KONY 2012 (But Not Really)

No, I’m not linking you to the video. I’m asking you to look beyond the hype. No, it’s not about the finances. This is an issue of principle.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, here’s a brief summary: in the early 2000s, a few filmmakers made a documentary about the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel militia that operated in Uganda between 1987 and 2006 (and is currently active in other parts of Central Africa), focusing on the children that the LRA (led by one Joseph Kony) abduct and turn into child soldiers. The creators then founded a non-profit organization called Invisible Children to aid these children, and they focus a lot on advocacy through their videos and merchandise (this advocacy, directed heavily at youth, defines “taking action” as raising funds and awareness for them). They’ve recently gone viral with a half-hour long video called KONY 2012, which aims to mobilize people to, again, raise awareness of Kony’s war crimes with the ultimate goal of his arrest.

So I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder with these people (and others involved with related causes). I heard about them in my geography (map coloring) class a few years ago, and I tried, in vain, for quite some time to “get involved” in a way that would produce real results. Unfortunately, the only solutions most of these organizations have to offer (especially to young people, who I would argue are potentially one of their most powerful resources) involve buying bracelets and having benefit concerts. Nowhere near good enough. And now with all of the attention and social media wildfires that KONY 2012 is garnering, I’m risking social crucifixion by calling these organizations–and the people who support them–on their misguided good intentions.

If solving things like genocide and mass atrocities was as easy as buying a T-shirt and posting a link, there’d be no more genocide to end. The thing that really saddens me is that clearly our youth (our everybody else, too, but the youth are the most vocal) are an abundant resource for bringing about social justice, but all of this energy is going to waste because they think they can do it with advocacy alone. Advocacy does very little in the scheme of things. And sure, it feels good to buy yourself some karma, but if you look at the causes you’re supporting, rarely does “getting involved” actually result in any tangible progress. For instance, this whole KONY 2012 (and IC in general) thing is so focused on bringing one man to justice that it’s taking attention from the people who actually need help—the LRA’s victims. Capturing Joseph Kony isn’t going to magically fix everything for those displaced or abducted by the LRA. Yep, it’d be a grand gesture, but I really don’t think it’s the solution people need; the problem and its history are too complex for that. If people were to understand exactly what is happening in Africa and pour their resources into actively aiding these victims, it would be infinitely more effective than this whole rubber bracelet campaign (which, call me a cynic, but I’m betting will be forgotten by the time summer rolls around). The problem we’re stuck with, then, is that we don’t know how to do this (after all, it might involve getting off Facebook).

I really am sorry that I don’t have those answers. I do have, for now, some light reading:

“This is important because when people start buying shirts and putting up posters and stuff, they will have ‘done their part’ and will no longer feel the need to do anything about the issue. AND through social pressure will be pushing others to do the same. So at the end of the day, we have a ton of people who have given money to a charity that probably isn’t attacking a problem very effectively, gotten merch so we can feel morally superior, and fulfilled our need to ‘do something’ about the issue.” (from a commentary my brother wrote on the video)

And these very enlightening links:

http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-deibert/joseph-kony-2012-children_b_1327417.html

http://nextgenjournal.com/2012/03/lets-talk-about-joseph-kony/

http://www.stand-news.co.uk/kony-2012-the-worst-campaign/

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3 thoughts on “KONY 2012 (But Not Really)

  1. I completely agree with you. This was the same problem I encountered when working with STAND. Our efforts were going into advocacy and lobbying towards a people and government who feel it is not in their best interests to intervene (and in some cases with good cause). Diplomacy and international relations is a tight rope walk. T-shirts and viral videos aren’t going to help us make it across. Bringing justice to one man is not going to solve the problem. Look at the Arab Spring. Yes, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi were ousted from their positions, but a whole slew of other issues and concerns have arisen. Not much tangible prgress has been made in either Egypt or Libya. Joseph Kony is currently in hiding and is no longer recruiting members to the LRA. I don’t think he should be our main focus in solving this issue.

    • Yeah, this is why I gave up on STAND, essentially. I think it’s great that people have the desire to be in on the tightrope-walking process, but I’m lost as to where their efforts would be best used.

  2. Pingback: Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 9 « Plan B

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