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Kony 2012

A picture of the people behind Invisible Children. In their response, they noted that this picture was a bad idea and that he [Jason Russell] doesn’t like guns.

After seeing millions of retweets and shares and references to Uganda, I finally decided to take the time to watch the Kony 2012 video and read some related articles in able to form an educated opinion. Several people have asked me my thoughts, being that I am Ugandan-American and studied development, but I often hesitate to give my thoughts on something when I do not have the full picture, but here it goes. Before I start, I just want to point out that I haven’t done much with regard to conflict studies, so I do not profess to be some sort of expert on the matter.

I only watched the 30 minute video today in order to write this blog post though I have read several articles throughout the week and shared the most critical ones with my social network. My initial reaction lacked emotion. This video did not move me to tears, nor fire me up to get out and fight for a cause which has been convoluted and over simplified by the producers of this viral video. I find the video to be a bit misleading, largely because I know a bit about the LRA and the fact that they largely left Northern Uganda years ago. This video would lead viewers to believe that there is ongoing violence in Northern Uganda caused by the LRA and that it continues to be a substantial threat to the local population. In the movie, they constantly use the present tense “abducts” which is very very misleading. Further, I am against unsubstantiated claims in a video this viral, such as “99% of the planet doesn’t know who he is, if they knew Kony would’ve been stopped long ago.” I would like to know when he did his research and how he substantiates this claim. One of the best quotes was, “If my son were kidnapped and forced to kill it would be all over the news”, though I won’t use this post to delve into the delusions of American white privilege.

Besides the misleading information, I am not particularly against the idea of social movements and using viral advocacy to increase awareness, but given the short attention span of our generation, my fear is that this awareness raising is merely superficial. So feel free to share the video though I would urge you to do further research and urge you NOT to donate to their organization. I am not clear exactly how they aim to achieve what it is they are trying to achieve. The US now has troops on the ground, have they mentioned that they will be withdrawing them? The answer to that I do not know. But I feel that this sort of large-scale campaign should indicate the answer to that question. Because if the US has not signaled that it will withdraw support I am wondering why we are all prepared to go out in the middle of the night and plaster posters all over the world. Besides giving the producers, notoriety what will it accomplish?

The world needs idealists. And this is what Jason Russell is and the idea that he is trying to sell. The problem for me is merely the over simplification of a complicated problem. The lack of academic experts in the video or even quoted is slightly disturbing. I have heard reactions from friends who have never paid attention to foreign affairs, which is better than them talking about Waka Flaka Flame, but the problem is that now you have a large group of people sharing this information and likely not doing further research; thus the masses still remain largely ignorant to the truth of what is actually going on. The video should have encouraged people to do further research, not merely to stop at their website, buy their Kony kit and promote their message.

I think one of the more subtle issues is the constant display of the white man as the savior. This is an image rampant in development and one that is likely to never go away, but video and campaigns like this highlight this notion. In one of my favorite critiques, Michael Wilkerson writing in the Guardian points out, “But since Invisible Children as an organisation began with a few North Americans stumbling into a conflict they didn’t know existed and then resolving to help the child victims by making a movie, the base level of great white saviourdom is already high. Implying that finally now, by getting the word out about Kony via celebrities, bracelets and social media, can the LRA be ended plays into this narrative of white rescuers coming to help poor Africans and totally ignores the efforts, good and bad, by Ugandans to fight the LRA for 25 years.”

All in all I look forward to having discussions about this with my development circle and those that are more informed though I also find value in having conversations about the topic with those who finally (maybe) know where my ancestral home is on a map.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also link out to an article by a fellow Ugandan-American, Patrick Kigongo which prompted me to also write a post. His article was retweeted by a classmate from LSE. Though I don’t agree with everything that he said, he makes some great points.

More Articles (Honestly I wish I had more time/cared enough to read all of the articles and comment sections and respond):

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