Kony 2012 Campaign: Effective Advocacy or Misguided Militarism

Advocacy

By Brooke Chatterton

Invisible Children, the makers of the Kony 2012 video, have a long history of using social media in order to bring an underexposed issue of their choice into light.  With such a viral video, many have begun to critique every aspect of and the organization that created it.  The Kony 2012 campaign, while not perfect, has exposed the barbarous action of Josef Kony to millions of active and impassioned people and been entirely consistent with the goals of Invisible Children.

The three goals of Invisible Children, as stated on their website are “ 1) Make the world aware of the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]. This includes making documentary films and touring them around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people. 2) Channel energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns to stop the LRA and protect civilians. 3) Operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas that provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.”

With upwards of 84 million views on Youtube, they have certainly attracted an audience to their expose.  And people are not only viewing, they are taking it to heart and becoming active in the fight against a brutal man.  The Cover the Night that has been gaining support is evidence of that.  In addition the widespread prominence of the Kony 2012 campaign has helped finance not only media programs but programs on the ground in Africa.  It allows those that cannot go to Africa to help to contribute something back, even if it just a few dollars or kind thoughts.

Critics of the campaign have come for people concerned that the Kony 2012 video is oversimplifying the issue and raise doubts to use of the financial contributions generously given by those who have seen the video.

The campaign, due to the viral video, has gained vast amounts of funds.  The Invisible Children website explains that they try to spend about one third of the funds on each of their three goals.  They also maintain financial transparency, allowing contributors to make sure that they have a good idea how much money will be spent in media and how much in direct aid.

They also respond to the issue of oversimplification.  The video was intended to be an introduction into the plight of those touched by the LRA, not a comprehensive history.  In order to gain the widespread recognition of Josef Kony, it necessitated a simplification of a complex situation to a level that would be compatible with those unfamiliar to the situation.

It all boils down to this:  the Kony 2012 campaign has exposed a villainous man to millions of people who now feel the draw to action.  It targeted a young technologically savvy audience which gave the issue exposure bringing into light in the mainstream media.  By creating this video, Kony has become visible as the brute he is, and as such, it has limited his power.  In addition, the plight of those affected by LRS has gained attention, and aid, due to Kony 2012.

Misguided Militarism

By Kavita Singh

When Invisible Children’s thirty-minute film “KONY 2012” was first publicly screened in Lira Town of northern Uganda, the reaction was pure outrage. Many attendees had been victims of the crimes of Joseph Kony, and looked at the film as hurtful and insensitive for wanting to make the man who shattered their lives famous by putting his name on bracelets and t-shirts.

Many viewers stormed out entirely, and further screenings were halted. The messages of this film, while calling attention to the problem of Joseph Kony, try to fit a complex issue into a simple message and create more issues by doing so.

Jack McDonald of the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London points to the difficult and complex situation in central Africa as a cause for concern. He argues that since the LRA have left Uganda since 2006 and have shifted to the three nations of the Central African Republic (CAR), Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), any attempt to pressure him would likely cause movement from one nation to another.

The power politics of these regions, he argues, cannot simply be solved with one more nation exerting their force on the matter (or at least not without unintended consequences).

This doesn’t mean that there have been no previous attempts to capture Joseph Kony. Former LRA child soldier Anywar Ricky Richard points out that military operations launched by the government of Uganda have tried and failed since 1989.

Even the 2008-2009 campaign of Operation Lightning Thunder, which combined the forces of Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan and even the technical support of the United States, not only failed to capture Kony but also spread the terror to the CAR where the LRA relocated.

Even more complex, the IC’s psychological tactic of metonymy (using a singular figure like Kony to represent a very large issue) has focused in to the point where the simple targeting of an individual becomes enough. McDonald warns that this tactic of Facebook-friendly simplicity is a dangerous way to run a nation’s foreign policy.

The main goal of Invisible Children has never been aid, and has always been, as co-creator of the film Jedidiah Jenkins states, advocacy and awareness. Jenkins argues that the IC films target a high school audience and are made to inspire, but such vast generalizations should not over-simplify such a complex issue, placing agency where it cannot exist.

Like many Africans who have commented on the matter, Richard believes that the horrific portrayals of Uganda in “KONY 2012” are a picture of the past, something that might have been seen in 2004 but certainly not today.

Instead of more guns on the issue, a paradigm shift is needed in how the West views Africa. The portrayal of clear good and evil reduces all Africans to passive victims waiting to be saved by, well, a bunch of t-shirt wearing college students.

TMS Ruge, co-founder of the organization Project Diaspora which works to have Africans drive their own development, exclaims in outrage that Africans want respect and business just like people in the West. Many of them want to forgive, forget and rebuild their lives. He also points out that there are more pressing issues than the LRA attacks, which have killed only 2400 central Africans in three years, compared with the 2838 Ugandans that die in road accidents every year.

While the hype may capture the hearts and minds of those of us in the West, many Ugandans cry for the West to treat them as business partners instead of donor recipients. Horrific events have taken place in most every community, but this film that portrays vestiges of the past refuses to acknowledge the progress as well as the pressing needs of today.