If you’ve had your entire head in the sand/under a rock/you are a Luddite/you are a zombie (without Facebook) today, and no screaming white kid broke down your door this morning shouting buzzwords like “IMAGINE!” “FREEDOM! “JUSTICE!” “UNITE!” then let me enlighten you. The ”KONY” part of KONY 2012 refers to Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his crimes against humanity, including the forced recruitment of child soldiers. By all accounts, Kony is up there with the baddest of the bad guys, and of course, has yet to be captured by those would put a stop to his evils.
In an inversion of U.S. election sloganeering, the KONY 2012 campaign has set out to make Kony famous, and bring international political attention to and action against his alleged crimes. The campaign kicked off with the viral distribution of a half-hour long documentary-style film, which, if you blur your eyes, looks like an extended promotional video for a summer camp leadership program in neo-Imperialism. Or a how-to video for “how to get a bunch of white kids in the same place holding up peace signs and running in the same direction to nowhere,” which happens for about 25 per cent of the video.
The video is certainly worth watching, if only to keep up with popular culture – and popular politics – it’s trending as we speak! But I caution you to exercise a critical eye – a dose of skepticism is crucial when exposing yourself to these kinds of large-scale awareness campaigns.
As it turns out, I am not alone in my skepticism. What a relief. Almost immediately after it was released, the video drew millions of responses from viewers world-wide (and on my own Facebook page) in support, and contempt of both the work itself, and Invisible Children, the organization behind it. Below is a choice comment accompanying a KONY 2012 repost by one of my friends:
“Yes! Let's get together a bunch of stoned kids on 4/20 to march in support of invading another country and starting another war that we will regret ten years from now when we're stuck in yet another quagmire. Knee-jerk reactions!” - Josh
Besides the problematic notion of privileged white kids liberating their Third World African age-mates through yelling and wrist-band wearing (I’d wager money that most of the members of KONY 2012 can’t even show you Uganda on a map), there is the more disturbing fact of the deployment of 100 American advisors to help the Ugandan government (oh, those poor backward Africans! Don’t they know they can just use GPS to find Kony and his troops?). Not to mention that Invisible Children, started and headed by the ever self-aggrandizing Jason Russell, who narrates the video (and who sounds like a glorified tour-guide for a West Coast Connection trip), has come under fire for its questionable motivations, poor accountability, and lack of transparency.
According to a refreshingly critical and expository blog response to the KONY 2012 campaign by Acadia University sociology and political science student Grant Oyson, Invisible Children’s financial records show that only 32% of the money generated in 2011 went towards direct services (which is ambiguous enough alone to produce concern). The rest, went to staff salaries, travel expenses (Africa is far away!) and – surprise, surprise – film-making costs.
In my mind, Jason Russell, Invisible Children and KONY 2012 smack of the same kind of sneaky and self-serving appropriation of the tragic lives of Others (read: poor Africans) that should have driven Gregg Mortenson and his three cups of tea into the ground. Last April, 60 Minutes aired a troubling and provocative exposé on Mortenson, an American philanthropist and writer (most famous for his book Three Cups of Tea) who founded the non-profit Central Asia Institute. The show’s investigators raised and investigated questions about how the millions of dollars generated by his story have been spent, just who is really benefiting, and whether or not his stories are even true.
The 60 Minutes investigators exposed the holes in Mortenson’s cornerstone tale of stumbling into a tiny village on the way up K2, the world’s second tallest mountain (located in Pakistan), and discredited his tale of later being kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban. The investigators claim that Mortenson has used these, and other exaggerated or entirely fabricated tales to persuade donors (great and small) to give money to his organizations, which ostensibly promote education and build schools in the neediest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to Moretenson’s original story, he encountered schoolchildren doing their school lessons in dirt, and “made a rash promise that day . . . ‘I promise I’ll help build a school.’” More problematic than the fabrications of a megalomaniac, Mortenson was exposed for having funnelled much of the money generated by his tales into his private accounts, and very little of it into keeping this promise. In his video, Russell describes meeting Jacob, the KONY 2012 Ugandan poster boy and using eerily similar rhetoric, narrates: “Everything in my heart told me do something. And so I made him a promise: ‘We are going to do everything that we can to stop them.’ I made that promise to Jacob, not knowing what it would mean. But now, I do.”
Unfortunately, besides Grant Oyson’s piece and a largely ignored November 2011 article in Foreign Affairs, very little investigative journalism has been applied to efforts of Invisible Children and the KONY 2012 campaign. For example, the Ugandan government appears to have very little fondness for the involvement of the U.S. government and little need for the scant and symbolic offerings of Invisible Children (recall hordes of white kids barging in unison). More to the point, in addition to the problem of Kony himself, the regional conflict runs much more deeply and requires a great deal more than a troop of US ‘advisors’ can contend with—or should hope to become enmeshed in—has been all but completely obscured.
Anyway, what can I say? At the very least, it’s some healthy food for thought. And on that note, I am certain that if you have reached this part of the article, I’ve exhausted your critical bone, and whet your appetite for something other than the disillusioned analytical ramblings of a former International Development Studies student. So, onto dinner!
Here’s what you need:
Anyway, rather than jump on the bland-wagon, I caved, and bought organic vegetable bullion cubes. I’d be lying if I didn’t reassure myself with the fact that the cornstarch was – despite being cornstarch – at least from non-GMO, free-range corn. Meaning, corn that has only two legs and is allowed out into sunlight to roam around for at least half an hour a day. Come ON! Who am I kidding? Corn is corn is corn. Same with cornstarch. Apologies!
Here’s what to do:
If you only own one skillet, first sautee your mushrooms until brown, and then put them and their meaty juices aside in a bowl. Then proceed as described below (minus the mushrooms-in-a-second-skillet step)
Chop up your onion and garlic. Heat some olive oil in a skillet on medium, then add the onion first. Cook until onion becomes translucent or starts to ‘sweat’ and then add the garlic. This should only take 2 or 3 minutes. This is a good time to add the thyme (shut up, food pun reflex, shut UP!)
While the onions are nervously sweating, chop up your mushrooms.
Throw your mushrooms onto a DIFFERENT skillet and begin sauteeing, or cooking slowly until brown and soft and juicy. This can continue to happen throughout the next couple of steps.
Boil some water (7-8 cups) and throw in your bouillon cubes. Mix around until dissolved. Now you have 7-8 cups of vegetable broth. Set aside.
Keep an eye on your mushrooms, and get ready to handle the pearled barley. Ready?
Add your pearled barley into the onion and garlic and thyme skillet and mix around with wooden spoon until coated with olive oil.
Add 1 cup of white wine to skillet with onions, garlic, thyme and barley. Keep bottle of wine by your side for added enjoyment of cooking process. Simmer wine until completely absorbed. Stir constantly.
Now is the time to keep adding ladle-fuls or pour-fuls of broth. The process now becomes a shampoo, rinse, repeat situation. Add broth, let simmer, stir constantly til absorbed, repeat. You should be constantly stirring and constantly checking on your mushrooms, unless you’ve already set them aside.
Once your broth has been added in increments and fully absorbed by the barley, stir in your mushrooms. You can even save a bit of broth to stir in along with the mushrooms and their juices.
Wash your spinach and rip it up with your hands. Or with your feet if that’s available to you. Add ripped up spinach shreds to risotto and watch it wilt.
Add your salt and pepper.
Grate some asiago (or parmesan) and throw it in. Be thankful that you’re not a true vegan (or a child soldier). Enjoy.