For the past week, Facebook and Twitter have been screaming at me to watch a video titled Kony 2012.
(I suggest you watch it before reading any of the below)
My immediate reaction when I saw people pushing the film a week ago was, “how do you have the time to watch a 30 minute video?”
Kind of ironic considering what I had just blogged about.
As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a video longer than 5 minutes has gone viral. That is surely an achievement in itself.
I am often guilty of cynicism and negativity. At the same time, I do like a good laugh. It was the latter of these qualities, namely humour that led me to post this picture on Facebook:
The reaction wasn’t great. Looks like I upset a few people. Oops!
“Keep going Kony, lad. We’ll all argue about a video while you crack on, son #sarcasm #KONY2012 #typical21stcentury”
So even in my humour, I did my best to be balanced. But to be fair I shouldn’t have said anything at all. I still hadn’t watched the film!
After a couple of people joked that they “don’t know what to think” until or unless I blog on the subject (please note the word joke), I thought I’d add my two cents. So I watched the film while waiting for a train at Clapham Junction on Sunday afternoon.
Fame = ?
The entire documentary pivots on one assumed idea: “Making Kony well known for his crime will put pressure on governments to do something about it.”
It appears to me that a lot of people have an unwavering belief in that statement. But making someone famous doesn’t immediately lead to their capture. In fact arguably, he is already very famous.
You can’t be totally unknown while remaining number one on the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s most wanted list! While much of the Western World is oblivious to his existence, Africans know exactly who he is, and the people in power to stop him are well aware of his despicable crimes. The question is: “Will highlighting his existence to the world help capture him?”.
Awareness without action is pointless.
We live in an era where the revolution is televised, and as we saw in Cairo, it often begins with social media.
But can we really call re-tweeting a video the beginnings of a rebellion?
Watching a film does nothing for those caught in this terrible situation. Writing this blog does nothing. What about giving money to the charity behind this film – Invisible Children?
Invisible Children has been criticised for only spending around 30% of their budget on direct help for those in Uganda. The charity responded by saying many NGOs have a similar set up, with money going into other projects and admin costs.
Some have used the phrase “white man’s burden” to describe the film. In other words, the West has resources Africa doesn’t have, therefore we have a duty to help them. This can be viewed in one of two ways: Western generosity, or Westerners meddling in business that isn’t their own. Ugandans apparently see it as the latter.
The politics of intervention
It’s interesting that the same people who protested about our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are jumping on the Kony bandwagon. Why is it OK for the West to intervene in some circumstances, but not others? That’s a question all of us need to ask ourselves.
There have been a number of unfair criticisms of the Kony campaign. No 30 minute program will ever be perfect, no charity and no campaign will ever be 100% pure. The idea is innovative and original. The heart behind the idea is good and the people involved are genuine.
Having said all this, the filmmaker does come across as proud and even arrogant at points. “We did this”, he repeats triumphantly. It’s immature and unrealistic to say taking down one man will “change the world forever” and have a lasting impact on the next generation of Americans. While removing Kony from his position should be celebrated, the film is full of exaggeration.
There aren’t 30,000 children walking around carrying guns right now. There’s 200, perhaps. What’s more, there’s no mention of how the LRA’s enemy – the Ugandan government is brutal. The LRA probably wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the genocidal Ugandan army. Yet Invisible Children want to work with the Ugandan government on this project.
These are just some of the issues I’ve found after trawling the internet and reading plenty of articles from people who know more about this subject than I ever will.
It’s dangerous to swallow anything without researching it. Even something that looks great, important and vital can have its flaws.
Many including myself are concerned that millions of people have seen this video and not realised the situation is far from simple. It’s not a case of marching into the jungle and capturing or even killing Kony. He’s surrounded by people’s sons and daughters. Even if we did manage to shoot him, would that stop the violence? Killing Bin Laden hasn’t stopped Al Qaeda.
I take no joy in smearing a great campaign with mud. But when 30 minutes of emotional, heart-tugging footage doesn’t tell the full story, it’s up to the blogosphere to address the balance.
What matters now is each of us have a choice. None of us can plead ignorance. There’s an evil man who must be stopped. The Kony 2012 video has reminded us that each of us have a voice. The video suggests one way to use that voice. [Illegal fly posting and retweeting] But it’s only a suggestion. My view is both are as useless as each other.
Yet the message behind the campaign deserves to be heard, and that’s why we’re all indebted to Invisible Children.
Is it time to come up with some alternatives to the action Invisible Children has suggested? Or do we need to accept that there are some issues which are out of our hands? In a world where social media gives all of us both a voice and an audience, that’s a controversial remark to make. We like to think we have power, influence and can “change the world”.
Perhaps we can change the world? But fly-postering London with Kony posters (as the video suggests) seems like a strange way to go about making that change…