The problem with Kony 2012
Invisible Children’s latest video, Kony 2012, has gone viral today. As of this writing, the video has garnered 9 million views on Vimeo and almost 10 million views on youtube. The interweb is buzzing with talk of the video and everyone and their mom is posting the link to it. My twitter feed has been inundated with tweets about it, however, almost all of those tweets were in opposition to the video. Why? Because most of the people I follow on twitter are Aid and Development professionals and they, along with many other people, including many Africans, see a problem with a bunch of white kids creating videos talking about how Africa needs their help to fix its problems.
I have written in the past about the dangers of stories and simple narratives (here, here, and here). This is no different. The problem with their advocacy is that it is too simplistic and focused more on them than on the Africans they say they are trying to help. It is easy to get caught up in the emotions and horrors that the video discusses, but you cannot just leave it at that. We must educate ourselves to know the fuller story and the complexities of the situation and not naively believe that passing a video around is going to fix the problems in another country. More to the point, we should not believe that they need us to come and fix their problems for them. Also, while I am ranting, no reputable organization would film traumatized, vulnerable children and broadcast it for all the world to see. I’m sorry, but there is something terribly wrong with that.
I would write a lot more on this, but as you will see, plenty of others have already done that.
Below are a list of articles dealing with this issue. Please take the time to read the full articles (and follow the link at the bottom to see many more) in order to fully understand the situation and problems with how Invisible Children is presenting this issue.
Visible Children via Chris Blattman “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”
Worst Idea Ever via Wronging Rights – “First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used todevelop more intelligent advocacy. And yeah, this may seem like an absurdly academic point to raise when talking about a problem that is clearly crying out for pragmatic solutions, but, uh, the way we define problems is important. Really, really important. Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn’t help anyone.”
We Got Trouble via Visible Children – “Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow.”
Bad guys, good guys, and the people in between via How Matters – “Watching the video really brought home this article recommended by @mindfulaidwork today, ‘The Importance of Sadness.’ It may help explain why Invisible Children remains so popular among the public. They conjure up a horrible situation, only to let us distance ourselves from the difficult emotions it inevitably brings forth by creating a shallow sense of empowerment, that is, enabling us to believe that we can change the course of another country’s history. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster, the ultimate gaming experience, and we’re the heroes.”
Let’s Talk About Kony via Securing Rights – “Colonialism’s historical baggage matters, and the competition for voice-representation is, for all intents and purposes, a zero-sum game. Ugandan civil society participants, particularly the ones engaged in the non-Invisible Children-affiliated reconstruction, reconciliation, and post-conflict development work, are noticeably absent from Jason Russell’s narrative.”
Kony 2012: The Invisible Children Advocacy Campaign to Catch Kony via Justice in Conflict – “The advocacy campaign to stop Kony is a step in the right direction, but it does not address the real problems on the ground and it does not offer the right solutions.”
The Problem With Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” via Michael Deibert – “By blindly supporting Uganda’s current government and its military adventures beyond its borders, as Invisible Children suggests that people do, Invisible Children is in fact guaranteeing that there will be more violence, not less, in Central Africa. I have seen the well-meaning foreigners do plenty of damage before, so that is why people understanding the context and the history of the region is important before they blunder blindly forward to “help” a people they don’t understand.”
For a much longer list of articles, compiled by WhyDev, click here
UPDATE (3/8/2012): I’ve heard from a number of people who have read this post and others and who really want to understand the problems, that the following post is the one that best articulates the issues:
Kony 2012: history, nuance, and advocacy’s Golden Rule by @dalgoso – “Whipping the American public into believing that we’re morally right to intervene militarily is always fraught with danger. Stripping away the nuance and complexity of the issue makes it worse. And make no mistake: while Kony is undoubtedly an evil man who should be stopped, the history of the LRA and the governance/military situation in the region make this whole thing more complicated than it seems.”
I also wanted to highlight a few other posts which I think add more to the debate:
On Complexity, Awareness, and Social Action via James McCarty – “It is one thing to ‘just do something’ when the issue is cleaning up the park down the street. It’s another thing when it involves a global effort to to spend millions, if not billions, of dollars to hunt down a single person, especially when its likely that effort will harm many other persons. On that level telling people to ‘do good and shut up’ is morally irresponsible.”
A Peace of my mind: Respect my agency 2012! via TMS Ruge – “Let me be honest. Africa is not short of problems, epidemics and atrocities. But it is also true that it is not short of miracles, ingenuity, and a proclivity to surprise. We as Africans, especially the Diaspora, are waking to the idea that our agency has been hijacked for far too long by well-meaning Western do-gooders with a guilty conscious, sold on the idea that Africa’s ills are their responsibility.”
Unpacking Kony 2012 via Ethan Zuckerman – “I’m starting to wonder if this is a fundamental limit to attention-based advocacy. If we need simple narratives so people can amplify and spread them, are we forced to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions?”