Kony 2012 has established itself as one the fastest growing viral video campaigns we have known. This last fortnight has been dominated with talk of the LRA, and Kony 2012. A plethora of opinions from all over the world have poured in, but for all its critics and supporters alike – one fact remains: the video has had 100 million hits in just 10 days. And that is no small number.
So should the course of our engagement be about disagreeing on how the video could have been made differently, or should the most important question be what the next step is?
Don’t get me wrong. Debating this campaign is probably the best first step forward – because it opens up avenues to understand the issue at hand far beyond what the Kony 2012 campaign and Invisible Children will have us know. I have my own set of issues with the film. Its simplistic narrative of good versus evil has nullified many complexities on the ground. Kony 2012 overlooks historical, social, and political processes within which the people of central and east Africa and the Lord’s Resistance Army exist. And yes, I am definitely skeptical about boxing change in a $30 Kony kit. That having been said, I do also believe that the work of the Invisible Children (IC) must be understood outside of this particular video. Kony 2012 is only a part of the strategic campaign they are running for a much larger project (and shouldn't be marred because of Jason Russell's recent breakdown).
My point of focus however, is the popularity of the video and what the potential of these numbers could mean.
But first I’d like to talk a little bit about the internet, and social media as tools for awareness and change. The year 2011 stands testimony to the power of online campaigns. The world of cyberspace has created an unprecedented platform for freedom of expression. Not only does it allow all kinds of people to learn about issues and voice their concerns, it also helps integrate opinions on causes that might not affect someone directly, but are worth knowing and talking about nevertheless.
Specifically in India, 2011 saw one particular movement garner much public support, especially amongst the technology friendly middle classes. Perhaps one of the most fundamental problems in Indian governance — corruption — has long been an issue most people seem to accept in the way the Indian state functions. Last year however, a movement helmed by social activist Anna Hazare and his "team (anna)" began an India Against Corruption movement that quickly embroiled thousands of young people in a nation-wide outcry (both online, and on the streets) in support of an anti-corruption, Jan Lokpal Bill. Of course, the movement also met with immense skepticism, especially from India’s urban (again, tech-savvy) elite. Armchair activism in all its glory!
The point I am trying to make with both of such movements is that the attention they received does not account for nothing. The Hazare movement, using public pressure as a tool, was able to create a chasm that initiated an open dialogue with the government on formulating a version of the Jan Lokpal Bill that could have included voices from all domains. A version that can be complex, holistic and take into account the multiple realities of creating an ombudsman that could become more powerful than the state itself. What Team Anna is ultimately able to achieve (their initial success has been lost through self perpetuated set backs) remains to be seen, but turning back to the IC — there is a more important lesson to learn.
When there is public awareness about an issue, a certain consensus on change emerges. In a democratic structure, especially one like the United States, citizens can apply pressure on their elected representatives to open up dialogues on how a country can intervene. Perhaps sending its troops isn’t the best solution, but once policy makers are listening, more people can get involved (and already are - consider the variety of voices that have emerged on this issue in the last fortnight itself) in the decision making process and expert resources can be utilized. Stake holders — especially local bodies in the countries affected by the LRA — and NGO’s that are already working on the same issue can and must be given voice. In a way, making the issue well known also opens avenue for better funding to these organizations on the ground. The possibilities are multiple.
For years, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has kept a documentation of Joseph Kony, and the LRA. In 2005 a warrant of arrest was also issued. It is something to consider when the campaign video Kony 2012 has put the LRA on the map of millions of internet users (even though all of this information has existed on the internet for years, barely researched) — a task an adequately funded and politically well connected body like the ICC hasn’t been able to do in over seven years.
A plethora of news on many of Uganda’s development, social, and political issues have also found resurgence. It has brought to light more awareness about other issues that go far beyond (and are perhaps more urgent to address) the violence that the LRA inflicts (in countries beyond Uganda too). The Sojourner Project, for example recommends a few organizations that will give Ugandan Agency more voice and action through donations than a $30 Kony kit (that is one small way of contributing to change with just a click). Another blog documents local writers and researchers from affected regions talking about current realities on the ground, the shortcomings of Kony 2012, and where government and international aid can focus. Yesterday, the BBC published an article that speaks to the victims of the LRA in east and central Africa: throwing light on the opinions of those directly involved (different from local people in the countries affected). And finally, some videos on the IC website also document local leaders talking about the LRA and Joseph Kony. Perhaps international pressure will also build momentum for the governments involved to direct more resources and take action more effectively?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons