There is no denying that Joseph Kony is a bad guy. There’s nothing to like about a guy who has abused, abducted, raped, mutilated, enslaved and killed thousands of children in the north of Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. Unquestioningly, Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army are forces of evil.
What I do question, though, is Invisible Children (IC). IC has once again brought Kony’s atrocities to the forefront and with it another “Save Africa” frenzy, its Kony 2012 video. At my last check, the YouTube movie has attracted more than 65 million hits. Seemingly overnight, on Facebook, Twitter and all over the web, Uganda is a topic of conversation. (Ironically, Kony was driven out of Uganda in 2006, so truly this is about more than Uganda alone.)
Among other emotive shots, the video features Russell’s attempt to explain the LRA to his toddler son, enthusiastic (and mostly white) volunteers putting up posters and wearing Kony 2012 bracelets, and some heart-wrenching footage of children who walked for miles to sleep in a safe place at the height of the LRA’s power in Northern Uganda. The latter comprised much of Invisible Children’s namesake first film and brought the organization to prominence.
Uganda is a place I became interested in eight years ago when my husband focused advanced degrees on music rituals of a couple of ethnic groups within Uganda. Let it be known that eight years isn’t a long time at all. But following eight years worth of politics, elections, current events, while maintaining relationships with some beloved Ugandans, coupled with two trips there has provided me with some knowledge of that amazing place.
That knowledge includes this little tidbit: many of the Ugandans I’ve met (both on the continent during two brief visits, and in the diaspora here in the United States) are capable, educated, savvy people. These are people both aware of their surroundings and adept at solving problems in a myriad of ways that address their communities.
That’s why Kony 2012 is so bothersome to me. It’s a pithy marketing campaign to benefit one organization, IC, and its agenda for Central and East Africa. Kony 2012 is completely devoid of the important voices of people in Uganda (and beyond Uganda’s borders), voices that highlight current issues and solutions in contemporary Africa.
If you haven’t started looking around for dissension about Kony 2012, you can start. There’s plenty of fodder for a good conversation.
Christian Science Monitor guest blogger Semhar Araia called out IC, saying,
I appreciate their role. They are reaching a core constituency — many of whom have never thought about these issues before — and getting them to care about Africa. But caring is no longer enough.
There is no easy way of saying what I feel right now, except a deep hurt and gnawing urgency to bang my head against my desk as a prescriptive to make the dumb-assery stop. Sure, Joseph Kony and his counterpart of yesteryear, Idi Amin, have largely been responsible for the single story of Uganda. I have a hard time shaking it from the lips of strangers I meet. That’s all they know or seem to want to listen to. They dismissively glaze over my breathless exultations of the great promise in our youth, our technology, our agriculture, and our women.
These criticisms of IC aren’t new. In 2009, the blog Texas in Africa, maintained by Morehouse College Political Science professor Laura Seay, featured a guest post by Dustyn Winder and Erin Bernstein that discussed a previous IC campaign, “The Rescue.” Others have extensively covered dissatisfaction with IC for years.
Now here are a few (not so well developed ideas) thoughts. There are lots of complexities here, though the Kony 2012 video makes it seem elementary. Never once, for example, does the movie even mention Museveni, Uganda’s president, and political issues at large in Uganda. How much detail would you expect in a 30 minute video, particularly when it serves as an “awareness-building” campaign and a not-so-thinly-veiled fundraising mechanism?
Here’s another (perhaps not so radical) thought: you can’t solve problems exclusively looking from the outside in. Three young American white guys thousands of miles away editing video are perpetuating a neo-Colonial “we are here to save you because you aren’t capable of saving yourselves” stance. Maybe that’s not a good thing.
I hope that Americans and other around the globe will question IC and its motives. Indeed, be compelled enough to look around at the good work being done in Uganda and all across Africa, work being done with those who Kony has terrorized, and those who are working at building a life for themselves.
I’m supporting the notion that a trendy, flash-in-the-pan marketing scheme isn’t a long-term, sustainable solution here. That ending the war and ending Kony won’t end problems entirely. I know there are far more questions than answers, but we don’t have to be satisfied with the agenda IC presents. And finally, I think we should all realize that every nation has its share of problems. All politics are local, so let’s get involved in our own backyards, too.
Let’s listen respectfully to African and diaspora leaders and support their efforts as we work together to improve our world without guilt. No bracelet, action kit or t-shirt purchase required.
See more responses from in-the-know smarties on this post at Global Voices by Rebekah Heacock. If the whole thing simply drives you to drink (or has you seriously needing a light hearted moment), check out the drinking game on www.wrongingrights.com. The post includes a nod to the IRB and proper credit to that creepy photo you’ve seen of the IC guys with bazookas. Finally, The Guardian has provided a few details of IC’s financials, including $244,000 that was likely spent on Washington lobbyists. Take a look over here.