Culture, Reality
Kony2012

The Truth Wouldn’t Sell Enough Wristbands

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 09.03.2012

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.

Kony2012

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?

Kony2012

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.

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RESPONSES (32)
  1. Sarah Dee says:

    Succinct and on the money.

    I can’t believe people don’t have their spidey sense for “this-is-too-simplistic-and-sentimental-to-be-unproblematic” going haywire like mine was.

    This Jason “Radical” Russel seems like a narcissistic douche who totally embodies the neocolonialist impulses packaged as delusional charitability. Look what he has to say about himself on this page, it’s kinda terrifying (Includes this statement: “If Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Bono had a baby, I would be that baby.”:

    http://pmc-mag.com/2011/02/jason-russell/

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  2. tyrion says:

    Kony2012 killed social media

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  3. Simon says:

    This is one of the worst written articles I have ever read in my life!

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  4. Shan says:

    Well written. I couldn’t agree more. Damn ‘sharing sheeps’ just keep on sharing!

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  5. Edward Fisher says:

    Fantastic article! It’s always refreshing to encounter a sound and analytical writer such as yourself. Keep up the good work!

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  6. Media Sponge says:

    Not the best article. But not the worst.

    The fact of the matter is that as educated human beings who consume media, we should be consuming as much as we possibly can from various sources – and then make educated assumptions, not just jump to irrational conclusions.

    On that note – here is a very detailed response by Invisible Children to all the criticisms they have faced in the past few days. Read it and educate yourself.

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

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  7. SihleMthembu says:

    Well said Linda people must really take a moment to consider the facts before clicking the share button williy-nilly. Facebook activism hurts my feelings.

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  8. Dplanet says:

    For a moment I got caught up in the emotion of the human suffering, then my brain kicked in and I found it impossible to ignore the glossy oversimplification and patronising neo-colonialism implicit in the whole thing. Let’s be really caring and send US forces into Africa.. Yay!

    Then I wondered if I was being overly cynical – at least these people are trying to do something, even if they way they are going about it is wrong. Is that worse than doing nothing?

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  9. Sarah Dee says:

    Dplanet… There’s no such thing as thinking too much. :)

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  10. Rol says:

    Aw c’mon now guys, I’m all for a bit of cynicism, and nothing winds me up more than a flaccid facebook campaign for middle-class guilt addicts. It grinds my gears every time some sheltered asshole encourages me to sign an online Avaaz petition (Free Tunisia!) then sends me to their next cause the following month (Free Egypt!) then we get bored with that story so now we must petition Gaddaffi out of office (he shot down a plane and has WMDs! Or, wait…am I confusing my dictators?). After that we’ll save Syria, then we’ll stop off for a Kauai wrap, then we’ll start in on this Kony asshole. Then I’ll check my gmail! A luta continua!

    Qualifying comment: I can’t watch this clip here at work (nor should I really be trawling Mahala, but hey) but I can at least say that:
    i) I always knew where Uganda was (and I could find her neighbours on a map, too);
    ii) I had heard of Kony and the LRA *before* I got the group invite; and
    iii) I’ve always thought that if the international community truly gave a flying fuck about people getting hacked and burned and raped and abducted in faraway jungle republics, then we could lend a helping hand and intervene for less than the cost of Spielberg’s summer blockbuster. But we’re busy, you know, got other stuff on right now….

    Now, it’s frustrating that people oversimplify complex geopolitical conflicts, it’s infuriating that narrow interest groups will always find a way to hijack a cause for their own purposes, and it’s just plain incorrect to make it sound like if Kony were removed then Uganda could pick itself up and its economy will flourish and begin its transformation to a tropical Switzerland. But surely the internet is nothing but a rich source of teen spanking videos if we can’t experiment with and harness our collective power. What if the world could actually be shamed into finally acting on a situation that they’ve observed unravelling for decades? What if several million first-world taxpayers started demanding action from their elected representatives? What if we lived in a world where those with a voice (i.e. any one of us) finally held some sentiments of substance, really had something that they believed needed to be said?

    21st century man is becoming aware that he’s been a bit of an ineffectual, apathetic plonker of late, and is receptive to suggestions as to how he can offset that. “Sure, I’ll sign your petition – I’m like totally against fur-farms/sealclubbing/repression in Syria”. He’ll sign any damned thing you push at him, as long as his signature assures him that justice will prevail and suffering will stop. I believe the public response to this campaign might be naïve and oversimplistic but it demonstrates that people really are capable of giving a shit – there’s so much useful stuff we could get done if we could only find a useful application for that.

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  11. ling-ling says:

    jesus christ guys. this is not a well written article at all and talk about riding on the back of something you dont really support, ha? and fuck you, sharing is caring, i love the internet I love people I believe in the good, not caring at all if it is idealistic and optimistic. Are you and all the ney sayers saying that the organisation did no good in the 10 years, that they have not brought any hope, comfort and lessened the suffering and fear of many children and people. oh fuck I really cant be arsed. meh.

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  12. pathetic says:

    thats it – im unsubscribing from MAHALA – this is pure shite!

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  13. Gaenor says:

    I am very sad when i read the comments above! why should this be turned into such a downer!! my goodness – let us see how we can use the modern forms of media and change what we feel needs to be changed! don’t just flippantly move from one side of the fence to another based on someone’s clever words or interpretation – get behind what you feel strongly about and make a difference!
    When i first saw the Koni video – i wondered how it may make a difference – BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY I HOPED IT WOULD INSPIRE MANY OF THIS GENERATION TO RISE UP AND STAND FOR WHAT IS RIGHT! The first two paragraphs of this report just made me mad! when are the AFRICAN PEOPLE – (black, white, purple etcetc) going to wake up and LET GO so they can fly! If i had the finances i would make a video of how Africa used to be self sufficient in food supply! Zimbabwe was the breadbasket for Africa and yet there are thousands dying of hunger right there!! countries that had an infra-structure to move on and provide and sustain THEIR own people just went to wreak & ruin!! Zimbabwe alone has a core of incredible young people – brilliant – talented – devoted and more than capable – then why are they not rising up and taking their land back! we have hundreds of African students here on the island of Cyprus were we now live,who have been completely hoodwinked into coming here to be educated! they all had those facilities back home at some point in history!! Zimbabwe had one of the best universities in the world – and now these magnificent people go all over the world to be’educated’ costing their families and communities everything to get a piece of paper that is worth nothing!! Are they really trying to escape from their own countries – what a shame!!
    Nothing is ever as it seems – but one thing is for sure – SOMEONE HAS TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND SAY – NO MORE! as they say – we will start with Kony and hopefully we will get to the rest – BUT LET’S AWAKEN THE SLEEPING GIANTS AND SEE CHANGE ACROSS AFRICA!! One more farmer kicked off the land that feed the masses is an indication that everyone is STILL BEING FORCED TO LOOKING INTO THE PAST INSTEAD OF THE FUTURE – THAT IS THE TRAP OF THE DICTATORS- TAKING AWAY HOPE!! There is hope when the masses can believe in each other and that, devastation IS UNACCEPTABLE!! I think this writer may feel like HE could have done more and didn’t – well it is never too late! what i have also learnt over the years (too many wasted!) is that WORDS ARE SO EMPTY!!! they just puff people up – let’s be doers instead of talkers!

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  14. The Seldom Seen Kid says:

    Slacktivism in a nutshell. No context, no staying power and no real impact on anything at the end of the day. Invisible Children gets some more cash to make their emotional pornography movies, well-meaning middle class kids get to feel better about themselves because they bought a wristband or shared a Facebook link, and nothing gets solved because this isn’t the kind of thing that gets solved through “awareness” and Western interventionism.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    @dplanet: exactly my sentiments. critical thinking is vital but the trend of idle cynicism cripples the civil possibilities of our generation. the intro about the interconnectedness and all may be painfully mawkish but it’s actually true.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    #hater

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  17. charlie says:

    Amen

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Could the call for US military intervention into Uganda be linked to something less humane – like the recent discovery of oil?

    http://www.theecologist.org/investigations/energy/1276414/oil_deal_threatens_ugandan_biodiversity.html

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Check out this: http://youtu.be/KLVY5jBnD-E

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  20. Anonymous says:

    After watching the video (admittedly I cried) I wanted to support this Kony 2012, but not financially! I want to get my voice out there not because I’m some idiot who feels guilty. But because I want the world to know that it has nothing to do with countries and everything to do with showing those that are doubtful that if we all stand together we can change the world into a better place!! Governments get away with doing what they want way to easily and yes, perhaps there is an element of US/Oil conspiracy to this whole thing but hey, if it means that this gets Africa standing up and saying ‘ENOUGH of this dictators’ then it is a success!! I see the bigger picture here and I see a world standing up and saying ‘ENOUGH’! Enough with war, enough with genocide and enough with greedy politicians taking everyone for a ride!!

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  21. beherenow says:

    Deeply problematic activism which does not address a lot of the real causes and background to what is essentially a deeply complex conflict.
    BBC has just raised concerns about this too at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17306118
    There is a great book called The Worst Date Ever by Jane Bussman which goes far deeper into this mess. The reality is that several of Konys rebels are in charge of the very same refugee camps – the whole thing is an unholy mess. It is amazing how the west goes to war against supposed WMDs and imagined nuclear weapons (in oil rich countries) yet fails to get involved in any meaningful way in Sudan, against the Janjaweed, or to deal meangingfully with the LRA and other groups involved in serious crimes against humanity.
    While its good to raise the issues around the LRA this movie does it in such a patronising way that it plays into the sterotype of white man good, black man incapable of sorting out diddley squat. But then its all about a yank trying to do the right thing when he actually does not really know any other way…
    Flailing failing slacktivism…

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  22. baby jane says:

    you know, i just dig the peeps on this show critiquing other people’s litry skills and spelling… like if you haven’t got an argument you know….. say the piece is badly written without specifying or use your spellcheck to point out the idiotsyncrazy’s of englishh spelling this person has failed to pick up while concentrating on content… get a life you lil peeps….reed some books on feory and stuff coz the more you know bout langwidge the less you would say 4 fear of embarrassing yoselfs…but there is solushins 2 youze problems …nothing that glyzerine sypository or a speculum won’t take care of…to finally get rid of that lil numba 2 that is makin us so cranky majitas

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  23. Sam says:

    As someone who has covered this story in northern Uganda, I find what you write here completely shallow and misinformed. You should be ashamed for producing such shoddy work. There is nothing simplistic about this campaign. Joseph Kony has been committing atrocities for more than twenty years, and no one has been able to do anything about it. The youngsters who launched the campaign should be applauded, not nitpicked to death by nincompoops such as yourself who know nothing except for what they gleaned from a quick Google search. You wouldn’t write what you wrote here if you I had spoken in person to Kony’s victims like I have.

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  24. Sarah Dee says:

    Sam, it’s not simply about information, its about an overarching ideological problem with the campaign. One can have all the information in the world and still have some pretty awful opinions, leanings, ideas, suggestions etc. Because what matters is what you DO with information and whether you are capable of having your own thoughts? Knowing Kony victims doesn’t make you an expert on postcolonial politics just as knowing children affected by AIDS doesnt make you an immunologist. It’s just disappointing, since I am assuming you are a journalist, that you don’t see that there’s always a whole lot more to every story, even stories about really bad people, and you should always ask questions about who it is that’s giving you information. Nitpicking is what it’s all about.

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  25. theo says:

    To be honest that three million spent was worth it. It could not matter less what you cared because you didn’t do anything… You just like him me and every other sod has no true idea of how it is there and you are just as jaded as he is. Have you ever done anything for anybody else?? Does it really matter if you speak to him like a toddler if he barely has an education? Does it matter, if you haven’t lived in Uganda for years, what your view is? Do you even know what psychological damage is done by the fear of that alone?

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  26. cnut says:

    Lindo sounds like the typical twats that defend the ANC’s every fuck-up!

    What an embarrassment for our race!

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  27. Al Treu says:

    If bandits in South Africa were kidnapping rural children and subjecting them to these kinds of horrors, do you think there would be an outrage here? Do you think we would pressure our government to stop at nothing to capture the perpetrators and to bring them to justice? You bet we would. We’d be pressuring our neighbors and even sending the army after them if they escaped our borders. We would not be assuming that just because they’ve moved on it is no longer our problem and that the threat has subsided.

    So why should the same principles not hold for elsewhere in Africa? The problem here is that we are caught between two indignations: one directed at the criminal elements and the other at white westerners who appear to be telling us what we should be doing. Are we addressing the indignation that is the strongest infringement of human dignity, or that which is the easiest to process and the most convenient to justify in terms of our actions (or lack thereof)?

    Of all the age-old Western criticisms of Africa, perhaps the most malicious and insidious has been the one which posits that human life is cheaper here and more subservient to political expediency. Many of the reactions on this post only serve to uphold that perception.

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  28. Sarah Dee says:

    A Ugandan blogger explains why the Kony video is far too reductionist.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SDyfTnydhMU

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  29. Dplanet says:

    American rapper speaks out against the Kony campaign…

    http://youtu.be/L_TCh1OvFRc

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  30. Anonymous says:

    I shared it… and it’s just one step. I’m not American, I’m African. And yes, it’s a neocolonialist video. And yes, it’s patronising to Jacob and parallels him to a toddler/five year old. But a huge issue in American youth and society seems to be an inability to empathise with non-Americans, to truly see African children as “real” children and to distance themselves from “outsiders”. I think the documentary maker may have been trying to make himself famous, but he is also trying to bring global attention to some really terrible situations that occur outside the glorious US – to make youth think about more than Rihanna’s latest scandal or their own petty problems. Problematic? Probably. Idealistic? Undoubtedly. But also something positive rather than negative, and small steps CAN change outcomes. Real evil only occurs when good men do nothing.

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  31. Worst Article says:

    Wanker.

    In my eyes and many others I feel that the person who wrote this article Is in fact a criminal accomplice AND A COMPLETE ASSHOLE.

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  32. Anonymous says:

    Great article and an informative read. Thank you.

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