This is the video everybody’s talking about. It started off, well, like most things these days, as an online viral campaign under the vague and general banner of “awareness”. The filmmakers are not shy to express exactly what it is, an experiment. A test if you will. With most experiments, there are expected, or at least, desired results. The Kony2012 video does not make these explicit. It is safe to assume then, that they did not know what to expect? Is this yet another case of the west saving poor Mother Africa? Or just a desperate story of an organisation in way over it’s head.
I’m going to start by making my bias clear. I’m from the “teach a man how to fish” school of charity, but I understand the sometimes impulsive and whimsical idea of making a difference where you can. The issue with the latter approach is, what real contribution has actually been made beyond appeasing the nagging guilt that comes with influence and privilege. My second issue, is that most organisations built on charitable ideals are exactly that. Ideals and ideology firmly structured around a saviour mentality. The White Jesus, guns and bibles routine is a sensitive point in countries which have been previously colonised. The alleged messiahs generally have very little understanding of the geography, culture and climate that they are working in. They adopt foreign logic, and use it as a blanket solution, regardless of how varied the situations and conflicts are. Also, I hate using the word conflict, because it makes it sound like an argument on the playground; but in the interest of steering clear of propaganda, it will appear a few times in this piece.
Back to the issue at hand, the now very visible Invisible Children campaign and Joseph Kony. While the video now sits at over 40 million Youtube hits, the people who initially spawned this viral success, and the ones who are watching it now, are almost a completely different breed of human. The first few views were from bleeding heart do-gooders, who, empowered by the video, clicked on the “share” button to show their support. Then there were the curious masses who just wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and inevitably, finally, the critics whose arguments are centered on two important points. Firstly, the dubiousness of Invisible Children as a non-profit organisation and secondly, the gross inaccuracies and over-simplifications employed by Invisible Children in the making of the film.
If you don’t know yet, Joseph Kony is leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. A former altar-boy, he traded in his theological tactics of praying for change and arming himself mainly with holy water and oil in favour of a more militant approach. Since his rebellion started in 1986, 66000 children have been abducted and turned into child soldiers. This is not a light issue. This is the brutal and savage murder, rape, mutilation and displacement of whole villages of people. It is not glossy. It does not deserve the Tinsel-town treatment. This not Blood Diamond. This is not a movie deal in the making. This is also ten years ago.
Ten years ago Invisible Children co-founder Jason Rusell met Jacob. Jacob lost his brother. Rather, Jacob watched as the LRA sliced his brother’s throat as he tried to escape capture. Ten years ago, Jason Russel promised to save him. Armed with his “interweb” and comments like “and that’s how you know English so well,” he has returned to be bathed in glory. Sorry, that is to save Jacob.
So let’s forget for a second that Invisible Children has been accused of a gross mismanagement of funds. That of the 8 million dollars they made last year, less than 3 million went to direct service. Let’s ignore that the tone he uses to speak to Jacob is the same tone he uses to speak to his toddler. Let’s try then, to unpack the information that is spread in the video as fact.
1. The information is over ten years old. Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda and neither is the LRA. With the support of the US government (yes, this actually happened), the Ugandan army successfully pushed them out. They are now hiding out in the jungles of neighbouring countries, and number in the lesser hundreds.
2. While it’s perfectly fine to abridge years of war and conflict into “Joseph Kony is a bad man” so a toddler can understand; it is patronising and infantile to disseminate this message globally. While Kony is a bad man, he is certainly not THE bad man. He is not the root of cause. Has Invisible Children even considered that his capture, or most likely his death; could result in no tangible change whatsoever?
3. Uganda is not a country at war. Uganda does not need US troops to swoop in, save them, and lighten the deep oil reserves discovered in 2006 along its border with the DRC.
4. The LRA is not a mission-less blood-thirsty pack of wolves. In an interview with Ugandan journalist Angelo Opi-aiya Izama, their late deputy admitted that the conflict was about “money and war”. Izama elaborates the importance of this perspective. “This context is relevant because it allows for outsiders to view the LRA issue more objectively within the recent history of violence in the wider region that includes the Great Central Africa Wars of the 90s, in which groups like the LRA were pawns for proxy wars between countries.”
5. The LRA were supported and funded by the Sudanese government.
6. Wait? Where is the real information about Joseph Kony? Isn’t this a “Stop Kony” campaign? Or is it just a glittering, well-edited CV for Invisible Children?
So yes, in the end the internet has won again. Admittedly, this campaign has drawn attention to the plight of children in Uganda, albeit by being patronising and liberal with the truth. You see, the truth just wouldn’t sell enough wristbands. And while a lot of people now probably know a little bit about Uganda and Joseph Kony, a lot more know about Russel and Invisible Children. We can only hope that people are not looking at this 30 minute clip as the comprehensive tell-all on Uganda. That they use the channels so readily available to them to inform themselves and be critical. And to recognise that the real hero in this tale, might just be Jacob.