Now that the dust has settled from the social media phenomenon that was Kony, we thought we’d take a moment to parse out the positives. This is how this post was supposed to start. Obviously, there have been a few minor developments.
Nevertheless, our intentions for this post remain the same. We are not going to comment on Jason Russell and his personal life. For ACAC, there are a few points to be made about the original media firestorm that was Kony, and it would be a shame not to share them, especially since these points pertain the positive aspects of the campaign and the incredible amount of attention it garnered. This, we feel, is more important. So please, allow us to proceed as scheduled….
When we posted last week Kony 2012 had over 72 million views on YouTube. Today it tops 82 million. There is no denying that in terms of sheer reach, this campaign was an incredible success. For a North American NGO involved in work in Central Africa, this kind of recognition is almost unfathomable. And Invisible Children achieved it. There are likely a variety of factors that led to the astonishing extent to which this video went viral – everything from the production values (sexy graphics, well-crafted montages, music, etc.) and the ‘cute factor’ (Gavin) to the day of the week and time it was released, when audiences weren’t as distracted by other things (also known as a “slow news day”). We may never know for sure exactly why it was this video. But for many who viewed it, it was the first time they had heard about the Lord’s Resistance Army and any kind of history, no matter how over-simplified, of Uganda.
Friends and family members of the ACAC team support our research and advocacy interests in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, but may not necessarily engage with these issues in the same way. For this reason, when Kony 2012 went viral, many of us were pulled into the conversation, sometimes by people with which we had never engaged in such conversations before. “Did you see this?” some friends asked, when they posted the link on our Facebook walls. “Thought you might be into this,” said others, in tweets with the video and the hashtag #stopkony.
These exchanges provided opportunities for all of us to discuss something that is at the heart of ACAC’s mandate: ethical advocacy. This commitment drives much of our work, whether it’s planning an event, writing policy, or even designing a poster. We don’t always get it right. In no means is Invisible Children a “failure” to measure against our “success.” Ethical advocacy is a process, and those who aim to engage in it must constantly re-evaluate their decisions, question norms and interrogate assumptions (and this includes us). There is no one, “right” way to fully represent an issue, let alone a decades-long conflict involving things as complex as child soldiers and the LRA. Representations are inevitably partial, but as we argued in our last post, some are better than others.
Kony 2012 provided a litany of opportunities for people interested in engaging in meaningful, productive conversations – conversations about justice and its varying definitions, about the importance of locally-driven peace initiatives, about the complexity of conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and especially, about what people outside of the area can do really do about it. We only hope this is the beginning of a dialogue that will continue well into the future, whether or not we ever see a Kony 2.0. As a conversation starter, Kony 2012 was invaluable.
Of course, while we were busy having one-on-ones with those eager to engage on the topic, hundreds of incredibly articulate people were quick to blog and vlog about the issue. Just as soon as Kony was a part of our collective consciousness, so too were the responses. Perhaps one of the best things to emerge from this situation is the knowledge that when an organization presents a picture some deem problematic, there exists a strong collection of voices unafraid to weigh in (and get noticed for doing so!). While many shared the original video and quickly moved on, others shared, saw critiques, and then posted those too. Some of us could literally track minds changing and thinking emerging on our newsfeeds. If Kony 2012 and the discussions that surrounded it represent the future – a fervency with which we will dialogue about advocacy, international development, foreign affairs and policy – then count us in.
Speaking of which, no one’s enthusiasm throughout all of this compared to that of the people who made this video viral – the collective 80 million. It is not productive to cast judgment on those who shared with good intentions. What matters is that millions of people across the globe were catalyzed into action about something they saw as unjust. This is a good thing! And if this is you, please, do not let Kony 2012 leave a sour taste in your mouth. Critiques of Kony are not judgments of your character, and they certainly are not meant to weaken your resolve. They serve only as a reminder that, no matter what the cause, we must continually ask how we situate ourselves relative to those who appear to need “helping,” and what the best way to really “help” might be. Be open to new approaches you might not have considered, or things that might not be familiar to you. Be open to lending support to solutions already in place, instead of imposing your (“our”) own. And most of all, be open to the fact that maybe what a peoples or a community really needs, isn’t your help at all.
Keep reading. Keep talking. Keep thinking.
To wrap up the Kony chapter here at the ACAC blog, we willl end with an updated round-up of responses.* Some are scathing, some satirical, some poignant. Not all are a direct critique. Read and watch and your leisure.
*Those responses previously posted in our first appear at the end of this list.
Al Jazeera English: Kony screening angers Ugandans
Rap News 12: Yes We Kony
AlterNet: Invisible Children funded by anti-gay religious right by B.E. Wilson
Canadian International Council: #Ugandans2012 by Erin Baines
Julie Okot Bitek’s interview with the F-Word radio show.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: “My Little Kony”
African Youth Initiative Network: African War victim’s opinion on Kony by Victor Ochen
World Peace Foundation: Don’t elevate Kony by Alex Dewaal
Acholi Times: Kony 2012 should have advocated dialogue by Sam Olara
Acholi Times: Open letter to Jason Russell by Amber Ha
The Sky is Yellow: Missing perspective – Children born into the LRA by Beth Stewart
CNN: How not the change the world by Mareike Schomerus
Invisible Children: Thank you KONY 2012 supporters
The Atlantic: Solving War Crimes with Wristbands: The Arrogance of ‘KONY 2012’ by Kate Cronin-Furman & Amanda Taub (of Wronging Rights)
The Daily What: Kony Series
The Independent: Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions by Musa Okwonga
Free the Children: Our thoughts on Kony 2012
The Guardian: Kony 2012: what’s the real story? by Polly Curtis and Tom McCarthy
Invisible Children: Official response to criticism
Think Africa: #Kony2012: An LRA Survivor’s Tale by Charles Okwir
Salon: Uganda’s outrage over Kony 2012 by Jocelyn Edwards
The NY Times: Viral Video, Vicious Warlord by Nicholas Kristof
The Huffington Post: Westerners are not and will never be the ‘saviors’ of Africa by Ben Affleck
The Huffington Post: From Caring to Doing: The responsibility by of experts for #stopkony by Stephanie Rudat
Naked Chiefs: Kony Series by Charles Onyango-Obbo
Unmuted: You Don’t Have My Vote
From our first Kony blog post:
Julie Okot Bitek – Commercializing Children’s Suffering is Macabre. Julie Bitek examines how the voices of the Acholi people/Northern Ugandans have been excluded from Western advocacy campaigns about Northern Uganda./
Targets or Captives? Obama’s LRA Challenge – What might be some of the unintended consequences of the military solution/military advisers which Invisible Children is advocating for? Prof. Erin Baines explores this issue.
Taking Kony 2012 Down a Notch – Max Kersten from Justice in Conflict appeals for sober second thought.
Securing Rights – Let’s Talk About Kony. A valuable discussion by Daniel Solomon on the questions of morality, public narratives, and organizing narratives surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign.
Selling Old Newspapers Shouldn’t Be Profitable – Invisible Children and Kony 2012. A reminder that the LRA is largely no longer in Uganda, and focusing on Uganda as if the LRA were there now may not be entirely accurate.
The Visible Problem with Invisible Children. A lengthy discussion on the problems with Invisible Children’s approach and their framing of the issues.
KONY 2012: Thinking beyond the campaign. A critical perspective coming from a Canadian youth magazine.
Foreign Affairs- Obama Takes on the LRA. A well thought piece from Mareike Schomerus, Tim Allen, and Kloen Vlassenroot looking at some of the political calculations behind Obama’s commitment to supporting the Ugandan army/UPDF in their hunt for Joseph Kony.
How Matters – Good guys, Bad guys, and the People in between. Another considerate piece, which has a valuable discussion about the ethics of using Jacob’s suffering in the film.