Kony 2012

March 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

My natural inclination with most things that catch fire and appeal to the masses as easily as Kony2012 is to be suspicious. Most often my suspicion leads to rejection of the object or ideology at hand, but in the case of Kony2012 I am still learning to decide. There is no arguing that Joseph Kony is committing intolerably atrocious crimes and should be stopped. And there is no arguing that the Kony2012 video has spread more awareness of the issue than anything else ever has.

However, as always in Bell Tolling, I encourage readers to avoid adopting a simplistic or insular view on what is undoubtedly a complex and multi-perspectival topic (here speaking of both Kony2012, and of the LRA issue generally). Simple solutions, though easy to understand and stand behind, have been known to cause harm in the past.1 One reason that I am grateful for the Kony2012 video is that it sparked a discussion that encouraged me to learn more about the history, opinions and possible solutions to a topic that I was not currently up-to-date on. I know others who have done the same, and still others who didn’t even know about Joseph Kony or the LRA before Kony2012. I hope that people will continue to learn.

After learning about the many perspectives, you many still decide to support Kony2012. It’s interesting, after all, to see how many bloggers and opinion-makers are trying to critique the movement but ultimately failing to reject it fully. (There are exceptions to this, as you will see below, but generally people are not 100% condemnatory of Invisible Children). No matter the case, you owe it to yourself and to those you hope to help through Kony2012 to spend more than a 30-minute, one-sided video learning about the decades-long, cross-border issue. Be aware of what solution you are supporting, why you are supporting it and what results it may produce (good and bad).

Here are some links that I’ve found interesting. I provide mostly the critiques simply because the praises are easy to come by right now.

Invisible Children’s Response to Critiques

A Middle Ground Opinion:
Chris Blattman

Roundup of Kony 2012 Western Critiques
15 African Responses
Rosenbell’s Blog
Foreign Policy

National Public Radio

Lily, one of Kony’s Wives

For me, a potent critique against the Kony2012 video is that the central African voice is hardly heard. It was nice to hear Russell’s adorable kid, but I also would like to have heard a Ugandan (or South Sudanese, or Central African, or Congolese…) child’s voice (not only Jacob’s voice 9 years ago) say what they want to happen. It’s not that I don’t believe a Ugandan (child or adult) wouldn’t want Kony removed, but rather that I believe it is foremost their right to voice that opinion.2 I realize that Russell’s boy was meant to represent the simplest conclusion for a Western audience, but Westerners need to learn to listen to Africans on African issues.  That doesn’t mean eliminating Russell or his kid from the conversation, but rather balancing their voices with voices  from the heart of the issue.  In fact, I know that Invisible Children sends Ugandans around the US to share their stories, and I can tell from this that Invisible Children employs many Ugandans (and others from central Africa) in leadership positions…so why not co-narrate the Kony2012 video with one of them? Again, we in the West need to learn how to hear the African voice as authoritative on their own issues.3

As I’ve said, I’m still learning and will form my opinion on the Kony2012 movement as I do so. My opinion of Joseph Kony was formed long ago and is in no way positive and in every way condemnatory.

1After the Child Labor Deterrence Act was introduced in the US, an estimated 50,000 children were dismissed from their garment industry jobs in Asia, leaving many to resort to jobs such as “stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution.” UNICEF’s 1997 State of the World’s Children study found these alternative jobs “more hazardous and exploitative than garment production.” This doesn’t mean children should work in garment production, but rather that simple solutions don’t always work.

2 They have voiced that opinion elsewhere, but Invisible Children could have allowed them to voice it to the millions

3 I find this issue similar to the fact that we, for some reason, take the British accent as more authoritative in documentaries. It’s subconscious, perhaps, but also a bit strange. Do we do the same with the African voice? Is a Western accent more authoritative on African issues than an African accent? …….Why?


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§ 2 Responses to Kony 2012

  • mcmeeshi says:

    Thanks for sharing all those links. I’ve followed Invisible Children from the beginning and have been both wary and impressed. The most recent video can certainly be criticized for over-simplification but not for inaccuracy. I think the point of it was to create a spark, and that it did. I’ve always seen the Invisible Children movement as one that challenges this generation primarily to wake up, to care, to get inspired. That’s a critical first step, and I think they do it well. I also applaud their promotion of advocacy. The challenge comes with the next steps and making sure brand new advocates are well informed to take the appropriate actions in order to do good, not more harm.

    • Thanks so much for commenting. I agree that Invisible Children has done an amazing job at engaging many who have never cared before. It is apparent from their finances that media and word-spreading is a big part of their mission–and they’ve got a knack for it!

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