March 8th, 2012

RTNT On The Problems With KONY 2012

The deluge of social media attention that has been given to the simplistic KONY 2012 campaign and the surrounding haze of misinformation has reaffirmed our purpose at Read This, Not That. Joseph Kony is a warlord and a monster - this much cannot be denied. The present controversy swirls not around Kony himself, but rather around the substance of the campaign, and the intentions of the organization behind it: Invisible Children.

Conversations are raging across the web between supporters and detractors - conversations that suffer, in many instances, from a lack of understanding about the current state of Uganda and of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (details of which are notably lacking from the film.)

There has been much resistance to criticism of the campaign, resistance founded in knee-jerk reactions meant to defend the perceived good intentions of Invisible Children. The appearance of a noble cause to mask questionable action is not anomalous in our world. As such, it is our responsibility to be skeptical, especially when engaged with propagandistic media that aims to affect us emotionally and prompt a very specific reaction: in this case, to give money to Invisible Children.

Our effort here is to offer articles that inform the debate surrounding KONY 2012 and to encourage everyone to embrace critical conversation, even when that gaze is directed at what appear to be good intentions. Things are rarely as simple as they are made out to be, and we can be sure that the state of Uganda and the LRA is not as simple as the KONY 2012 campaign makes it seem.

Michael Wilkerson, writing for Foreign Policy, asks what the video is meant to accomplish:

So the goal is to make sure that President Obama doesn’t withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed. That seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention by the government of withdrawing those forces — at least any I can find. Does anyone else have any evidence about this urgent threat of cancellation? One that justifies such a massive production campaign and surely lucrative donation drive?

TMS Ruge, writing for Project Diaspora, pleads with us to respect the agency of Ugandans:

This IC campaign is a perfect example of how fund-sucking NGO’s survive…They are, in actuality, selling themselves as the issue, as the subject, as the panacea for everything that ails me as the agency-devoid African. All I have to do is show up in my broken English, look pathetic and wanting. You, my dear social media savvy click-activist, will shed a tear, exhaust Facebook’s like button, mobilize your cadre of equally ill-uninformed netizens to throw money at the problem.

Ugandan Journalist Angelo Izama, writing at This Is Africa, finds KONY 2012’s portrayal of Uganda outdated:

To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era.

Musa Okwanga, writing for The Independent, discusses the complexities the video left out:

What the narrator also failed to do was mention to his son that when a bad guy like Kony is running riot for years on end, raping and slashing and seizing and shooting, then there is most likely another host of bad guys out there letting him get on with it.  He probably should have told him that, too.

Guy Gunartne, writing for Codoc, questions the wisdom of Invisible Children’s preferred policy of military intervention:

The LRA is reported to be 90% made up of abducted children – military defeat would mean engaging in combat and targeting of the very victims of this war; these children are the LRA.

The author of Visible Children examines the armies on the other side of the war:

Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission.

Glenna Gordon, who took the photograph above, takes issue with the filmmakers’ self-aggrandizement in this interview for The Washington Post:

People who have lived there for years, bona fide aid workers who have studied foreign policy and other relevant fields like public health, who are really there because they are trying to solve problems — they see Invisible Children as trying to promote themselves and a version of the narrative. 

Eric Ritskes, writing at Wanderings, reminds us that it is not about us:

It falls into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education. When we tell more people about Kony and the LRA, something WILL happen. It’s not true…More education does not change the systems and structures of oppression, those that need Africa to be the place of suffering and war and saving…We need to learn: It’s not about us.

Kate Cronin-Furman & Amanda Taub, writing at The Atlantic, discuss the arrogance of the campaign:

Perhaps worst of all are the unexplored assumptions underpinning the awareness argument, which reduce people in conflict situations to two broad categories: mass-murderers like Joseph Kony and passive victims so helpless that they must wait around to be saved by a bunch of American college students with stickers. No Ugandans or other Africans are shown offering policy suggestions in the film, and it is implied that local governments were ineffective in combating the LRA simply because they didn’t have enough American assistance.

Patrick Wegner, writing at Justice in Conflict, offers some final thoughts:

To conclude, the Kony 2012 campaign is a reminder why we should see advocacy campaigns to interfere in conflicts with some scepticism, no matter how good the cause…. It also challenges us to think of ways how to design advocacy campaigns that mobilise many people without dumbing down the problem and its purported solution.

[Edit:] Invisible Children has responded to some, but not all of the criticisms here. 

We put in a lot of work reading, reviewing, compiling, and excerpting these pieces for you, and hope you will consider them in this debate.

 - The RTNT Team

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