Kony 2012, A Ugandan Bedtime Story?

Want to know how to create a viral sensation of bipartisan, politically ignorant glad-handers, shuffling half-turned spin from one dunce to another? Turn the indictment of a war criminal into what sounds like a Presidential Campaign and simplify the plight of a country into a bedtime story.

I would like to begin with my own initial reaction to the hype that is so misleadingly dubbed ‘Kony 2012’, because it is a quintessential example of what I believe to be one of many flaws in this campaign that bombed every social media platform without mercy.

During my adolescence, I came across the war in Uganda during a research project, and soon after got involved with Invisible Children. I became aware of Joseph Kony who, even by this point, was not at his height of power. That being said, when I first heard about Kony 2012, and all the uproar it was causing (before looking into it myself) I was under the impression Kony had produced a video, and it was a campaign created by him or his supporters. Stick with me — I don’t believe that is a ridiculous presumption. Kony 2012 sounds like a damn Presidential Campaign.

So, of course, when I then found out that Kony 2012 was an activist campaign created by Invisible Children I was quite confused as to why they were taking this approach. And then I saw the video.

“To make him famous,” the video said. To make him famous? My brow furrows at this notion. While I do respect and revere the mission of Invisible Children, and the fact that they have managed to pull to these atrocities to public discussion when many people had no idea were happening, the question remains: Is this the right approach?

Some critique is rooted in the fact that only 10 percent of the revenue from the “Action Kit” the video supports goes to “direct services.” And, while I personally have some issues with this sort of approach to aid, it may not be a fair critique. Invisible Children is an activist organization, not a direct aid organization and they’ve never claimed otherwise.

However, there are other issues at play. The LRA are not the power they were when most of this footage was filmed.  Joseph Kony, while still alive and active, is not current in Uganda, nor by any means the entirety of Uganda’s strife. Kony does need to be indicted, but the problem goes far beyond that. Invisible Children is creating this “ultimate goal” which will by no means solve many of the difficulties Uganda faces — and what happens after that? What happens in 2012 when this “video expires,” whether Kony has been arrested or not? Is the cause forgotten? Do we move on to our next heroic mission?

The people of Uganda are not helpless. Yes, there is no question that I believe we should be providing all the assistance possible, and yes it is an atrocity that their plight has gone unknown for so long, along with a plethora of African causes that tragically make better t-shirts than grass-roots campaigns. After all, it’s still a half-microwaved bowl of European imperialism. But, by painting them as helpless we are only taking away more of their power.

The intentions of Invisible Children and all active participants I believe are sincere, but I also think we need to take time to fully consider the consequences, outcomes, and end effects of this approach to aid and awareness.

I believe this campaign is very ethnocentric and could possibly be doing harm in the long run. This video takes a large and complex body of issues and lumps them all into one story with villain and one hero, (though every Facebook participant in the galaxy now thinks they qualify for the latter.)

But, while I have my opinions, I concede the following: I am just a 19-year-old white girl from good ol’ Miss-ur-uh.  I am incredibly under-qualified to speak on this subject with any authority, but I do want to elicit a little more critique on issues as complex as this, with careful thought, before jumping into the hype of it all.

And on that note, I will gladly direct you to more credible critiques:

Rosebell Kagumire, an award-winning Ugandan journalist with a Master’s in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies:

Adam Branch,  senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, Uganda, and author of Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/201231284336601364.html

Arthur Larok, Action Aid’s country director for Uganda, with a Master’s Degree in Governance and Development and nine years of service as the Director of Programmes at the Uganda National NGO Forum: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/mar/08/kony-2012-what-s-the-story#block-4

Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA and director of northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans


Probably won’t be seeing this pop up on the Facebook newsfeed anytime soon…asdfghjkl

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One thought on “Kony 2012, A Ugandan Bedtime Story?

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one from my generation that immediately questioned what the actual outcomes of a ‘campaign’ like this could be. You said what I’ve thought much better than I could have, so thank you.

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