Column – Kony 2012

Posted on March 8, 2012

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As soon as I realised how viral the Kony 2012 film has become, I was utterly amazed by the amounts of support the Invisible Children campaign is managing to gather in such a short amount of time. We are talking about just under 40 million views in 3 days, since the film was uploaded on YouTube: a propaganda masterstroke.

Invisible Children is a non-profit organization whose main aim is to put an end to the conflict that has raged in northern Uganda during the last two decades. According to their website, their revenue for 2011 amounted to about 13 million dollars, with an expenditure of about 8.

The film is presented by Jason Russell, one of the founders of the Invisible Children organization, and it introduces a campaign calling for the arrest of Ugandan rebel warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The man was indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court for war crimes ranging from sexual slavery, murder and – focal point of the video, the abduction of tens of thousands of children to then turn them into soldiers.

What, if anything, is so special about this film? Why did it push so many people to share it on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? How did it provoke so much amateur social network activism? There is a myriad of videos portraying violence in Africa available on YouTube, yet none has ever reached such popularity. Kony 2012 turned Invisible Children’s campaign into the most fashionable activist campaign on the internet to date. It starts by showing Russell’s own child being exploited to the ends of his father’s campaign, questioned about things which he is too young to possibly understand. After that, a segment showing some relatively ordinary East African violence from the perspective of a Ugandan child, Jacob, which has lived Kony’s ruthless tactics first hand. After that, it portrays packs of youngsters like heroic subversive revolutionaries all around America, while they stylish posters and stickers of Kony’s face wherever they can to raise awareness of their movement. The most controversial part though is also the most subtle: “In order to find [Kony], the Ugandan military need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle”. In other words, the campaign aims at raising enough support so that the American government are put in a position where they can’t ignore Kony’s crimes anymore and will have to carry on, as they have done since 2010, providing their Ugandan colleagues with modern equipment and training to fight him effectively.

What is striking is that, although introducing admirable education programs and supporting the communities affected by the conflict on Ugandan soil, one of Invisible Children’s aims is precisely to arm the security forces of Uganda, the Uganda People’s Defence Force, in order to face Kony’s rebel forces. But the situation on the ground is possibly not as simple as Kony 2012 would have us believe. The Ugandan security forces have themselves been reported to commit torture, rape and theft against civilians accused or assumed to cooperate with Kony. Indeed, following the success of the film, Amnesty International have stressed that the arrest of Joseph Kony “must be carried out in accordance with human rights standards” , in light of the crimes committed by Ugandan security forces. Can we then say that Invisible Children have tricked the internet’s global community? Probably not. It is difficult to believe that fighting and arresting Kony would not be worth-while. It is fair to say, however, that the nature of their campaign does not seem to be so pure after all, once thought is given to the way they plan to arrest Joseph Kony.

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Posted in: Africa, America, Opinion