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KONY 2012 column – March ’12

Something I wrote back in March on the KONY 2012 campaign that I forgot all about.

Like millions of other Twitter users last week, I found my feed being bombarded by the hashtags, #stopKONY and #KONY2012, and various video links. Curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the circulating link – which at this point was being retweeted and then tweeted again (much to my irritation).

From the link for the next 30 minutes I found myself watching what bore more resemblance to a slick marketing campaign than a legitimate “documentary.”

Created by the Jason Russell-founded non-governmental organisation, Invisible Children, the film documents the atrocities (rape, execution, maiming, child prostitution, use of child soldiers) committed against Ugandans at the hands of warlord, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Perfectly framing the issue, the film goes straight for the heartstrings (think Live Aid montages).

However, thanks to its condescending tone, over-focus on the patronising Russell (a man who has surely guaranteed himself a savage satirisation on the next season of South Park) and the calculated, nausea-inducing use of his “cute” young son (who probably could have come up with the solution presented in the video himself), the film now has many believing that there is a simple solution to Uganda’s problems.

According to Invisible Children (and thanks to the film, Justin Beiber’s entire Twitter fan base) by simply taking A (Joseph Kony) making it incredibly famous, then subtracting it away from B (Uganda) and putting it in C (The International Criminal Court) all of the country’s problems, which the film neglects to inform its viewers of, including foreign ownership of land, AIDs and a deadly illness dubbed “nodding disease,” will be solved.

This is reflected by Luis Moreno Ocampo, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and talking head interviewee in the film, who states: “The criminal here is Kony, stop him and then solve other problems,” – it’s as if these “other problems,” (which he also neglects to specifically identify) are a trivial afterthought, when in reality they should be the problems dominating the agenda of this campaign.

There are a few other key problems with this overly simplistic solution, which also includes plastering your local town in identikit glossy posters to keep the issue at the top of US foreign policy-makers agenda (as well as that of the Environmental Protection Agency and local councils) and informing the likes of Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie that you care.

The key one is that Kony and the remnants of his long-since out of power army aren’t actually in Uganda, they’re on the run through Central Africa, making catching him slightly more complicated than Russell would have people believe.

It also presents the idea that Kony must be caught in 2012 (with an expiration date on the film itself set for December 31); but what if the 100 US advisors currently working with the Ugandan army are unable to catch Kony? What will happen when the current level of hype and attention surrounding the campaign dies off? There isn’t any hint of forward planning beyond simply catching Kony.

Invisible Children haven’t presented any long-term solutions to the problems currently being suffered in the likes of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan; only a short-term solution that one could be led to believe will simply result in an incredible amount of back-slapping and smug self-satisfaction amongst Russell and those in his organisation.

That is not to say that I disagree with the idea of letting Kony have his time in The Hague, completely the opposite; the man, like Radovan Karadžić and many other war criminals, should, without doubt, be held accountable for his heinous crimes against humanity; but it shouldn’t overshadow the other issues.

The sale of wristbands, t-shirts and other such merchandise (which can now be found on eBay) only strengthen my believe that the KONY2012 campaign will become a short-term fad – reflected by the fact that it, like the TV shows, 24 and Lost, has already been immortalised in the form of a drinking game for students.

You can convince yourself that by purchasing something from the site “people will think you’re an advocate of awesome” (there words, not mine), but a large chunk of the funding will simply go towards printing more highly-stylised posters and making more awareness films – which ironically have caused great offence amongst the Ugandans Invisible Children so strongly claim to want to help.

Although the campaign can be applauded for bringing the situation in Uganda to forefront of media attention, it ends up looking more like a shallow, misguided attempt at activism for the social media generation to piggyback onto as opposed to a something that will bring about long-term change.

About Jack Adams

Copywriter, fan of experimental music and occasional blogger.

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