The other day my sister posted a link to her Facebook wall titled KONY 2012, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I took the time to watch the 29-minute campaign video. As soon as the film ended, my Facebook News Feed was flooded with KONY 2012-related posts. When I checked it this morning, what I found was nothing short of astounding. Political and social debate on Facebook!? As pleasant as it was to see that my feed wasn’t dominated by personal complaints and unfunny memes, I felt like I had woken up in a parallel universe.
I’m sure all of you are now very aware of this phenomenon sweeping social media sites, but just in case you don’t – KONY 2012 is a campaign facilitated through social media sites by a nonprofit organisation called Invisible Children. Over the past 9 years, they have been active in setting up rehabilitation and network services for child soldiers in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically those involved in the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). Their latest effort in promoting awareness for child soldiers in Africa has involved an emotive 29-minute film urging viewers to make Joseph Kony, the head of the LRA and indicted war criminal, infamous. Why? The organisation hopes that increasing public awareness of Joseph Kony and his crimes will show support for US military intervention and ultimately lead in his capture. The video has done exactly that, and what was once a name that people would raise their eyebrows to has now become an inescapable topic of conversation.
But just as quickly as the video went viral, widespread criticism followed. Bloggers attacked the organisation’s finances, their interventionist approach, their support of Ugandan security and military forces (who have a long history of corruption), and the emotive and allegedly misinformed content of the film. Some argued that Joseph Kony is no longer a problem, but some even went so far as to call Invisible Children a money-making scam. Whilst most critics do not dispute the good intentions of the organisation, many fear that military intervention may only exacerbate problems in the region by encouraging retaliatory attacks by the LRA.
Though I agree with some of the criticism put forward regarding the consequences of Invisible Children‘s support of military intervention, what I find disturbing is that many of these skeptics use these criticisms as a reason not to take action. It is far too easy to be complacent with a long and difficult problem, and simply finding holes in an organisation’s efforts to bring about change is not contributing to a better solution either, even if you don’t agree with said organisation’s practices. I fear that many begin thinking, “Kony is in hiding, and Uganda has started rebuilding. It’s no longer a problem I should concern myself with.” The reality is that whilst these facts may hold some truth, it does not change the fact that the LRA is still in operation, and continues to destroy central-African communities. Watering down the problem does not make the problem disappear.
Whilst I was familiar with the LRA and the problems they cause, I will admit that I did not know the name Joseph Kony. Even though I don’t support all of Invisible Children‘s goals, and that their latest film is a blatant attempt to manipulate emotions and is at times misinformed, I’m glad that their video has opened my eyes a little wider to the issue. If anything, the KONY 2012 campaign can’t be faulted in its success as a tool for public awareness, and it has promoted discourse on social media networks about this pressing issue. People may not all agree on it, but it’s good to see that they’re finally talking about it.
But it shouldn’t stop there. The issue of child soldiers is not one that is confined to Africa, and there are children being recruited for war all over the world in regions like Asia and the Middle East. If we are taking action against the recruitment of children in Africa, then we should apply that same enthusiasm and compassion for child soldiers everywhere.
So what do I think about KONY 2012? Everyone should watch the video. But like any piece of information, one source is not enough to demonstrate understanding. A 29-minute video will certainly not explain the complexities of the social and political landscape of the central-African region. People should analyse and question the video, and conduct further research so that they are properly informed of the context of the situation and the potential consequences of taking particular courses of action. Make sure you know what you’re supporting before you take action. And don’t confine your learning to the problem in Africa – child soldiers are a global issue, and research should be done on other areas to understand the full extent of the problem.
Here are some useful links for you to make your own mind up: