Friday, March 30, 2012

Kony 2012 - criticism

picture taken from ICLB

How the short film 'Kony 2012' brings media attention to the use of child soldiers but completely misses the point by oversimplifying the local political situation and proposing US military intervention as a solution:

In the beginning of this month, the short film 'Kony 2012' was released by Invisible Children, an American NGO striving for the capture of Joseph Kony, the commander of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).

I hadn't paid attention to this video until Connor Joseph Cavanagh pointed out to me that it uses similar techniques of misrepresenting inconvenient facts as were pointed out by Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte in their discussion on RED in what they call 'Brand Aid'.

'Kony 2012' has been watched over 86 million times at the time of writing, in that way the NGO 'Invisible Children' has been able to accomplish one of their first objectives: to make Joseph Kony famous. By the creation of this awareness, they hope to hasten his capture and make him face the charges against him at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The reason that this short film is highly controversial, at the other hand, is not the fact that it brings back attention to the use of child soldiers. This horrible practice (unfortunately not limited to Northern Uganda) is regarded as one of the big forgotten conflicts in the world. Of course it is very positive that this is brought to the attention of the general public.

What bothers many critics, me included, is the fact that the short film is focusing on intervention by the US, completely unacknowledging local politics and organisations within Uganda itself (which I see as patronizing) and oversimplifying the war situation itself (ignorance is not a bliss).

Yes, Kony should be brought to court and yes, it is great that the media takes the dust of this conflict and brings it back to the front page. But simply trying to put pressure for US troops (about 100 soldiers) to stay in Uganda to exchange tactics and information, is not the solution. Becoming a paying member of Invisible Children and receiving the Action Kit (or the Kony Bracelets) will not stop the horrible things from happening.

"In suggesting that people contribute money to the San Diego-based nonprofit that made the video, which advocates a U.S.-assisted military operation to remove Kony, it’s as if Ugandan civilians are incapable of their own solutions.
I might feel better if the video pointed out that the United States has conspicuously rejected a role as a state party in the ICC. Or if it mentioned that the United States has never signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty setting out the civil, cultural, health, economic, political and social rights of children.

We find no mention, either, of the exertions of countless individuals and groups working in Uganda through very different means, nor does it leave much room for other promising approaches to this crisis and others like it." 

-- Mary Elizabeth King, UN-affiliated University for Peace
I am very willing to give the Invisible Children credit for bringing the conflict back in to the media, I applaud to that. My problem lies with the simplification of the conflict and the total arrogance of portraying the US as World Police. Do you really believe that the capture of Kony will end the conflict?

For researchers, the debate surrounding the release of Kony 2012 raises a number of serious issues regarding the politics of representing conflicts and other crises to broader public audiences. As with any effort to mobilize people with little or no previous exposure to East /Central African history and politics, a degree of simplification is necessary. Conversely, the danger of deceitful misrepresentation, rather than mere simplification, is omnipresent. Indeed, the current debate surrounding Invisible Children’s ethics suggests that the line between the two has been blurred. 
-- Connor Joseph Cavanagh, The Nordic Africa Institute

I am not advocating to be silent bystanders, but bringing in foreign armed forces is not the solution to end all wars. Removing the head of the organisation won't solve the problem: it is not out of fear for punishment that people stop committing crimes.

The best hope for the conflict to end, is the Ugandan people themselves. Why not give them support instead of playing cavalry? Stimulate their voices and hear them when they speak up. It is not only about catching Kony and bring him to court. We all want these crimes to stop and therefore political change is needed, make sure that the LRA has no more funds, no more objectives and no more supporters so that the organisation will die out.


Related (update, 11 April 2012)

  • Congolese president Joseph Kabila wants to see Bosco Ntaganda (the 'Terminator') arrested (VRT, in Dutch, no English version available?)
  • Another example of persuading media: Brand Aid

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