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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.