January 30, 2023
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Kony 2012: The video that got us all talking

Commentary: The Kony video plays up “White savior” archetype.

In many ways, the Kony 2012 campaign was perfectly executed. It was fast, got widespread attention and, best of all, it provided people with a simple answer to a complex issue. Unfortunately, the video failed to portray the reality of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and its strategy of “making Kony famous” does not take into account the larger political systems that are at play, nor what the people of Uganda want. Rather, it plays into the long-standing Western archetype of the white savior.

Morgan Milazzo

While watching the video, I could not help but wonder why Invisible Children, whose main purpose is to raise awareness, focused the majority of the video on showing Americans supporting their campaign and did not leave any room for the people directly affected by the LRA to be part of the discussion. The only depictions of the victims of the LRA in the video were in a passive role, looking to Americans as the saviors.

One organization on the ground in Uganda, the African Youth Initiative Network, began holding screenings of the video, but had to stop only a few minutes into the first showing because of the audience’s outrage. Victor Ochen, director of African Youth Initiative Network, was recently quoted saying, “People were asking why they were showing white children in America and not telling the truth about the situation of the local people in the area.” Invisible Children claims this is the perfect opportunity for the world to rally together and stop an evil man, but this is a perfect opportunity for us to take a closer look at why it is so easy for a 30-minute video to persuade millions of Americans to assume the role of saviors to an African country.

Throughout the documentary, Invisible Children not only left out the voices of the people most directly affected by the LRA, but they also presented a series of manipulated facts and half-truths that made it easier to outrage the American public into what they determined as the best form of action. The truth is that while Kony had terrorized many parts of Uganda for a long time, he was driven into exile in 2006, and since then, the country has been relatively peaceful. Even the prime minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, who has enjoyed much support from Invisible Children despite reports that the Ugandan Army commits its own share of crimes against civilians, released a response video in which he condemns Invisible Children for portraying an outdated view of the situation. If many Ugandan civilians — victims of the LRA as well as the Ugandan government — do not feel that the video told the real story, then who is it really helping?

The facts that the Stop Kony campaign manipulated and blatantly ignored are far too many to be presented here, just as the real situation of the LRA and Kony is too long and complicated to be presented in a 30-minute YouTube video.

I believe the people involved with Stop Kony have the best intentions, but sometimes that is not enough. In this situation, it is our duty to look further and uncover the real truths so we are aware of all the implications we are supporting.

It is not realistic to expect that posting a Facebook status is going to change the world, nor is it realistic to expect the American military to take action without any selfish motivation. It has now been proven that social media can connect us together, but now it is our responsibility to make sure we really understand what we are supporting.

Morgan Milazzo is a senior anthropology major. Email her at mmilazz1@ithaca.edu.

It’s time to criticize Kony, not bash Invisible Children.

Invisible Children spearheaded the Kony 2012 campaign to make Joseph Kony, one of the world’s worst war criminals, infamous. For more than two decades, he has been kidnapping and forcing children to be soldiers in his army, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

JP Keenan

I’ve been following the conflict in central Africa for nearly six years now. In 2009, when lobbying Congress for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, I had to become an expert on the situation. For years I’ve been trying to get people involved and aware of what was happening in central Africa. So when Kony and Invisible Children were on the lips of every other person I was talking to that week, I was ecstatic.

When the Kony 2012 criticisms came out, I was confused. Had they seen the same documentary I had? Why were they saying Invisible Children was “out of touch with Ugandans” and “promoting imperial ideologies of the white man’s burden and military occupation?” I knew something was lost in translation.

Invisible Children never intended for this video to be the answer nor the end of the discussion. It was created to inspire education into the history of this conflict. To criticize Invisible Children for “oversimplifying the situation” is unreasonable. A five-hour or even 10-hour documentary wouldn’t encapsulate everything necessary to understand the situation. Invisible Children’s mission was to bring Kony’s crimes to light so the viewer could dig further.

Invisible Children has been working in Uganda and central Africa for almost 10 years. Last year, it premiered a documentary called “Tony” that directly addresses the notion of Invisible Children’s “White Savior Complex.” It shows Invisible Children’s work creating educational programs for Ugandans from Ugandans. In their Ugandan office, there are 85 Ugandans and three ‘Westerners.’ Their approach is built upon the idea that Ugandans should be building themselves up, not Westerners.

Many criticized the 100 U.S. military advisers that were sent to advise and assist the African Union’s mission to capture Kony. For years, Kony has refused peace. Similar to a hostage situation where the abductor has refused to negotiate, a use of concentrated force must occur.

The African Union has deployed regional forces to seek and capture Kony. America’s troops aren’t about establishing a land grab or securing oil interests abroad, but to support the AU-backed mission. We’ve learned from the Arab Spring that change has to come from within, and the victims of the LRA are calling out for the United States to help. The Ugandan-led regional forces welcomed the U.S. military advisers and are now deploying to capture Kony and his top commanders. From President Barack Obama’s letter to Congress about this deployment, the American military advisers are there to “provide information, advice, and assistance … The support provided by U.S. forces will enhance regional efforts against the LRA.” I cannot stress the importance of the supporting role they are playing in the capture of Kony. This deployment is a message that the United States wants to help capture Kony by offering their training and logistical support — nothing more.

I understand the desire for truth. But we shouldn’t be targeting Invisible Children — we should be targeting Joseph Kony.

JP Keenan is a sophomore documentary studies and production major and president of the college’s chapter of Invisible Children. Email him at jkeenan1@ithaca.edu.

The Ithacan can be reached at ithacan@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @IthacanOnline