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9 March 2012updated 05 Oct 2023 8:46am

What to make of Kony 2012

The viral video that's divided opinion.

By Alice Gribbin

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.

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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.


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