Kony 2012: A Triumph? A Fraudulent Misrepresentation of the Facts? A Platform for Self-Promotion? An Attempt to Do Good? Or Something in Between?
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve retweeted a good number of negative responses to the mini-film Kony 2012, a short that has gone viral this week. Yes, I’ve recently embraced the world of Twitter (@KirstenFisher). I want to clarify that my retweeting these negative articles is not due to any personal discord with the idea of someone trying to bring attention to the misery of others, no matter how self-promoting the approach or how constricted the message. This attention is a worthwhile endeavour and to this end this short video has been quite effective. It is not that I am particularly upset with filmmakers piggybacking on this misery to further their own ambitions. (And such an interconnection between attempts to do good and benefit to oneself is, of course, not limited to filmmakers.) Sadly, this is the way of our world. The creator of Kony 2012, however, has perhaps gone miles too far with his self-aggrandizing work. But, this is for his audience to decide.
In fact, others have done much in the past day to criticize his self-promotion (March 7, 2012 post).
Others have also pointed to the flaws in the film’s logic and solutions (Example 1 and Example 2). The film suggests that the world should support the Ugandan government in its attempt to ‘stop’ the Lord’s Resistance Army, despite Human Rights Watch’s reports of atrocities committed by the army against the civilian population of northern Uganda and despite arguments that the continuation of the ‘problem’ in northern Uganda was politically good for long-standing President Museveni who, therefore, had no real desire to ‘stop’ Kony.
Others have brought to light the lack of African voice in the film.
What is missing is the recognition of the changed situation in northern Uganda, a drastic change from what it was 5 years ago. The difference between the northern Uganda I saw in 2007 and that of 2011 is quite extreme. Northern Uganda has enjoyed peace. The LRA, although there remains the indistinct fear that they may return, are reportedly much diminished in numbers and are in the DRC. The people of northern Uganda have moved from the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps to which they were herded ‘for their protection’ by the Ugandan army. They are trying to rebuild their lives and their communities and are trying to play catch-up and bring prosperity to their region.
While it is, of course, imperative that Joseph Kony and the other 3 indicted top LRA leaders are brought to justice (before the International Criminal Court or a Ugandan national instrument under the complementarity principle of the ICC), it is not clear that this is the approach advocated by the makers of the mini-movie.
In fact, I would argue that a more essential campaign might ask its followers to put pressure on the US government to join and fully support the ICC and help strengthen its capacity to capture those it indicts.
The people of Uganda could use external help in their rebuilding process. They could benefit from the rest of the world taking seriously their concerns and their educated and informed ideas regarding solutions to to their problems. And, the ICC could use the help of ordinary American citizens who want to support a cause that promotes respect for human rights globally and aims to curtail abuses, violence and human-inflicted suffering.
Invisible Children, the group that created the mini-movie, has responded to its critics. And, while the criticisms of the film and the group and the solutions it advocates are sound, the group is right that focus should not be on squabbling but on what matters most.
The point is that bringing attention to conflicts and atrocity that affect the lives of distant people is a laudable goal. Any new efforts aimed at bringing Kony to justice should be commended. Any efforts aimed to stop the harm that the LRA inflicts on young people in Uganda, the DRC or Sudan should be considered. And campaigns such as Kony 2012 should be heralded as a bold plan to bring to the attention of Western youth the plight of distant misery that is so often ignored or unseen. The provocative use of the media, such as Kony 2012, should be viewed as an introduction to a complex topic that should invite its audience to further personal examination and consideration.