a lot on something I know to little about. This seems unfair. But thank you everyone.

For what it’s worth the Kony2012 defenders are quite convincing at least as of 9am Solomons time.]

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14 Comments

  1. Just a couple of thoughts on this. Point taken, in general… but Kony 2012 called for military intervention and support of the Ugandan military (which is also accused of some pretty serious crimes). This kind of action did not end well in 2008, when it led to the retaliatory Christmas massacres. So it is a bit dubious that the campaign is completely apolitical or harmless, I think. As for good intentions, it’s all relative. You may think the road to hell is paved with diabolical intentions, but for those harboring them they are the best intentions in the world.

    Comment by Carol Jean Gallo — June 12, 2012 @ 2:12 am

  2. There are at least three ways in which Kony 2012 is harmful:

    1. May have provided Kony with the incentive to abduct more people (the abduction rate has increased since the films release)
    2. Disrespected and insulted the dignity of Ugandans and all Africans
    3. The suggested military solution may do more harm than good (Innocent and abducted people may be killed in an attack. The LRA is
    known for retaliation attacks on civilians.)

    The more Kony feels threatened, the more dangerous he is. On the other hand, the Kony 2012 campaign may have helped Uganda, but not in the way Invisible Children intended. In a video response, Prime Minister Amana Mbabazi applauded the campaign’s efforts to raise awareness, corrected misrepresentations, emphasized that the LRA is no longer present in Uganda, and acknowledged his government’s ability to protect its citizens. He then took advantage of the international spotlight to encourage the provision of foreign aid and advertise Uganda’s tourism potential.

    Comment by Lauren — June 12, 2012 @ 5:10 am

  3. Thanks Lauren and Carol. Good points. Lauren – I confess – I haven’t actually seen the movie (internet is too slow here). But how did the film disrespect and insult the dignity of Ugandans and Africans?

    Comment by terence — June 12, 2012 @ 6:06 am

  4. The film was a classic depiction of “the white man’s burden.” It portayed the people affected by the LRA as victims in need of “saving” by the West. Many Ugandans were insulted by the misrepresentations.

    Comment by Lauren Bishop — June 12, 2012 @ 6:35 am

  5. With all due respect, Lauren, the film was not a depiction of “the white man’s burden.”

    If regional forces can’t stop the LRA, then how you suppose the LRA be stopped? Involving Western powers likely led to the capture of Caesar Achellam. The UPDF, FARDC, FACA, and SPLA have all failed to stop the LRA. Now that a small contingent of US troops are involved, we are seeing serious headway.

    Many Ugandans supported the goal of Kony 2012 and were not insulted by the film because they realized the film is about more than just Ugandans. It is about those who are still being killed, raped, and abducted by the LRA: The Congolese, the Central Africans, and the South Sudanese. So much media focuses on the subset of insulted Ugandans, but it seemed that nobody bothered to amplify the voices of those who were still suffering at the hands of the LRA.

    Comment by John Rudolph Beaton — June 12, 2012 @ 7:00 am

  6. 1. What evidence is there to support that claim?
    2. You are cherry-picking cases here. Many central and eastern Africans support the film.
    3. The suggested military solution is PART of the overall solution. And so far, it as proven to be effective. (The LRA is in survival mode, Achellam is captured). It goes hand in hand with peaceful solutions via DDR/RR efforts.

    Comment by John Rudolph Beaton — June 12, 2012 @ 7:03 am

  7. Carol,

    Your point is fair that military action did not end well in 2008 (a reference to Operation Lightning Thunder), but you neglect to mention that the Juba Peace Talks also did not go well. Despite a ceasefire, the LRA continued to abduct, loot, rape, and kill as the peace talks occurred. This is very well documented. The LRA also stored the food given to them during peace talks, so as to build up a stock so they could survive longer in the bush. In short, because of peace talks MORE people suffered at the hands of the LRA.

    That is how the LRA operates. Whether it’s peace talks or military action, they are going to continue abducting and killing. And since Kony has no desire for peace (at least he has not shown any desire for peace) then that leaves defection, rehabilitation, and military intervention as the only means towards actually stopping the LRA once and for all.

    It is nice to call for peace talks, but peace talks are a two-way street. If one party is not willing, then it will not happen, and the longer we try a strategy that does not work, the more the people of the region will suffer at the hands of the LRA.

    Comment by John Rudolph Beaton — June 12, 2012 @ 7:10 am

  8. Hi John and Lauren,

    Thank you both for your comments. I’m off to a busy day of interviews now but I appreciate your thoughts and arguments. I’m enjoying learning from them.

    Terence

    Comment by terence — June 12, 2012 @ 7:52 am

  9. “Sure there’s lots of well intended Western development silliness. But, only very rarely does it do any harm.”

    I fundamentally disagree with that claim, though I do believe that a number of projects do a great deal of good. With limited funds available for development activities, how resources are allocated and what projects are funded can have life-changing effects on people in various developing countries. Saundra has done a great job talking about the harm that can be caused even by the well intentioned on her Good Intents blog.

    A former professor of mine shared his philosophy on working in global health, one development niche, again in his recent last lecture: “Public health is the art and science of deciding who dies faster and with what degree of misery.” He never failed to remind us that while doctors may make a mistake and injure/kill a patient, poor public health programming or resource allocation can injure/kill entire populations…which, in my book, is causing harm, and does happen.

    Comment by ABM — June 13, 2012 @ 2:10 am

  10. John,

    All good points, except it’s not my understanding that Juba fell apart because Kony wasn’t willing to negotiate. He asked for assurances that he could enter a local conflict resolution process and that ICC indictments would be dropped. One of the accords signed between the LRA and the government stipulated that the government would ask the Security Council to defer the ICC prosecutions. The LRA and the government both initialed the Final Peace Agreement in March 2008, pending official signature the following month. Up until that point, negotiations had been making some pretty impressive progress, actually. This question of the role of the ICC and transitional justice, however, remained unresolved and is one of the reasons the LRA walked out of negotiations and didn’t sign the FPA in April 08.

    I don’t necessarily think military intervention is a bad idea or that it can’t work; but I’m very skeptical for a long list of reasons related to the nature of the conflict, the LRA, and the UPDF. As per this blog post, though, I wanted to make the point that things like Kony 2012 can have unintended or negative consequences; it’s not always inconsequential or harmless just because their hearts were in the right place.

    Comment by Carol Jean Gallo — June 13, 2012 @ 2:33 am

  11. Re: Update #2. Don’t think of it as unfair. These are complicated issues and we’re all learning! The only way to figure stuff out is to throw some thoughts out there and see what people say. Maybe they convince you, maybe they don’t. I do this all the time; I say things and get corrected constantly. Sometimes I stand my ground for a while before realizing, “eh, you know what, I think that guy’s probably right.” Sometimes I’m not sure of a position I hold, but can’t think of a better one; and sometimes I simply play devil’s advocate to see what else I can tease out of the arguments. It’s all good, as long as you’re willing to listen and engage, IMO. 🙂

    Comment by Carol Jean Gallo — June 13, 2012 @ 2:46 am

  12. I fundamentally disagree with that claim, though I do believe that a number of projects do a great deal of good. With limited funds available for development activities, how resources are allocated and what projects are funded can have life-changing effects on people in various developing countries. Saundra has done a great job talking about the harm that can be caused even by the well intentioned on her Good Intents blog.

    I don’t disagree – I was wrong to say “don’t do any harm”. I guess what I really meant was don’t do ‘significant harm’ because, while I definitely agree that misguided aid work can cause some harm I think it rarely causes harm of the magnitude of malicious behaviour, or of the magnitude of that harm constantly caused by people turning their backs and doing nothing.

    Do gooders may do harm and do wrong but they still do a lot less harm and wrong than those who actively seek to do bad. And my guess is that the well intentioned do gooders of the world cause net good, not net harm.

    Comment by terence — June 13, 2012 @ 5:00 am

  13. Just to throw a little more food for thought into this discussion, let me point you to a thought-provoking post over at Tales From the Hood, here: http://talesfromethehood.com/2011/07/22/do-something/

    There’s plenty in there to disagree with, but for the most part I think he’s right. In this post, he says:

    “The argument which says “Do something. Just do something. Even if it’s not particularly right, at least you’re doing something, which is more than millions of others can say…” is ultimately a bankrupt argument. Twisted as they may have been, Hitler and Pol Pot both honestly believed they were making the world better. They did something. They took the initiative. And we all know the results. So while I absolutely do not compare Heather or Liz or Cara to Hitler and Pol Pot, I do have to point out the obvious: Being deeply convicted that one “means well” and that “every little bit helps” does not mean that one is actually doing good rather than – you know – harm, and it is in no way a good enough basis for mucking about with the lives and livelihoods of other people…”

    “We are messing around with people’s lives, here. Just because you won’t be slapped with a malpractice suit if you get it wrong (although I do actually believe that day is coming) doesn’t mean it’s okay to ‘just do something’ in order to feel good.”

    Comment by Carol Jean Gallo — June 13, 2012 @ 5:12 am

  14. […] comments below the ‘road to hell’ post Carol quotes some words of wisdom from J. at Tales from the Hood: “The argument which says “Do something. […]

    Pingback by Good intentions? Not so much « Waylaid Dialectic — June 14, 2012 @ 6:38 am


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