Kony 2012? Critics Alarmed by Aid Group's Call for Foreign Intervention

Slick viral documentary calls for US forces in Uganda

Aid group Invisible Children released a slick and emotive campaign video last week titled Kony 2012. The video went viral in a short amount of time reaching 70m hits in one week helping the organization to raise $5m within 48 hours.

The video profiles Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, as the world's number one warlord, requesting global action to 'stop Kony' at any cost -- primarily by way of US military intervention.

The massive campaign includes celebrity endorsers such as George Clooney and P.Diddy and a wide array of campaign products including 'stop Kony' iPad covers, bracelettes, and posters; however, as the global hysteria against Kony has grown louder, many have begun to criticize Invisible Children's intentions and approach, citing its efficient yet inaccurate campaign as deceitful at worst and 'white-savior-industrial-complex' propaganda at best.

CTV news reports:

The video says it "aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice."

But the campaign has also spurred a debate about whether Invisible Children is dangerously oversimplifying the situation in Uganda, using outdated information, and possibly worsening the conflict.

Human Rights Watch was just one of many groups with experience in Uganda that came out this week to note that Kony hasn't been operating in Uganda for years and that his army has withered to just several hundred members. These are two key points that the documentary left out, they say.

Many have highlighted the poor timing of the campaign; northern Uganda has seen relative peace for six years, as Kony does not operate there anymore, and the LRA have not attacked since:

Ugandan writer Angelo Izama wrote on his blog: "To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement."

He said while it draws attention to the fact that Kony is still on the loose, "its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era."

Ugandans are now more focused on rebuilding their country. Inciting more conflict in the area will only set back the efforts of Ugandans who just want to return to normal life

Many, like Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, point out that since Kony and the LRA was pushed out of Uganda six years ago, life there has been stabilizing.

"This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It's highly irresponsible," Kagumire said this week.

She says Ugandans are now more focused on rebuilding their country. Inciting more conflict in the area will only set back the efforts of Ugandans who just want to return to normal life, she suggested. [...]

"Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong," Javie Ssozi, an influential Ugandan blogger, said this week on his blog.

"Have they thought of the consequences? Making Kony 'famous' could make him stronger. Arguing for more U.S. troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive."

The campaign calls for increased US presence in the region, including Ugandan military training and advice; however, many have been quick to point out that the Ugandan government and its military have committed the vary same war-crimes as Kony. CTV adds:

"When you go to northern Uganda and speak to people, they will be clear that atrocities have been committed by the government of Uganda as well," [Mark] Kersten said.


In intensified blowback to the video this week, many Ugandan bloggers and online activists have expressed concern that Invisible Children reinforces notions of the 'White Man's Burden': that the campaign reinforces "the old idea, once used to justify colonial exploitation, that Africans are helpless and need to be saved by Westerners," writes Robert Mackey at the New York Times:

In a critique of the campaign posted on YouTube, Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger, observed that the filmmaker behind the Kony 2012 viral video calling for action "plays so much on the idea that this war has been going on because millions of Americans" and other Westerners, "have been ignorant about it.' [...]

Kagumire continues:

I think it's all about trying to make a difference, but how do you tell the story of Africans? It's much more important what the story is, actually, because if you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless... you shouldn't be telling my story if you don't believe that I also have the power to change what is going on. And this video seems to say that the power lies in America, and it does not lie with my government, it does not lie with local initiatives on the ground, that aspect is lacking. And this is the problem, it is furthering that narrative about Africans: totally unable to help themselves and needing outside help all the time.

Watch her video here:


Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama writes:

To call the campaign a misrepresentation is something of 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, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era.

At the height of the war - especially between 1999 and 2004 - hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today, most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets with a very different problem to deal with - unemployment. [...]

Many African critics are unsurprisingly crying 'neo-colonialism!' This is because these campaigns are disempowering of their own voices. After all, the conflict and suffering affects them directly regardless of whether or not if they hit the re-tweet button. The Kony2012 campaign will primarily succeed in making Invisible Children, not Joseph Kony, more famous. It will also make many, including P.Diddy, feel like they have contributed some good to his capture. For many in the conflict prevention community, including those who worry about the further militarization of Central Africa, this campaign is just another bad solution to a more difficult problem.

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