News Digest – Debating Kony 2012

Special Edition

If you have at least a secondary home on the interwebs, you will probably have come across the video “Kony 2012″ (if you haven’t seen it and you have 30 minutes to spare, you might want to take a look).

The video, produced by Invisible Children, seeks not just to raise awareness to Joseph Kony and the atrocities committed by  him and his Lord’s Resistance Army, but to actively engage viewers in ‘bringing Kony to justice’ – preferably through military intervention of some form.

Again, if you have followed the video at least a little bit, you will have seen the plethora of criticism and debate it has provoked. The EMMIR students have been no exception. Ever since one student posted the video on our internal facebook group, a great number of us have argued over what to make of it and why we found it so problematic.
This news digest is, in a sense, an aggregate of the various articles shared among the EMMIR students over the past month. They are by no means a complete picture of the debate so far and, since it is still going strong, presents no clear outcome. But if you want to make up your own mind, here are some voices you might find interesting.

Kony and the LRA

First off, what’s the whole fuss about?
Head to the Atlantic for a very brief overview of “The Bizarre and Horrifying Story of the Lord’s Resistance Army” and “Joseph Kony’s Long Walk To, and From, Hell”. From Wired, a quick overview of the viral campaign itself: “Viral Video Hopes to Spur Arrest of War Criminal”. Also, from the Smithsonian Magazine back in 2005, A dispatch from the world’s “largest neglected humanitarian emergency”.

Or, head to the South African Institute for Security Studies for an “Anatomy of the Lord’s Resistance Army” (PDF). Also you might want to check out “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A History and Overview” (PDF) and from the journal ‘Defense & Security Analysis’, a (US-)military perspective on “Why Uganda Has Failed to Defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army” (PDF).

The Video & the Campaign

Moving on to the, as it were, pièce de résistance. From the Foreign Policy Blog, “The Road to Hell is Paved with Viral Videos” is probably as good a place as any to start with the criticism.

But this do-good spirit is suffused with an almost boastful naiveté and, more culpably, an American middle-class provincialism that illustrates beautifully the continuing relevance of the old adage about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

In the Daily Maverick, “Lord Help Us, Because this Campaign Won’t Help Anyone”. Alex de Waal, Director of the World Peace Foundation, contributes by asking: “Don’t Elevate Joseph Kony”.
Beyond that, one of the first critical voices can be found at the Blog “Visible Children”, by an anonymous student from Nova Scotia.
Also, Ethan Zuckerman is “Unpacking Kony 2012″, Michael Wilkerson tells us that “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)” and Marc DuBois (of Doctors without Borders) on Kony 2012 being the “New Kids on the Block”.

What about African voices?

Turns out, coming from the New York Times, “In Uganda, Few Can See Kony Video”. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t any responses. Two researchers at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, Kampala, responded to the video on Al-Jazeera: Adam Branch calls it “Dangerous ignorance: The hysteria of Kony 2012″ and Mahmood Mamdani writes on “Kony: What Jason did not tell the Invisible Children”.
BoingBoing has a great collection of “African voices respond to hyper-popular Kony 2012 viral campaign” and so does AfriPOP! with “22 African Reactions to the Kony 2012 Campaign”.

The Big Picture

A number of writers, bloggers and journalists have taken the campaign as a starting point for some broader reflections on ‘Helping Out Africa’.

(From The Shiznit’s If 2012’s Oscar-nominated movie posters told the truth”)

John Edwin Mason, a teacher of African History at the University of Virgina, writes “A Brief History of African Stereotypes, Part 1: Broken, Helpless Africa” and “A Brief History of African Stereotypes, Part 1a: The White Man’s Burden and Kony 2012″.
Teju Cole, one of the African voices in the BoingBoing post above, expands on his series of tweets on the “The White Savior Industrial Complex”. From his tweets:

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

David Kenner, again at the FP, charts a comparison many commentators have made: “Joseph Kony vs. Bashar al-Assad”.

The Interwebs.

The Kony 2012 campaing, in true interwebs fashion, has spawned quite a few, shall we say, creative responses.
Here we have: “The Definitive ‘Kony 2012′ Drinking Game”, a fairly lengthy meme, a, as BoingBoing aptly calls it, “chorus of idiots” on Facebook and a little bit of RapNews.
In short, a “Viral Mess”.
Fairly timely, there is a related movie, starring Gerald Butler, coming out: “Machine Gun Preacher” (Trailer here) tells the story of “Pennsylvania-based evangelical preacher named Sam Childers—a biker and former drug dealer who has found his calling in this quest for a killer”, on whom Vanity Fair has a lengthy profile titled “Get Kony”.

And, for good measure, the video hits Goodwin’s Law at around the 22 minute mark.

A little further.

What happens now? Well, as the Guardian reports in “Joseph Kony: African Union brigade to hunt down LRA leader”, the African Union is sending troops (5000) to stop Kony.

The brigade will be led by Uganda and include troops from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, the countries that have been ravaged by LRA raids.

US assistance is expected and you can head to the Atlantic to find out more about “Why Is Obama Sending Troops Against the Lord’s Resistance Army?”.
Meanwhile, the Kony 2012 campaign finds itself in some trouble of its own. USA Today reports that “Kony 2012′ director Jason Russell has ‘reactive psychosis”, AlterNet gives some interesting thoughts on “Invisible Children “Kony 2012″ Leader Suggests It’s About Jesus and Evangelizing” and IOL News has more on “Anti-Kony campaign in turmoil”.

The response

Naturally, Invisible Children has responded to the mounting criticism on its website. My favourite, if I might be allowed a personal note, is their comment on the Ugandan Army’s Human Rights Record, quoted here in full:

We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda or any other government. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.

Also, Norbert Mao, one of the politicians appearing in the video, writes in a guest post on the FP Blog: “Guest Post: I’ve met Joseph Kony and Kony 2012 isn’t that bad”.
Kony 2012 has also released a video, in which one of the founders Ben Keesey, responds to the critique; from the Washington Post, “Invisible Children has released new video in response to ‘Kony 2012’ criticism”.

Child Soldiers

Despite all the criticism, the plight of child soldiers is real, cruel and not only limited to the LRA. In fact, as the BBC reported as early as 2005, “Hundreds of former child soldiers abducted by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army are returning to the battlefield to fight for the Ugandan army”.

You can listen to three former child soldiers in the LRA in the movie “Grace, Milly, Lucy …” by Raymonde Provencher and see pictures from the FP series “Babes in Warland”.

For more global information, see the “Child Soldiers – Global Report”.

N.B.: This digest is obviously far (far!) from complete and most of the posts and articles linked to here, will have compilations of their own. This list is intended as a starting point, nothing more. If you feel like anything essential is missing from it, please comment or send an email. Thank you.

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