Reactions to Kony 2012
Thanks to those rebel souls and dream evangelists over at Invisible Children Inc and their 30-minute film, which has received more than 73 million views on YouTube alone since last Wednesday, everyone now knows who Joseph Kony is. As Xeni Jardin notes, the project has many critics, epic pictorials, and even a drinking game. There are also indications that the project is actually about stealth-evangelising Christianity and, like much of history for the past 300 years, the white man’s burden.
Much has been written about #StopKony this past week, but lost among these voices are the ones that really matter – Africans themselves – the very people who are actively engaged with life on the continent. In this post, we’ll round up some of their replies to this viral campaign.
In her video, Rosebell Kagumire – a Ugandan multimedia journalist who works on media, women, peace and conflict issues – writes: “This is me talking about the danger of portraying people with one single story and using old footage to cause hysteria when it could have been possible to get to DRC and other affected countries, get a fresh perspective and also include other actors.”
Solome Lemma – the Ethiopian writer and activist – points to the “dis-empowering and reductive narrative” at the heart of the campaign: “Invisible Children narrative on Uganda is one that paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of child and youth advocates who have been fighting to address the very issues at the heart of IC’s work. Want evidence? In addition to [the Concerned Parents Association and the Concerned Children and Youth Association], also look at Art for Children, Friends of Orphans, and Children Chance International. It doesn’t quite match the victim narrative, does it? I understand that IC is a US-based organization working to change US policy. But, it doesn’t absolve it from the responsibility of telling a more complete story, one that shows the challenges and trials alongside the strength, resilience, and transformational work of affected communities.” Give to any of these charities if you really want to help.
Musa Okwonga, a writer, poet and musician of Ugandan descent, in his op-ed for The Independent admits to “being perturbed by [Invisible Children’s] apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots. On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue … Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian-American and photographer Teju Cole tweeted: “The white [saviour] supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.” His compelling indictment of Americans’ sentimentality towards Africa can be read here and here.You should be following him anyway.
Angelo Opi-aiya Izama is a journalist and researcher based in Kampala, Uganda. In his excellent contribution, he writes: “The simplicity of the ‘good versus evil’, where good is inevitably white/western and bad is black or African, is also reminiscent of some of the worst excesses of the colonial era interventions. These campaigns don’t just lack scholarship or nuance. They are not bothered to seek it.”
Unsurprisingly, TMS Ruge, the Ugandan-born co-founder of Project Diaspora, is so pissed off that he wants to “bang my head against my desk” to “make the dumb-assery stop”. He writes: “It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected.” Read his commentary – ‘Kony 2012’ Is Not a Revolution – in The New York Times.
Of Eritrean descent, Semhar Araia is the founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) based in Minneapolis. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, she says Invisible Children’s “approach is flawed. The video shows only a Western audience, without any reference to African partners or leaders. They are disempowering and undermining the role of Africans. They failed to recognize the role of individuals like Betty Bigombe, a long-time Ugandan activist, or seek partnerships with African organizations for the launch, such as Ushahidi or Africans Act for Africa.”
The Kampala-based poet and artist Frank Odongka published Mocking a Mocking Bird, his poetic denunciation of Invisible Children. In his introduction to the poem, he summarises his reaction to the video: “I was only filled with emptiness. I felt our past was being used by some external figure to attract attention to their cause; which cause is obviously not a better life for my relatives. In 2000, travelling to Kampala from the West Nile was suicide and Invisible Children didn’t realize we were invisible and holed up there. Today, more than ever, we are visible but someone suddenly feels the need to exploit our past and paint it as our present! I wrote this poem, short as it is, to reflect how I feel about it.”
Anywar Ricky Richard, once a child soldier of the LRA and now the director of the northern Ugandan organisation Friends of Orphans, wrote of public perceptions of Invisible Children in northern Uganda, where the group has been present for some years. “They are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.”
Image from: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/03/08/kony-2012-video-raises-5m
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