Problem with Kony 2012

By Emily Merlino

Anyone with that uses Facebook or at least has access to a computer is aware that the newest viral craze to hit the Internet is Invisible Children’s hugely popular “Kony 2012” campaign. The movement, which aims “to bring to justice Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent, child-recruiting Lord’s Resistance Army, or the LRA,” consists of a video explaining Kony’s crimes and relies mainly on social networking to spread the message.

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The basic premise of spreading awareness of a war criminal’s crimes is commendable, and, like another African warlord, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, Kony deserves to be tried and convicted in an international court. However, many problems abound with Invisible Children’s suggested goals in the video and campaign.

The first problem is Invisible Children’s proposed methods of achieving their goals. The goal, specifically, is to get Kony arrested by the end of this year. No real arguments there. Clearly Kony is a true war criminal by all definitions and does indeed need to be arrested for his horrific crimes.

There are a few issues, however, in the methods Invisible Children proposes to achieve their goal.

First, according to Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, the primary purpose of the video is to “intensify pressure on the U.S. government to make sure Kony is brought to justice this year.” This fact sounds great on paper, but is it truly the best idea for the United States to take this matter into their hands? Sending aid and spreading awareness is one thing, but directly involving the U.S. in Ugandan affairs is another.

“Kony 2012” argues for U.S. military intervention in capturing Kony, surely an immensely costly undertaking that the U.S., which already has forces in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, is simply unable to afford. According to the Washington Post, President Barack Obama has already sent over 100 troops to aid the Ugandan army in capturing Kony – not an easy feat, as the man fled Uganda in 2006 and has since been rumored to be in various central African nations – and frankly cannot afford to send more.

“There’s definitely a call for action, but a call for U.S. military action isn’t something that the general public is educated enough to make,” said sophomore Noah Bilgrien.

Furthermore, sending the military to capture one single man would undoubtedly cost civilian lives in Uganda, whether Invisible Children cares to admit it or not.

The Telegraph reported influential Ugandan blogger Javie Ssozi as saying, “Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong.”

The suggestion here is not that the U.S. needs to turn a blind eye to the LRA’s actions, but that this is an issue the U.S. cannot handle alone, if at all. As Albert Einstein stated, “we have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.” Right now, the best the U.S. can do is watch the video and spread awareness, but in this case, guns and boots on the ground is neither a responsible option nor the answer.

The second issue with “Kony 2012” is the video’s inaccuracies and oversimplification of the issue.

In today’s world, where Facebooking, Tweeting and Tumbling are popular verbs, the massive impact a viral video can have on public knowledge of important current events is inarguably a powerful feature of contemporary technology. Now more than ever, atrocities committed around the world are incredibly difficult to remain altogether unnoticed.

“I was shocked by social media’s ability to spread the story literally overnight,” said junior Audrey Braley.

Indeed, the video had over 38 million views on YouTube by Thursday, March 8, just under a week after it was put online. As stated before, public consciousness of such issues is certainly an admirable feature of the campaign, but unfortunately the video simply either does not give or glosses over certain important facts.

“There are certainly cases where they have cut corners on some of the facts to get their message out,” said Sarah Margon, a former staffer for Sen. Russ Feingold, according to Yahoo News.

The video glosses over the fact that Kony is no longer is Uganda, turning what was formerly a one-country manhunt into a wild goose chase across a massive, forbidding continent. Furthermore, by focusing on what role the U.S. needs to be in the issue, the video omits what role the Ugandan government is playing and what roles the Ugandan people are taking on to fight the LRA.

Kony came to power about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni did. As Uganda’s leader, one would think that Museveni must be given some sort of mention, given that he is the president of the nation at the center of the conflict, but he was not mentioned once during the entire 30-minute video.

Invisible Children asks viewers to pressure the U.S. government, but not Museveni’s administration. By failing to mention the Ugandan government’s potential role in capturing their nation’s war criminal, no credit or responsibility is put into the country’s hands. The suggestion that it is up to the U.S. to solve the problem reeks of colonialism, and brings to mind the unfortunate phrase “white man’s burden.”

What the video doesn’t give the viewer is enough Ugandan opinions. One would think that a video focusing on Uganda would get quotes from Ugandan citizens, but the video spends more time interviewing celebrities and toddlers than those directly involved with the conflict, and Ugandans themselves are now speaking out.

“What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us,” said Dr. Beatrice Mpora according to the Telegraph. Mpora is director of Kairos, a community health organization in Gulu, a town that was once the center of the rebels’ activities.

“There has not been a single soul from the LRA here since 2006. Now we have peace, people are back in their homes, they are planting their fields, they are starting their businesses,” added Mpora.

By almost completely discrediting Ugandan opinions and conveniently leaving out crucial facts, “Kony 2012” proves to be no better than a campaign ad.

So, before blindly reposting a video on Facebook and re-Tweeting any sort of broad activist message on Twitter, do some research. Awareness is key – not just on the broad issue, but on its sometimes-seedy, almost always unpleasant underbelly.

Emily Merlino is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]