The “Kony 2012” Campaign
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2012 07:03
The Invisible Children campaign, whose latest iteration is the “Kony 2012” PR stunt, has yet again swept social media. In true modern fashion, a backlash against the now-ubiquitous awareness campaign also swept Facebook and Twitter less than 24 hours later. The original video is meant to raise awareness about warlord and child soldier conscriptor Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However, the #Kony2012 campaign is simplistic, problematic and reeks of a scam.
To condense the situation in Uganda to prove a point is exactly what the young, white filmmakers are doing. Joseph Kony and his cohort in the LRA left Uganda six years ago, as many Ugandan activists have been quick to point out. Yet the voice of truth from people in the heart of this conflict, plus foreign policy experts such as Michael Wilkerson – who wrote the excellent article “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda” – is drowned out in the sea of tweets.
“Kony 2012” is a publicity campaign, not a cry for social justice; nor does it allow for nuance, let alone the voices of anyone other than the primarily white men who head Invisible Children. Jason Russell, the co-founder, strikes me as a supremely creepy guy who lists Peter Pan as his hero: yes, the misogynist children’s book hero who fashioned himself as “chief” and never grew up. And we, the lost children, especially impressionable and naïve teenagers with disposable income, follow these guys all the way to the bank.
It remains to be seen how re-tweeting and posting a film will lead to concrete action, except for hefty bank balances for Invisible Children. Their internal audit reveals an intake of $13.7 million, with only $2.8 million spent on “direct services.” The organization has refused to allow an external group to audit itsfinances.
Time and time again in the Internet age, it is so easy to fall into the trap of status updates as activism, or “slacktivism,” as the pejorative goes. Even worse, simply watching a piece of well-produced propaganda and buying bracelets as a solution is dangerously uninformed.
President Barack Obama did allocate 100 military advisers to Uganda in October, though the results are largely unseen. Invisible Children leads us to falsely believe that without itscampaign, there will be no justice in the particular case of Kony.
Focusing solely on the warmongering actions of Kony ignores many other pressing issues in Uganda, including a violently homophobic government and widespread illness and poverty among Ugandans.
I applaud Smithies for their urge to be activists, but I also urge people to research the causes they support and to understand the difference between publicity and activism.