Kony 2012 and Invisible Children: What You Didn't Know

KONY 2012 is the most successful video ever, with more than 100 million views in only a week. But after watching it, we still don’t know much about Uganda or warlord Joseph Kony. Instead the video leaves us with the old image of helpless Africans who need to be rescued by powerful people from the West. KONY 2012 wants change, but in the end it may only help things stay the same.

KONY 2012 is a mass awareness campaign put together by non-profit group Invisible Children and aims to force public action against Joseph Kony. But through the entire Kony controversy, questions have remained on how — after a massive public awarness campaign — the Kony will be brought to justice.

Kony2012 perpetuates a picture of a poor Uganda, showing a country that is not able to help itself, a Uganda with a lot of hopeless people waiting for someone to rescue them.It further represents Africans from a very Western and colonial perspective. Shouldn’t it be locals themselves representing their cause? Was it too difficult to let more Ugandans speak – instad of Jason Russel, the producer of the video, talking himself most of the time.

As the Ugandan journalist Rosebell Idaltu Kagumire in her response to Kony2012 mentions, the campaign leaves us with the impression that the war is still going on simply because we in the West didn’t know about it. And by that somewhat devaluating all the local initiatives in Uganda.

All of this is reproducing the colonialist view on Africa that was dominant most of the 20th century. It is a view that opens up again the old dichotomy between the developed West and the underdeveloped rest of the world. Looking at it this way, KONY 2012 in the long run is actually doing harm to Uganda because it keeps up an asymmetric world order in which African states seem to have a lesser right to self-determination than super powers and the West in general do.

I’m wondering whether Invisible Children, the NGO that initiated KONY 2012, is trying to force African governments into action just as much as they try to convince the White House to let the troops they already deployed in Uganda stay there. And what happens once Kony is caught? The video does not address these questions. And by that is oversimplifying the whole context Kony is acting in.

I’m actually not doubting that Invisible Children has good intentions and that they are fighting for a good cause. At least the video left me emotional enough to believe they do. But having an end where a war criminal is caught doesn’t justify means where colonial views on the world are being opened up. Ethnocentric views that are rebuilding a hierarchy of power we learned about in history classes. Kony2012 should have left us with the image of strong Ugandans who want to fight for justice their way. Maybe with the support of western people, but not them taking the lead in it.

A good cause doesn’t always justify the means. Especially when hunting down Kony for sure won’t bet he end of the story. Of a story Ugandan people should tell.   

Photo Credit: Chun Lam

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Maria Caroline Wölfle

With a BA in Cultural Anthropology Maria is currently doing an MA in Political Science. She's specializing on social and media issues in Latin America and the region's role in world politics.

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