Kony 2012: Dangerous, Simplistic, Insensitive (Just Ask Ugandans)
That’s a good thing.
We can hope that that this heightened awareness can be built upon to find real solutions to the conflict and to address the suffering of the tens-of-thousands of victims.
But the solutions offered by the video are both dangerous and simplistic. Not to mention, much of the information in the video is wrong. The most obvious, that numerous viewers have pointed out, are that Joseph Kony is long gone from Uganda, and that the 30,000 victims referred to are the result of over 20 years of persecution.
But that’s just the beginning. Let’s take the dangerous first, and let Ugandans speak for themselves.
Reaction In Uganda: Outrage, Anger, Hurt
On March 13, the first public screening of the Kony 2012 video in northern Uganda took place in Lira Town. The screening was attended by over 35,000 people from across northern Uganda, and broadcast live on five local FM radio stations that reach approximately 2 million people in northern Uganda.
However, at the Lira screening, the film produced such outrage, anger and hurt that it was decided that in order not to further harm victims or provoke any violent response that it is better to halt any further screenings for now.
While people clearly voiced the opinion that Kony, the top LRA commanders and those most responsible for the harms people suffered should be brought to justice and that international support was needed, the film’s overall messages were very upsetting to many audience members.
In particular, viewers were outraged by the KONY 2012 campaign’s strategy to make Kony famous and their marketing of items with his image. One victim was applauded upon saying, “If you care for us the victims, you will respect our feelings and acknowledge how hurting it is for us to see you mobilizing the world to make Kony famous, the guy who is the world most wanted criminal.”
There was a strong sense from the audience that the video was insensitive to African and Ugandan audiences, and that it did not accurately portray the conflict or the victims.
You can see some of these reactions in the video below.
If the makers of the video had any sensitivity or respect for the Ugandan people, they would pull their video immediately.
And this video is dangerous because it is simplistic. To tell over 3,000 audiences of high school students that by buying a bracelet, or sending a few dollars, they can solve the issue of child soldiers in Uganda and surrounding countries is patronizing, and it is a lie. Teenagers deserve better.
Let’s look at what’s really going on.
Eliminating Kony Only Means The Next Kony Will Step Forward
Joseph Kony is the tip of a much larger problem. While he must face justice as an individual, eliminating him ignores all of the factors that created him and allowed the LRA to survive for so long. As Amnesty International points out, these include regulating small arms, strengthening the rule of law in these countries, pushing governments to behave properly, as well as bringing high profile criminals like Kony to justice.
Kony is but one fugitive from justice among many, operating in a region faced with systemic human rights challenges requiring effective and transformative policy overhauls. There are many Konys, and getting rid of Joseph Kony will only mean that the next Kony will step forward.
Lubanga Indicted For Forcing Children To Serve As Soldiers
In fact, just yesterday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) completed its very first trial, convicting Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of forcing children to serve as soldiers in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lubanga is one of many who is just as despicable as Kony, and he has laid the groundwork for the kind of trial that Joseph Kony and others surely deserve.
Devastating Human Rights Situation
In the US, Amnesty International (AIUSA) has been working on child soldiers and on Uganda for over 20 years. So what do they have to say?
From Amnesty International:
The public awareness of the campaign opens up the opportunity to address the devastating human rights situation in the three countries the LRA has been operating of late. For one, the people of Central African Republic (CAR) have suffered decades of violence and abuse by government forces and armed groups like the LRA, and impunity for murder, rape, and the destruction of whole communities is rife.
In eastern DRC and Orientale province—where armed groups such as the LRA have been plentiful—the fighting has been characterized by the suffering of civilians at the hands of armed groups and security forces alike. For most of these crimes, impunity reigns in the DRC.
And finally in the world’s newest country, the people of South Sudan face constant threats, and a security sector in desperate need of overhaul.
Importantly, in all of the LRA affected areas, the security apparatuses of the state have been implicated in gross human rights abuses. In Uganda, whether during combat operations or even against protesters, threats have come not simply from Kony, but by some Ugandan forces themselves.
The Kony 2012 production is so slick, the look-at-me narrator so alienating, and the inaccuracies so staggering that the video doesn’t work for me. But working to use this opportunity to turn awareness into action would be a great outcome. Advocacy is messy business. Complacency is a real problem. The world needs action.
You can watch Ugandan reaction to Kony 2012 here:
Photo Credit: howdyhipeople