What Kony 2012 Part II Still Doesn't Address: The West Cannot 'Save' Africa

The new video from Invisible Children, entitled “Kony 2012: Part II — Beyond Famous,” is a direct response to the criticism the organization received for the first Kony 2012 film (which, of course, you’ll remember went viral overnight). Compared to its predecessor, this new video is much more grounded in facts and focused on Africans telling their stories — rather than Jason Russell’s young son. In this sense, yes, it’s an improvement, and it shows the organization, however defensive, did not simply gloss over the flaws that were brought to light. Despite this, a basic problem of IC’s approach remains: the way they frame the problem.

The new video still portrays the problem in northern Uganda as one that can only be tackled by outsiders. While I appreciate the inclusion of more African voices, this is a fact that remains about the organization’s mentality. In this video, those who are doing the work and empowering change are still not Africans themselves, not local community efforts. The complex problems facing northern Uganda, the video tells us, still requires outside saviors — some sort of Western deus ex machina.

One of the best pieces I’ve read about this IC campaign is by Dinaw Mengestu. In it, Mengestu writes:

“What makes Kony 2012 especially frustrating, however, is that the film traffics in a sentimental and infantilizing version of Africa that is so prevalent we don’t even notice it. The idea behind a name such as “Invisible Children” is on par with the sentiments of the first colonists who claimed to have discovered the New World and Africa: We didn’t know about it, therefore it didn’t exist. The children of Uganda were never invisible to their families and communities, who long before the first flood of NGO’s to the region, worked for years to protect them. To claim they were invisible because a group of college students traveling through Uganda happened to stumble upon a war they were too ignorant to have known of before going to the region is, to put it mildly, patronizing. By the time the organizers arrived in Uganda and created Invisible Children, northern villages such as Gulu were crowded with NGOs and aid workers and the largest humanitarian concern, by far, was the housing conditions of the more than one million people living in camps for the internally displaced.” 

Mengestu then goes on to add that the more you know about the issue, the more you understand the “answer has nothing to do with fame, money, posters, bracelets, tweets, or even sending one hundred military advisors to aid in the military efforts to capture Kony.” No one denies Kony should be brought to justice. “Millions of Americans may not have known that before, but millions of Africans have, and thousands of people have been working valiantly for years to do just that,” Mengestu writes. “Kony 2012 self-indulgently promises all of this will change because now we know, and thus we have the power. If there is one thing Invisible Children is right about, it’s that ignorance is blinding.”

Though this piece was written to address the original Kony 2012, these statements are still valid, because this is how IC fundamentally views the conflict in northern Uganda. I’d urge anyone even mildly interested in this issue to read that response in full, but I’ll quote one last statement: “Change has never come with a click, or a tweet; lives are not saved by bracelets. We all want solutions, but why should we think or expect an easy one exists for a twenty-year-old conflict in Uganda when we have none for the wars we’re engaged in now.”

Following the numerous problems with the first film, this follow-up video does serve to correct some of that, which I’ll certainly acknowledge. But it’s still problematic; it still cites the need for Western heroes while neglecting to credit community efforts by Africans themselves (which aren’t just recent developments). This video served as a sort of correction, yes, but unless IC changes its perspective, valid, significant criticisms remain. 

In terms of donations and support, it’s worth noting that the money you give them will be spent more so on things like filmmaking than on the ground in region. And if you’re looking to give directly to efforts (and not campaigns), as I stated in my last piece on this topic, there are certainly other means to do so.