Kony 2012 and the Conservative Interest in Africa

The Kony 2012 video has over 76 million hits and has made the human rights abuses of Joseph Kony to mainstream American observers. AlterNet has dug into the finances of Invisible Children, the group that funded Kony 2012, and discovered that it is driven by radical Right-wing organizations committed to supporting the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni, who also employed child soldiers, but more importantly has used his power to institute the death penalty for homosexuality.

This should serve as a reminder that while conservative candidates will attack foreign aid spending on the stump, conservatives have been unusually committed to supporting Africa with foreign aid, both public and private. The George W. Bush administration was noted for its unprecedented spending in Africa, providing medication for HIV/AIDS patients (while sadly downplaying prevention) and interjecting the United States into African diplomacy to historic levels. Mike Huckabee has called cutting foreign aid to Africa a “disaster.”

What drives this fixation on Africa? The most charitable interpretation is that this falls squarely within the Christian edict to confront poverty. Christian groups dot the late night airwaves with commercials asking us to sponsor impoverished children. I have no doubt that the poverty crisis in Africa stirs genuine sympathy among religious conservatives, but while this may inspire private Christian charity, why does this cross-over and justify spending American tax dollars? After all, this worldview would justify domestic welfare programs as well.

But Christianity have another motive that makes Africa unique. Since 1950, Christianity and Islam have been locked in an aggressive fight to proselytize Africans. Evangelicals who view the world as an ongoing struggle of civilizations have a vested interest in promoting good relations with the African people and in propping up African governments who are not only Christian, but brutally theological like Mr. Museveni in Uganda. This also has a security dimension. There is no zealot like the convert and recently converted Islamic populations can be mined by fundamentalist groups for recruits.

This is the source of conservative interest in Africa. It explains not just the interest in Africa, but also the lack of interest in other areas of the world and African governments hostile to fundamentalist Christianity. There is a culture war to be won and taxpayer dollars are ripe for use in fighting that war, whether it’s propping up the Ugandan government or building a regulatory regime to force women to get ultrasounds.

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