By now, you’ve no doubt heard about KONY 2012, a viral video posted online just five days ago, already boasting over 70 million views. The video, created by the nonprofit organization Invisible Children, stars its founder Jason Russell. It urges people to “Stop Kony” aka leader of the Lords’ Resistance Army, famous for their use of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, and already indicted by the International Criminal Court. The video portrays itself as a call to action to ‘Make Kony Famous’ suggesting that the problem is that 99% of the world doesn’t know he exists, and if they did, we could make him go away. Clearly this video has reached many people, and has done so with some of the most impressive video editing I have ever seen, but here are my major concerns with this campaign:
The video leads viewers to believe that Joseph Kony is currently in Uganda, creating terror at epic proportions, and ‘getting him’ will fix everything. Kony is actually believed to be in Eastern Congo, the Central African Republic or Sudan, and hasn’t been seen as a source of terror in Northern Uganda for more than five years. His numbers are thought to have dwindled to about 200-300 followers, and for Ugandans, he is thought of as a threat of the past.
Lack of Political Context
Not only does the video get these basic facts wrong, it also ignores the greater geopolitical context in which Kony operates. There is no mention of the current repressive government which has been supported by the US and in resistance to whom the LRA originally formed. No mention is made of recently discovered oil and increasing US and Chinese interest in the region for this reason. This of course is not to mention the situation in neighbouring countries, the burden of poverty and the history of colonialism. None of these problems are going away with the removal of Joseph Kony.
Reinforcing stereotypes and disempowering communities
There is something extremely bothersome about a video that focuses mainly on a white man, portrayed as the good guy, and his quest to ‘save Africa’ from a ‘bad guy’. Not only does this bring up imagery of colonialism where atrocities were often justified by a supposed moral goal of ‘civilizing the savages’, it also reinforces the stereotype that people in Africa need to be ‘saved’. There is no mention of any activism pursued by Ugandans to drive out Kony, instead portraying Ugandans in one of two lights: Evil man who must be stopped, poor helpless souls who must be saved. We won’t even get into the fact that Russell went to Uganda originally as a missionary.
Potentially dangerous consequences
There is a major assumption in this film that the problem is a lack of ‘awareness’ and the solution is an increase in ‘awareness’. The US knows Kony exists. Uganda knows Kony exists. The International Criminal Court knows Kony exists. Just because YOU only now found out Kony exists doesn’t change the fact that he’s already being searched for. The concern, however, is that millions of newly enlightened Americans are now going to press US officials to ‘Stop Kony’. How will they do this? By increasing the military presence in the region and further supporting the oppressive Ugandan regime who the L.R.A. was originally formed to resist. The US already has 100 troops on the ground, and given the interest in newly found oil, this video has handed increased US military intervention and control of resources to the government on a silver platter.
The above doesn’t even touch on the criticism of the Invisible Children NGO being accused of using only 33% of its several million dollar budget for actual programs, or the overglamourization of serious political issues now being promoted by the likes of Oprah and Rihanna. Sure, the video seeks to increase awareness about a perpetrator of violations of human rights, but what about the right to accurate information of the situation as well as the consequences of your actions? We must, as a society, vow to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable, but in doing so, we must think critically and design our strategies with careful consideration.
For these reasons and more, at best this video is misleading and ineffective, and at worst, it is extremely dangerous. If you don’t believe me, listen to some of the Ugandan voices themselves below.
A Ugandan blogger discusses issues with the KONY 2012 video.
Ugandans criticize anti-Kony video campaign sensation for simplifying a complicated history
NPR: Fact-checking the ‘Kony 2012’ Viral Video
Kony 2012 campaign: Oprah and bracelets won’t solve problem
Wrapping Imperialism in Activism
Open Letter to Jason Russell, CEO of Invisible Children
Tax Forms Show Invisible Children Funded by Antigay, Creationist Christian Right
Update: In just its first week, this post was read by over 1700 people in 60 countries. Thank you all for your shares, tweets, and comments.