I’ve been struggling to know whether/how to respond to this on my blog. For starters, so many others have done so more eloquently here, here and here. I want to just outline my own personal disagreements though with the campaign (many of which have been identified by others, written about elsewhere etc) but for the sake of clarity, here are the reasons I will not support the Kony2012 campaign by invisible children:
1. It is a branded campaign by an organisation. Invisible Children is making their brand known and shifting the focus AWAY from the real issues it is trying to ‘represent’. That, in my book, is deeply unethical.
2. Invisible children are directly profiteering from said branded campaign, again deeply unethical in encouraging people to think that they can save a piece of Uganda by purchasing a $30 ‘action kit’ . So clearly, making money is a goal of Invisible children, not in a way to sustain valid advocacy work of theirs but to sustain their funding of Ugandan military and future movies in high definition….
3. Invisible Children themselves (as discussed in the many different posts posted online, some of which I have linked here) are up there with some of the most awful charities in existence… to me, the best way this is summed up is by the photograph taken by Glenna Gorden of the three founders of Invisible Children posing holding weapons with the SPLA. The founders responded to this saying they were making a joke because they were so obviously ‘anti weapons’ (and don’t forget, they spend much of their time proclaiming the rights of child soldiers)…. go figure. Ahh I feel so sick just looking at the picture again!!
The next two points to me, are the biggest problems with this campaign:
4. BAD ADVOCACY is worse than NO advocacy (I believe Alanna Shaikh said this first correct me if i’m wrong?) And in this case, there are lots of supporters of the campaign getting in touch with me saying ‘yeh but look, people know about Kony today that had never heard of him before’ Unfortunately though, the issues presented in the film are NOT accurate, and as many people have more eloquently written than I, the war in northern Uganda and Congo is/was so much more complex and cannot be boiled down to a ‘stop Kony’ soundbite. He is but just one man…and though it might seem to be a good place to start, one could argue that efforts would be so much better spent investing in helping people who have suffered from the war rather than trying to vindictively persecute and ultimately kill one man.
5. Ugandan solutions to Ugandan problems (to coin a phrase). Look, it just astounds me that it is still OK to think that we have any right to decide the fate of foreign nations. The ‘white mans burden’ syndrome is almost certainly at play here and unfortunately, it is out-dated and not okay. Watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLVY5jBnD-E&feature=share check out this piece in the independent and read Teddy Ruge’s blog response – both very moving, and eloquently put responses.
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What can we take away from all this? Well, obviously, we should recognise the power of social media (for it can be as good as it can be bad) and advocacy is an incredible tool.. I worked for a human trafficking campaign that, along with other organisations, pressured the big chocolate companies in the UK to go fairtrade and eliminate child trafficking in its supply chain… this was consumer power and this was GREAT advocacy… it is an incredible tool and absolutely, people should give a damn and be active in social justice issues. I.e. people shouldn’t react to this and be like ‘oh well i’m going to slit my wrists now, the world is crap’ (I am quoting a colleague here…) Most of us (with the exception of this man) are rational and intelligent human beings, so use that and research your issues! In 30 minutes online research (the time it takes to watch the Kony2012 video) we can learn substantively MORE about the situation and history of conflict in northern Uganda…. What has surprised me most about this campaign is the number of people who have blindly endorsed the campaign (sometimes without even watching the film…) and not really looked into the issue anymore. That is dead advocacy, it is pointless and it achieves nothing. Liking something on facebook is not a way of bringing about sustained positive change in a complex political situation in northern Uganda (or anywhere in the world).
We should care, and we should feel passionate about the injustices that have taken place (throughout the world… throughout history) but we mustn’t be so blinded by such an emotive diatribe and let our judgment be clouded. Our heart strings are tugged and rightly so, but our heads should be reminding us to read more widely and respect the wisdom/knowledge of people with actual expertise and experience in this area. Many of the people (myself included) who have been criticising the campaign, have been labelled as Kony supporters and pro-LRA… The reason we question this campaign is not because we seek to defend the actions of some particularly evil individuals but because we want to hold to account the actions of some slightly dodgy characters, who seek to manipulate the good intentions of many.
It is much simpler to sit back and argue that advocacy is better than no advocacy, that even if its done in the wrong way it is still good to get people to listen. It is much harder to actually examine these sorts of campaigns on a deeper level and start to ask more philosophical questions like : why does it matter? why do people think it’s important? is advocacy useful? how does this campaign impact the people it is talking about/claiming to work with? so before you comment defending the Kony2012 brand, have a think: am I really criticising the fact that people are learning about an issue they didn’t know about before? No. Am I critical of the actions of a particular NGO and the way they have manipulated and branded a campaign on the back of making more ‘victims’ of Africa? Absolutely.
There are positive stories, there is SO MUCH AWESOMENESS coming out of the beautiful and diverse continent of Africa and yes terrible things happen, just like they happen the world over, but all this campaign is doing is confirming people’s attitudes that Africa continues to be a dark continent full of poor helpless victims and evil injustices. To those people working hard to dispel these images and shine a light on everything good and positive, this campaign is like taking 10 steps backwards.
So no, I will not support the campaign.