4 Months After KONY 2012

Image from forbes.com

I’m sure most, if not all of us remember the viral video that the American non-profit organization, Invisible Children, released in early March this year. Since then, we’ve heard of its founder getting arrested for inappropriate behavior in public, of its event “Cover the Night”, perhaps as well as its follow-up video “Beyond Famous”, that garnered 2 million odd views, a far cry from KONY 2012’s original 91 million (as of today) views. I’ve been skeptical, and wondering how KONY 2012 has been doing, especially to find out if I could change any of the opinions I held in March, which I sent to Olayemi Olurin when I applied to Candor.

Been reading about KONY 2012 since its release about a week ago, but I only just  managed to find the half an hour to actually sit down to watch the video. I was discussing it with a friend on Skype earlier, and among other things, I must first agree that the idea behind it is a good one, extremely noble, in fact – campaign to help (?) the US troops stop the bad guy.

Yet, I don’t believe Invisible Children or KONY 2012’s call to action adequately addresses the issue of stopping Joseph Kony from abducting children and forcing them into warfare and slavery. As Joshua Keating from the Foreign Policy put it, “Along with sharing the movie online, Invisible Children’s call to action is to do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to donate.” And share the video! Spread the word! Awareness and advocacy! Yes, awareness is important, because it (might) inspire action. But among other things, the film seems to underscore a false notion that by sitting in front of your computer screen, by clicking “share”, by wearing KONY bracelets or KONY shirts or KONY tank tops or the KONY badge on your tumblr, and by not going out there to actually do something, you can make a difference.

Furthermore, I question the true humanitarian motivation behind KONY 2012. Honestly, what I got from the video was that I can change the world with just $30, and according to visiblechildren.tumblr.com, if 500,000 people have bought the $30 action kits, KONY 2012 is surely turning into a lucrative business. Besides, this video appears to be a play on the viewer’s feelings, an unnecessary appeal to emotion, especially with the feature of Jason Russel’s kid, Jacob, and the intense flashes of people running around putting up posters. It invokes in the viewer the desire to be part of those groups of people filling up walls with KONY posters, or with their hands in the air, screaming we will stop at nothing. It tells the viewers that they too can have a story as heart-warming as that of Jason and Jacob, that they can change lives with money and clicking the button. It lets its viewers feel good -watch it, share it on Facebook, and do nothing about it – feel good about not doing good.

But what it does not do is educate the viewer on Uganda. Firstly, it’s terribly onesided. Yes, I get that KONY must be stopped, but what about the Ugandan government?  KONY 2012 really oversimplifies the issues on Uganda, and Africa, in general. It hardly means that if/when Joseph Kony is killed, peace will be restored back to Uganda and everything will be okay. Truth is, it’s a really more complex and complicated dance out there rooted in centuries-old conflict, and stopping Kony won’t stop it. Secondly, “And those living in Uganda say the cause is virtually unnecessaryanymore, that they have had peace for 6 years, and that Kony has not been active for 10 years. In fact, most reports say he has now left Uganda, spread out into the vast jungle where he is legally untouchable by Ugandan forces.” If that is so, then what are the motivations behind this video? Finally, Jason presents the viewpoint of only one Ugandan, and the video doesn’t consider how Ugandans feel, as a whole, towards the entire Invisible Children campaign. Here’s an article from The Atlantic -The Soft Bigotry of KONY 2012, and I quote.

Worst of all, the much-circulated campaign subtly reinforces an idea that has been one of Africa’s biggest disasters: that well-meaning Westerners need to come in and fix it.

Saw this on visiblechildren – “Thirty-seven percent of our budget goes directly to central African related programs, about 20 percent goes to salaries and overhead, and
the remaining 43 percent goes to our awareness programs. […] But aside from that, the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”

Invisible Children spends more on awareness than on Africa – on the real situation? I know that if I watched KONY 2012 and spent thirty bucks on that action kit, I want to know that my money is actually going to helping rescue those children, not generating more action kits or spreading awareness, because clearly action is what Invisible Children seems to be advocating in this video. Furthermore, critics and scholars who have studied the situation in Africa, mention that Invisible Children actually incited further violence by supporting the Ugandan government, and support the Ugandan military anyway, despite the military being guilty of the same degree of atrocities committed by Joseph Kony. Finally, the back of the KONY bracelet proclaims that they will “stop at nothing”. But is it worth the lives of thousands of troops, the potential heightened violence, casualties and deaths in Uganda?
I don’t believe in war or violence, and I really hope that peace will one day be possible. But for now, I’m not sure if Invisible Children or KONY 2012, is due to achieve this end.

I’m still not sure how KONY 2012 is doing. I will concede that it was successful in raising international debate, but I guess what we must ask is how relevant is KONY 2012, and what is actually being done, apart from slacktivism, social media, and politics. What do you guys think about KONY 2012?


  1. I found it funny that while I was studying in Kenya, which is the neighboring country to Uganda, I heard about the KONY thing from my American friends. It was clear to me that it was essentially a hoax from the beginning. But it does raise interesting questions about crowd/mass psychology and how it applies to an internet phenomenon since I was being argued with when I tried to educate my American friends…even though I was clearly in better position to know the facts.


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