KONY2012 and why I give up on not being cynical

You’ve inevitably heard of it. The KONY 2012 video is one of the biggest viral campaigns I’ve seen in a while, which is especially surprising as the material is almost half an hour long. And I saw it, at about 1AM, and thought “Hm.”. I’ve had plenty of discussions with friends in the past over online advocacy networks, and have been reading about humanitarianism more generally, as well as civil wars for an essay, so my thoughts are up in the air on the topic. And I saw the video, and remembered having heard of the LRA before and having been sickened. And of course, the video only intensified those sentiments. So I thought: this’ll be the one. I’ll throw myself into this campaign, with all the idealistic open-mindedness I can muster. I’ll believe in the power of protest to bring change. I’ll forget sitting on Westminster bridge to “Block the Bill” which proceeded to pass. I’ll forget my disaffection with representative democracy. In fact, I’ll even write to MPs. I’ll put my cynic hat on the shelf for a while.

Then, inevitably, came the backlash. Within hours, criticisms had been raised of the video and the organisation behind it, Invisible Children. The video itself is quite questionable – very much the White Man coming to save Africa, with what I felt was an intrusively long shot of the boy crying for his lost brother, and an oversimplification of the situation in Uganda.  But the paternalist side of charity advertising, as well as the removal of the beneficiaries’ dignity, and the over-simplification, are issues that are widespread. The cause still seemed good.

The organisation, on the other hand, doesn’t. Their spending looks distinctly skewed, with around a third of their money actually getting to projects. The very name, Invisible Children, says it all – as has been pointed out, just because we don’t know about these children, does that make them invisible to their families, friends, and all the Ugandans working to help them already?

So my position became one of endorsing the campaign without endorsing its backers. But then even that is unsteady. The campaign calls for the arrest of Joseph Kony. Good. But he is already at the top of the ICC’s warrant list, and Obama has declared his arrest to be a US national security interest. Campaigning for his arrest would only make sense if people didn’t want to arrest him. That is not the case. Therefore, I can only assume that the campaign is for Western governments to facilitate his arrest. Which makes me uncomfortable. I need to straighten out my thoughts on the issue of humanitarian intervention – that is one of my key objectives for, if not the year, graduation. Despite all the completely compelling arguments against, there is a part of me that wouldn’t mind sending out the SAS to bundle Kony onto a helicopter to The Hague. This isn’t what KONY 2012 are advocating from what I can tell. Probably thankfully. As if governments needed another excuse to start a war, massive twitter-led public pressure in a big election year would be unhelpful.

That leaves the campaign without a clear objective – are they just trying to maintain pressure on the US government to keep the military advisors in Uganda? Good, I guess. But even then, the US involvement Vietnam War started with military advisors too. Not to mention that indirectly, this approach backs the Ugandan government by reinforcing its military strength, which seems fairly undesirable when you consider the pretty hideous nature of the regime itself (I would be interested to know how many gay people are backing the campaign…)

Now, obviously, it would be very trite for me to end this blog with the sobering moral that nothing is black and white, and that we must always scrutinise these issues further before proclaiming them, and oh, isn’t it awful that the Internet makes us all commit so quickly.

But seriously, right. Would it cost the world to just once present an issue to me on a silver platter? I tried to be open and idealistic and student activist, and look what happens?

*retrieves cynic hat from shelf*


*puts it back on*

PSEDIT: Thought of a great witticism while talking to a friend.

I don’t do one-night stands, but I suspect I feel about KONY2012 like I would waking up the morning after.

NB: If I wasn’t feeling lazy, I would include plenty of links here. If people want reading material on this, I’ve spent the afternoon avoiding work with it and have plenty to offer.

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