The Kony 2012 viral campaign has generated a huge amount of interest. The video posted on Youtube has been viewed over 70 million times in less than a week.
This video is concerned with Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Uganda-based militia notorious for its kidnapping of children to act as soldiers or sex slaves. The charity Invisible Children released the film, Kony 2012, on March 5th with the aim of publicizing his crimes and encouraging mass protest. They hope to secure his arrest before the end of 2012.
The Kony 2012 campaign has already been massively successful in generating a staggering amount of publicity. It has effectively utilized and extended existing techniques of social networking and viral campaigning. And it has also been criticized for neo-colonialism. But there are other issues with the Kony 2012 campaign that should give serious pause for thought. These issues are to do with the emergent technologies of 5GW [Fifth Generation Warfare]. Is Kony 2012 a 5GW operation?
The 5GW model had its genesis in a paper published in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989 entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation.” In this paper, Lind et al. developed a model of modern warfare described in terms of four generations of evolutionary development. The first generation of modern warfare (1GW) was characterized by the use of line and column, and muskets. This generation was exemplified in the Napoleonic wars. The second generation (2GW) utilized more ruthless technology, e.g., machine guns and rifles, and was tactically more mobile. World War I represents the peak of 2GW. The third generation (3GW) was the dominant model for most of the remainder of the twentieth century. It attempted to bypass the enemy’s front line through infiltration and rapid movement, and again utilized more deadly technology such as tanks. It is characterized by blitzkrieg.
The article then argued that a fourth generation of warfare (4GW) was emerging. 4GW “seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ may disappear.” 4GW operatives will not necessarily be identifiable as combatants; instead they will blend into the enemies’ society until they strike. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks fit this model very well.
Since the publication of “The Changing Face of War” there have been attempts to update the generational model to include a fifth generation (5GW). In 5GW, the battlefield encompasses the entirety of social, political, ideological, scientific, economic and military spheres. It is possible, and in many respects desirable, for the combatants in 5GW to not know whom they are fighting, nor to even know that they are fighting. The full range of Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno (NBIC) technologies are expected to be deployed in 5GW, though in ways that will be highly unpredictable, and perhaps even invisible. A characteristic feature of 5GW is the manipulation of the context of the observers of conflict. Rather than focusing on the physical defeat of an enemy, 5GW recognizes the potential for new technologies to manipulate the belief systems of observers who may support or oppose conflict.
Is it possible that Kony 2012 is being used, perhaps even without the knowledge of the Invisible Children charity, to carry out a 5GW operation? There are reasons for suspecting that this might be the case.
One of the more potent weapons of this viral campaign is the focused targeting of ‘Culturemakers’ and ‘Policymakers’ who can be messaged directly through a slick interface on the same webpage as the video. The purpose of such messaging is to keep the campaign in the media spotlight through the Culturemakers, and to force the Policymakers into maintaining an American presence in Central Africa. As is stated in the video, Obama authorized 100 “American advisers” to be deployed to Central Africa to assist in the hunt for Kony. “It was the first time in history that the United States took that kind of action because the people demanded it. Not for self defense but because it was right.” Or, perhaps, because of the oil.
The discovery of oil in the Albertine Rift in Uganda might, to the cynically minded, provide an excellent reason for the deployment of American forces to Uganda. It is certainly expected to lead to conflict, and one possible outcome can be seen by looking at the oil fields of Nigeria.
The oil-rich Niger Delta has been the scene of perhaps the most successful 5GW campaign of the last decade. Henry Okah has been referred to as “one of the most important people alive today, a brilliant innovator in warfare. A true global guerrilla.” He is the mastermind behind the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an organization dedicated to retaining a greater share of the oil wealth for Nigerians. In furtherance of this aim MEND have sabotaged oil fields, siphoned off oil, and taken oil workers hostage. These actions are all intended to make it difficult for Shell to continue its oil operations in the Delta. MEND have managed to curtail $29 billion of oil production by Shell.
The financing of MEND is miniscule in comparison, as it operates as a 5GW actor. Mercenaries are hired via text messaging for specific jobs, so the membership is nebulous. The publicity for MEND’s attacks is generated through e-mails to news outlets claiming responsibility; the organization itself remains invisible. This type of system-disruption is easily copied by sympathetic followers, so the arrest of Okah (in 2008) did not lead to the demise of MEND. Instead, Okah has provided a model of 5GW that enables otherwise unconnected groups to carry out actions in the name of MEND.
Whether or not oil-hungry American politicians were viewing Kony as a possible emulator of Okah’s tactics is a moot point. Displacing him will in any case serve the hidden tactical motive of establishing an American military presence in Uganda. This intervention should, on the face of it, have been extremely unpopular. Americans have mostly lost their appetite for foreign intervention, and the most vocal opponents are usually young college students. If there is a hidden 5GW component to Kony 2012 it is primarily aimed at mobilizing young, anti-imperialist liberals to compel the American government to reluctantly intervene in a foreign conflict.
Instead of the familiar model of intervention taking place and dragging on despite the inevitable attrition of public support, Invisible Children have provided an alternative model whereby intervention becomes first a non-governmental, moral question. As the video states, “because we couldn’t wait for institutions or governments to step in we did it ourselves with our time, talent and money.” By carrying out the role of non-partisan, humanitarian charity workers, Invisible Children have been able to garner a great deal of support for their actions, and it seems a very small step to then pressure the government to supply some “advisers” to assist their good work. By using the emergent technologies of social networking and viral campaigning it has been possible to achieve the perfect conflation of anti-war protest sentiment with American interventionism.
I suspect that the people who run Invisible Children are nothing but decent. As stated earlier, it is part of the 5GW model that actors in conflicts may not realize that they are engaged. Whilst I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Invisible Children, I am not stupid enough to extend the same courtesy to the American government.
The deployment of American military personnel in a country that has recently discovered oil is not mere serendipity. What we are witnessing is the manipulation of ‘protest’ in order to hide foreign policy intentions. The US government can quite honestly say that it has been forced to intervene in Uganda due to unprecedented popular support. The success of the Kony 2012 campaign suggests that this will be an area of increased interest to the US military. I do not pretend to know how this 5GW operation has become embedded within the Invisible Children charity but I have little doubt that this is what has happened. When we ask, “who benefits?” we usually find our culprit.