Kony2012 raises awareness and criticism

Thursday 08th, March 2012 / 23:56 Written by


A video by the organisation “Invisible Children” called “Kony 2012″ has gone viral this week. At last count it had more than 38 million clicks on youtube and #kony2012 is one of the trending topics on twitter worldwide. The self proclaimed goal is to make Joseph Kony famous, thereby supporting Ugandan (and American) troops in their effort to arrest the man.

(Scroll down to watch the video)

The video and the campaign have drawn millions of viewers and support by many well known celebrities in the social media. It has also raised a storm of criticism among the blogosphere. While supporters and even critics conceded that it achieved its goal of spreading awareness about Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in 2005, there are many who question the purpose and even the prudence of this campaign.

In an insightful guest post at Foreign Policy, Michael Wilkerson, bemoans the lack of actual facts the video contains:

Coming back to the “Kony 2012″ video and its celebrity endorsements, what are the consequences of unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts? Defining Uganda in the international conversation by issues that are either geographical misfires (Save northern Uganda!) or an intentional attempt to distract the international community (Death to the gays!), do a disservice to the many critical problems Uganda has.

Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama goes even further:

To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

Elliot Ross from “Africa is a Country” calls it a “fraud” and argues that what the cmpaign call raising awareness is more of a self-serving attempt to affirm Western superiority in its own goodness and relieve the white man’s burden:

Instead the point is to “literally cry your eyes out” (see Twitter passim), having been moved into a frenzy of moral clarity by the quite revolting mixture of generalised disgust at black Africa, infatuation with white American virtue and technological superiority, and a dose of good old-fashioned blood-lust. (When it boils down to it, it is a call for assassination.)

The problem with the “awareness” argument is that it suggests that interest in the war in Uganda can be separated out from the experience of intensely racialized and charisma-driven moral masturbation, an experience which turns out to be, more than anything, one of the most intensely satisfying kinds of identity-formation.

More in favor of the campaign and its goal to raise awareness but with a critical undertone is Ugandan writer Musa Okwonga, blogging for the Independent:

I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism.  I will admit to being perturbed by its 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.  Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered.  For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.


For a comprehensive overview on the responses on the internet to Kony2012 Brendan Rigby at whydev.org keeps a regularly updated count (starting in 2010).



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