Friday, January 25, 2013

Addressing Kony 2012 and Invisible Children’s problematic mobilization tactics

KONY 2012...

The phrase that rang out for around a month last year, inspiring and uniting mostly young people to bring down Joseph Kony. He allegedly ran an insurgency in Africa that went on killing sprees, which governments were failing to stop.

The anti-Kony movement entered the mainstream, on March 5, 2012 when the organization, Invisible Children, uploaded a documentary to the web. Originally, Invisible Children used it as an experiment—to see if it was possible to make a war criminal, someone few people knew about, famous. The video soon garnered over 3 million views, and continued to grow. Today the video has climbed to over 96 million views on YouTube.

The 29-minute video covered the trials and tribulations of the central African nations Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Invisible Children stated the urgency of arresting Kony, asked for donations and sold merchandise for fundraising. However, the brief film failed to mention that only 30 percent of the funds it received actually went to help with the recovery in Africa. The rest went primarily to administrative costs and raising awareness.

One of the most blindingly obvious problems is that Invisible Children called to have the Ugandan government try to stop Kony who led the Lord Resistance’s Army (LRA). Sounds like a good cause, right? The problem is that Kony and his army were no longer is Uganda when the video appeared. In fact, the LRA hasn’t carried out an attack in Uganda since 2006. Kony and the LRA are now believed to be elsewhere in Central Africa. Invisible Children responded to these criticisms, stating that the Ugandan administration is much better organized and easier to work with than other affected governments.

Another issue is the oversimplification of the problem that Kony brought to Africa. The filmmakers made it sound as if taking down Kony would eliminate the violence in the region. Obviously, it isn’t this simple. It would be like saying that taking down Osama bin Laden automatically means the destruction of Al Qaeda. Invisible Children countered these allegations by explaining that it needed to simplify the video for a mass audience to easily understand. While it was important to make the video as simple as possible, to leave out important details was both irresponsible and inexcusable.

I will address some details that Invisible Children (as well as many other organizations and people in general) tend to overlook when it comes to the violence in Africa.

The Ugandan dictatorship was terrorizing its citizens and a rebel group installed a new regime, which eventually began harassing Ugandans just like the government it replaced. Kony, a Catholic preacher and teacher, proclaimed himself a spiritual messenger and founded the LRA in 1988 to take down the new abusive government.

“Since its founding in 1988, the LRA has combined an apocalyptic spiritualism with opportunistic politics and warlordism,” said Resolve, an American advocacy group for peace in Africa. “Receiving little support from the war-weary northern population, Kony’s group began attacking local civilians, in direct conflict with his call to address the grievances and marginalization of the Acholi people [ethnic group in northern Uganda and South Sudan].”

Because of the lack of local enthusiasm, Kony and his followers began kidnapping children to become soldiers in his army. The LRA would sometimes kill parents and siblings in front of abducted children to show what would happen if they did not cooperate. This is one of the aspects the Kony video reported on, and when people in the West heard of the atrocities in Africa, they were outraged.

Members of Congress received emails, phone calls and the like, urging them to take action. Most congressmen and senators were thrilled with the response, and alerted the public that they had already passed a bill addressing the issue in 2010. The New York Daily News quoted U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney saying, “[It’s] consistent with the bipartisan legislation passed by our congress in 2010 the United States continues to pursue a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy to help the governments and people of Central Africa in their efforts to end the threat posed by the LRA and reduce the human consequences of the LRA's atrocities.” Most Americans did not seem to understand this has been an ongoing issue for nearly 40 years, not something that happened overnight, as the video implied.

To further address the issue, the most important thing can be one of the simplest: stay informed. Keep up to date with events, not just because it may be trendy. Pay attention to the news when Congress next addresses this issue, write your representatives and encourage them to act.

Although countless horrific, seemingly insurmountable atrocities are occurring throughout the world, they can be solved. If people decide to stay informed, and stay active in advocating for what they believe is right and just, then this hideous violence in central Africa can become one step closer to being resolved.

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