For the past week or so our Facebook newsfeeds, twitter feeds, and YouTube picks have been bombarded by Kony 2012. Since it was uploaded on March 5, the video has received over 82 million views. The goal? Make Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) famous. By making Kony famous, Invisible Children hopes to raise awareness and finally bring him to justice. Kony is an African warlord who has abducted thousands of children over twenty years. Thus efforts to finally capture him are something we can all agree on, right? Well, it is – to some extent. Beyond the agreement that Kony is armed and dangerous, very little consensus exists. As the Kony campaign has gained an influx of media attention, there has been substantial backlash. Why? Let’s delve a little deeper into the problem to see what the Kony 2012 campaign is truly about and find out why it has been both sincerely praised and ferociously attacked.
According to Invisible Children, the campaign is geared to raise awareness, arrest Kony, disarm the LRA and reintegrate ex-combatants into society. How is Invisible Children doing this? Mainly through advocacy. Invisible children spends roughly one third of its funds to direct programs to help Ugandans and former child soldiers. The other two-thirds of funds go to advocacy campaigns. One third of funds isn’t much. For Invisible Children, awareness is an end of itself. So I must ask, should people be donating to an organization that tangibly isn’t doing much to help Ugandans? Shouldn’t peoples’ funds be redirected elsewhere? I would hope that my donations would help more Ugandans rather than printing more t-shirts with Kony’s face plastered across them – but that’s just my opinion…Let’s keep looking.
In terms of accomplishing their main goal, Invisible Children is succeeding tremendously. What other social justice campaign has been able to raise so much awareness in such a short span of time? None… So in this regard international justice organizations can take a lesson. Utilizing the media to galvanize America’s youth is extremely clever and effective. This video has shown how concerned American citizens can become. Monetary donations are continuously being poured in and the message continues to be reverberated.
One glaring problem with the documentary is its portrayal of Uganda. The trajectory it frames is that of Uganda a decade ago. In the short documentary, we see a country that is war-stricken with children taken from their homes. Thankfully that situation has changed. Kony has been ousted and the LRA now numbers in the low hundreds. Now, the best way to bolster the Ugandan people is to help educate the next generation. When screened in Uganda, the video faced extreme backlash. Ugandans felt as if the video was not made about their lives but crafted a story of African victimization and the need for American heroism. The video failed to promote Ugandan agency. Instead it left Ugandans looking helpless as if there wasn’t room for them to take action and become part of their own solution. We must realize that the best solutions are those that include Ugandans because those are the most sustainable. Beyond these problems, the massive campaign of plastering Kony’s face on paraphernalia is especially offensive. One woman stated seeing Kony’s face on t-shirts, banners, and posters is akin to having Osama bin Laden’s face plastered everywhere post-9/11. Not particularly inspiring.
The Invisible Children Calculus:
Make video + raise awareness + increase pressure on US government = capture Kony
Capture Kony = Success for Ugandans
Make video + raise awareness + increase pressure on US government = may capture Kony
Capture Kony Success for Ugandans
Success for Ugandans = sustainable rebuilding efforts like… increasing access to education, helping victims, infrastructure investments, and health initiatives
Even with the oversimplification of complex problems into a good vs. evil paradigm, the narrative of helpless Africans in need of saving by the Western world is way too reminiscent of colonialism. It may make Americans feel more caring but what is it doing for Ugandans? And what is this message saying about Ugandan people? Are these children invisible until Americans notice them? We need to empower Ugandans, not victimize them.
Ugandan Prime Minster, Amama Mbazi recently issued a Youtube response to the Kony 2012 campaign. Utilizing the press Uganda has garnered over the past month, he invites the American leaders the Kony 2012 campaign targets to visit Uganda and see for themselves that that the country has “peace and stability.” Mbazi uses his video to focus on the true heros and heroines of this story – the Ugandan people who have rebuilt their homes and livelihoods in the face of destruction. That is the story we should be portraying and celebrating.
Stopping Kony will bring some sort of justice to many of the victims but many hard-pressed problems still remain. What are some of the problems that are more pressing and relevant in Uganda? The AIDS epidemic, prevalence of Hepatitis, poverty, educational gaps, and social stability. Let’s partner with Uganda to bolster the organizations that exist there. That’s the best way to help Uganda.
An aside…Over the weekend Jason Russell was arrested or public masturbation, vandalizing cars and disturbing the peace. Unfortunately this is not the behavior we expect from the leader of the next big social justice plug…#justsayin