What to make of Kony 2012

The viral video that's divided opinion.

Yesterday the Staggers carried an article by freelance journalist Tom Rollins on Kony 2012, a video by advocacy group Invisible Children about the militia leader Joseph Kony, whose Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is responsible for mass murder and the abduction of tens of thousands of children in Uganda. The half-hour film has been viewed 55 million times on YouTube and turned the public's hearts to a plight that never crossed their minds five days ago.

Rollins's verdict was particularly damning. He wrote:

There is clearly more than Kony at stake here. Central Africa is well known for its rich natural resources - including copper, cobalt, gold, uranium, magnesium and tin.

. . . If Invisible Children does not turn out to be some Pentagon-CIA front, the charity is still attempting to align social media, activism and youth political disengagement with the United States' hawkish economic and military interests in Africa.

Increasingly controversial, photographs of the filmmakers posing with guns alongside the Sudan People's Liberation Army emerged, in what the race and culture blog Racialicious deemed part of a "picture of neo-colonialism". According to their own accounts, Invisible Children has spent over $3m on the film and projects round it; viewed by many as more of a Hollywood than charity venture. But celebrites including Oprah, P Diddy and Rihanna have been followed by millions of social media-using westerners in expressing their support for the campaign to Stop Kony. Opinions are strongly divided. Here's some verdicts from the week:

Bridgette Bugay, an LSE student and former Invisible Children worker writes:

Although at times absolutely necessary, there may be an alternative to the perennial critique which contends that this type of representation necessarily suppresses the subjects' voice, and creates the white man as the hero.

I ask, what if we are in fact moving towards a "global community"?

Idealistic? Perhaps.

Audaciously hopeful? Possibly.

But worth consideration? Absolutely.

Channel 4's foreign correspondent Lindsey Hilsum applauds the broad reach achieved by the film:

The "Invisible Children" campaign could learn a little from those of us who care about accuracy and context. But I think we could learn something from them about how to get a message across, and how to talk to a generation that has stopped bothering to read newspaper and watch TV news.

Jon Snow similarly excuses the inaccuracies he sees in the film as being secondary to its poignancy.

And the child abductee who features heavily, Jacob Acaye, offers a defence of Kony 2012 in yesterday's Guardian:

It is not too late, because all this fighting and suffering is still going on elsewhere. Until now, the war that was going on has been a silent war. People did not really know about it. Now what was happening in Gulu is still going on elsewhere in the Central African Republic and in Congo. What about the people who are suffering over there? They are going through what we were going through.

Still, many have disagreed with both the medium and the message. Drawing on his time living and working in Uganda, Michael Wilkerson's critique of the film necessarily takes in the country's broad field of problems, including poverty, disease and corruption:

Stopping Kony won't change any of these things, and if more hardware and money flow to Museveni's military, Invisible Children's campaign may even worsen some problems.

On Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker makes a rather pithy comment:

It's awesome to hear my Facebook friends say they feel "empowered" by sharing the video -- but remember that charity isn't really about you feeling empowered, is it?

Grant Oyston has written comprehensively over the last week on the Visible Children blog:

Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don't realize they're supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it's the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don't think most people are in that position, and that's a problem.

The Director of Polis, Charlie Beckett, is particularly sceptical about the film's marketing and "clicktivism" appeal, arguing that the campaign's distortion of reality can only have negative effects for those it purports to be supporting:

The damage done by reinforcing stereotypes of Africa will have an impact beyond this campaign. It will perpetuate the myth that Africans can't sort their own problems out and that they don't really share political ideas such as human rights.

The damage done by pretending that solutions are simple means that the public won't give the long-term backing for the legal and political policies that produce sustainable rights.

Last year, Foreign Affairs accused the campaign group of "manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers".

Invisible Children has now addressed some of the criticism levelled against Kony 2012. It's a comprehensive read, but a powerful attempt at transparency about a film accused of being not all that it seems.


Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:


The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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