Amid the criticisms of the YouTube video Kony 2012, people have argued that awareness of Joseph Kony and his crimes is good – fundamentally good. The goodness of this awareness overshadows any flaws in the video as its portrayal of the situation in northern Uganda is 5 years out of date and the solutions it advocates are problematic.
There is, however, a significant distinction between awareness that introduces a new audience to an issue and awareness that prompts crazed collective action without individual consideration and reflection.
In my previous response to the short film, I wrote that bringing attention to conflicts and atrocities that affect the lives of distant people is a laudable goal. I said that any new efforts aimed at bringing Kony to justice should be commended. And, I claimed that efforts to stop the harm that the LRA still inflicts, although the group’s numbers and the damage it exacts are greatly diminished, should be considered. Finally, I said that 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.
Awareness for Awareness’ Sake can be Beneficial . . .
It can be Disadvantageous . . .
And it can be Both.
It depends on the effects of the awareness. If awareness of the issue-brought-to-light is one that inspires research, thought and deliberation, then awareness is a great thing. No human can be alert to all the issues that could benefit from collective responsiveness.
If awareness prompts citizens to call on their elected officials to pursue well-researched and informed policy to aid the distant distressed, then this is good – no matter how misinformed the citizenry.
But, there are also problems.
If Awareness is mostly Blind, the possible Disadvantages Are Great:
1) DIVERSION OF RESOURCES — Awareness of an issue produced by one source of news can be problematic in a number of ways. News, especially if it is to be catchy, must be simplistic and usually one-sided. Solutions promoted by such sources are usually also simplistic and one-sided. Besides not getting the full story, those who acquire awareness but don’t follow it up with perspective, can go on to promote problematic solutions or divert attention and money from organizations that are more nuanced in their approach. These organizations may have no quick fixes, but it’s likely the case that there aren’t any.
Is Kony 2012 bringing needed awareness to the plight of northern Ugandans or is it diverting resources that could be directed at rebuilding the communities and rehabilitating its civilians, including former child soldiers and those brutalized by Kony and the LRA?
Examples of other organizations:
2) INFANTILIZATION OF AFRICANS – Awareness of the suffering of others is often accompanied by the characterization of those in distress as victims needing to be saved.
Despite the fact that there are many intelligent, highly educated, motivated and informed Ugandans working on the issues that face northern Uganda, there is a lack of African voice in Kony 2012.
It has been argued that “the much-circulated campaign subtly reinforces an idea that has been one of Africa’s biggest disasters: that well-meaning Westerners need to come in and fix it. Africans, in this telling, are helpless victims, and Westerners are the heroes.” Max Fisher (No relation)
Will the result of Kony 2012 be a fortification of this message that is damaging and has lasting effects?
3) WEAKENING INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL LAW – ICL is still in its infancy. There are, realistically, growing pains that must be expected of a new system of law. This system can be strengthened or weakened by each new response to those suspected of committing international crimes.
If the Kony 2012 motto “Stop Kony” is interpreted as meaning that he must be arrested and brought to justice – whether it be prosecution before the International Criminal Court or a national court, or another form of justice that satisfies the complementarity principle of the ICC – then international criminal law wins. If the result of this campaign is that American youth impel the US government to join and fully support the ICC and help strengthen its capacity to capture those it indicts, then international criminal law wins. A military response that sees Kony dead, on the other hand, would do nothing to strengthen international criminal law. And, since the war that Kony waged is virtually dead, now is the time to find him and bring him to justice, not hunt him down and kill him out of vengeance.
Does Kony 2012 inspire American youth to support and promote the rule of law as a response to the commission of atrocity or does it inspire blood and vengeance?
4) DIVERSION OF ATTENTION – Flashy campaigns that absorb the world’s attention are great when they direct focus (to become informed and engaged) to urgent crises.
Sadly, ours is a world in which there are many crises that demand attention. Kony 2012 is years too late to save the children who were abducted and the civilians who were mutilated in northern Uganda from these injuries. The aftermath of the atrocity needs to be addressed, but there are more pressing concerns to the people of northern Uganda than ‘stopping Kony’. And, there are also urgent crises worldwide that demand attention.
For example, massacres of civilians in Syria continue.
Is the attention that Kony 2012 has received diverted from other urgent crises or does it arouse in youth who would otherwise not be bothered with distant misery to open their eyes a bit wider, examine the world in which they live and inform themselves about the lives and distressful situations of others?
These are only some of the questions that reflective evaluation of the Kony 2012 campaign should attempt to answer.