Tag Archives: kony 2012

The Final Word

Now that the global social-media network and development critics alike have had sufficient time to ponder, and as news spreads that Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is in peace talks, what is the final verdict on Kony 2012? We know now that the campaign was a bit misleading, as it inferred that Kony and his rebel army were still committing atrocities in northern Uganda, while they had actually been in hiding somewhere in either South Sudan, C.A.R or Congo (we now know C.A.R.) for some six years, depleted and in dissaray. When this came to be known in the Western World, along with questions about Invisible Children’s finances and its founder, there was a tremendous backlash against the advocacy group. As quick as it came, Kony 2012 went from being the most passionate and popular humanitarian advocacy campaign since Save Darfur, to a laughing stock and seriously “uncool.” Consequently, the campaign’s untimeliness and inaccuracies prevented Invisible Children from fulfilling its goal of having people all over the world marching for Kony’s arrest–assumedly, people didn’t want to be associated with such a failure.

But was it such a failure? The fact is, hundreds of millions of people are now aware of Kony and his atrocities. In the words of a professor of mine while I studied abroad in Gulu, Uganda, “Before Kony 2012, no one gave a shit. At least people know now.”

This may be true, but the video inappropriately characterizes the situation in northern Uganda, sidestepping more relevant and pressing issues. Ultimately, I feel the final word of Kony 2012 is left up to Ugandans; so, I present to you the following videos from a Ugandan advocacy group named “Uganda Speaks,” the first, representing the views of my professor, and the second of many Acholi:

As a sort of epilogue, I offer yet another video that I feel is very important not just in talks about Kony, but all humanitarian media initiatives. Kony 2012 further painted a picture of Uganda, and Africa as a whole, as a place of unimaginable savagery, violence and anguish. Though readers and contributors of this blog are probably well-versed in the tragedies of Africa’s past and present, war and suffering are not the entire picture.

Social Media for ICT4D

Today, while I was browsing Twitter, I noticed a tweet by USAID:

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 4.57.09 PM

Clicking on that link will lead you to a USAID blog post where they are asking for video submissions for their event #Popcorn + International Development as a part of Social Media Week in Washington D,C.  Social Media Week is a “worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media” (About Us, socialmediaweek.org) and takes place in several cities.  USAID is asking its development partners to submit videos to be considered for viewing to  “highlight how we rely on technology for a multitude of reasons, including program management and reporting, and general educational purposes for a range of projects, funded by USAID.” (USAID Impact Blog, 2013)

Like the video we watched in class, USAID is looking to use video and social media to communicate and improve ICT4D initiatives and projects.  I think this is an interesting and worthy idea, provided that the videos are seen and used, because by creating and distributing these videos, it allows a greater audience to learn from current and past project’s mistakes and successes in a tangible and cost-efficient way.  These videos can also be a great tool for updating stakeholders of progress and for attracting potential donors and supporters (a la Invisible Children’s KONY2012.)

The only thing that worries me is that because these videos are being created from within the organization, it can be too easy to edit and manipulate what is shown.  Videos cannot tell the whole picture and we must be critical of bias and the objective of the creator.

If you are interested in viewing submission sent to USAID, they can be viewed on USAID’s Youtube channel.

Kony 2012: Unsuccessful, but Unfairly Criticized

In an article from the Huffington Post from the height of the Kony 2012 video’s hype, the author delves into the shortcomings of the campaign and describes why the project was ultimately a huge waste of money. However, I feel that much of this criticism is unfair, and while the video has plenty of flaws, the project was not as much of a failure as the many critics like to believe.

In the article, the author describes several problems with the whole campaign:

  • An African audience found the use of the narrator’s son, a young white American, offensive for the simplifying nature of his input
  • A white American narrator was not especially appreciated, and in the midst of the recent discovery of oil resources in Uganda, many African viewers were reluctant to welcome American intervention.
  • The viewers asserted that making Kony infamous, and hunting him, was less important than actually providing assistance to the afflicted Africans, particularly because of the moral motivation behind the video.
  • The militaristic approach described in the video could risk the lives of child soldiers caught in the crossfire, a concern voiced by Africans as well as American critics.
  • The video simplifies a complex problem.
  • The impact of Kony’s army in Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic are not mentioned.

To a certain extent, many of these claims are validated by the result of the campaign. However, it is worth noting that the video succeeds in describing the personal aspect of suffering in conflicted regions to a largely ignorant American audience. The article also mentions that when Ugandans watched the video, they angrily responded with yelling and stone-throwing, and while this is pertinent in the evaluation of the video, we must remember that the video’s purpose was to raise awareness among young American populations, which it did very well. Furthermore, some of the criticism was more flawed than the video itself; CNN conducted interviews in the secure capital of Kampala, rather than northern Uganda where Kony’s forces were most felt (Kony 2012 Video). The video certainly fails to mention the geographic scope of Kony’s influence, but I would argue that the value of the video lies not in what is (or isn’t) explicitly described, rather in its impact, which comes in the form of the March 21st resolution wherein the US pledged to assist all four of the previously mentioned countries in stopping Kony. Whether the viewers know exactly where these atrocities take place is irrelevant if the policy makers are informed on the issue, which they were in this case.

Despite my assertions regarding Kony 2012’s value, the campaign is undoubtedly flawed and with limitations. In conveying the intervention as such a simple task, the video effectively encourages participation, but there is danger in assuming such a straightforward approach. Furthermore, we cannot even be sure that military intervention is the proper response; rather, it may be more valuable to tackle the systemic issues that allow for child armies in these developing societies. Ultimately, the simplicity that likely contributed to the video’s popularity is its downfall because it fosters the perception of viewing development efforts as clear-cut and simplistic.


Post Kony 2012, Invisible Children event, MOVE:DC. On November 17th, they will “descend on DC,” in a rally, in order to demand an end to LRA violence. This will be accompanied by a meeting of world leaders that have been invited by Invisible Children to discuss their plans to end LRA violence.

After the blowback from KONY 2012 it appears that Invisible Children is trying to do more than just “attention philanthropy” with this global summit, and the location of the rally it appears that the organization is trying to gain a little more political clout.

Despite the new direction of the organization, I’m still a little skeptical. I think it may take a lot for Invisible Children to get over the bad press that happened during Kony 2012, but the new direction may engage a different support base and that may do some real good.

Unpacking KONY 2012

Unpacking KONY 2012
Ethan Zuckerman

Zuckerman’s blog “Unpacking KONY 2012 “ describes a video and advocacy organization Invisible Children and how the KONY 2012 video worked/failed as a social media advocacy project. When the video first came out every college and high school student reposted it to all of their friends to show their support for the cause. Anyone who tried to ask questions about the campaign, organization, or true situation in Uganda was shut down immediately and hated on for not caring enough about the poor defenseless “invisible” African children.
The truth of the 2012 campaign though, was that it was advertising a problem that was no longer a huge threat, it did not mention the Uganda and American support already out looking for Kony, and it took away the voice of the locals. One of the most important lessons I have learned in International Development, Public Health, and just volunteering in the community is that it is not our job to speak for others. We are not there to tell them what the problems are and how we are going to solve them, but to offer our support and stand with them. The Invisible Children Campaign “gives little to no agency to the Ugandans or the organizations that want to help.” Invisible Children has no Africans on the board of directors and very few on the senior staff.
Our job is not to solve other people’s problems. Our job is to work with others and help empower them. American college students do not know have the answers and this video gives students the message that they were the ones in power, they were the voice of all the “invisible children”.

A Kenyan’s Stance on the Western “Development” of Africa

I would recommend that anyone skeptical of KONY 2012 or development in general read this article published by BBC News Africa. If you are not skeptical of development, this could still be enlightening. I think author, Binyavanga Wainaina is right.

What do you think?

Colonialism, the White Man’s Burden, and the History of Development

Internationaldevelopmentshould.com is a blog about making people really think about the “purpose of international development efforts and alternative approaches to the design, implementation, and evaluation of ‘international development’ projects, programs, and policies” (http://internationaldevelopmentshould.com/mission/).  One blog post written a little over a year ago, The More Things Change: Development’s Colonial Heritage,” discusses some of the basic history about how the development field came to be what it is today.   The blog writer broke it down into three separate blog posts with historical details ranging from after the First World War, after the Second World War, and post-colonialism during the 1960 to 1970’s.

In particular, the blog focuses on the ‘sovereign-state’ system as well as the idea of development , welfare, and reconstruction.  The author argues that in the post-colonialism era, independence did not liberate people, but freed the “states.” This has culminated in “ineffective and illegitimate development programs and policies” in these so-called developing areas because of the distribution of illegitimate power.

In Britain, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1939 defined development as referring to the infrastructure necessary to be able to extract raw materials while welfare included the social services necessary to prevent civilian outcry through protests or revolution.  There was a reason for the welfare, and it wasn’t to merely help the “natives.”

After World War II, the United States was the only nation involved in foreign aid bi-laterally until France began in 1961.  Forty-three percent of the aid donated by the United States directly flowed into European countries which was no different from the World Bank who primarily only loaned money to the same industrial powers.

According to the blog, many Westerners who worked with indigenous people “explicitly rejected the non-European beliefs and values of ‘those’ people.”  John Maynard Keynes wrote about how twenty-one of the countries which had been invited to join the World Bank and International Monetary Fund “clearly have nothing to contribute and merely encumber the ground.”  Additionally, several United Nations delegates were vehement in their position that development was “’a Western mode of reasoning’” to the indigenous people in the colonies.   The blog continues with specific instances in which the UK and France went directly from a “colonial administration to direct bi-lateral international development assistance.”

The reason why I bring all of this up is because of our recent conversations about the KONY 2012 Campaign and the International Development field altogether.  As we briefly discussed the “White Savior Industrial Complex,” I think it is important to note the history of development and the history of the White Man’s Burden as well as the role of white men in the “development” of the world.  There is a long history of development and the precedent that colonialism and imperialism left was merely the foundation for development.  As we study ICT4D vs. ICT4$, it is imperative for us to understand the history of the 4$ and 4who exactly.  Whether or not we define ICT4D as such or as 4$, the idea of “development” is not so neutral in itself especially within the historical context which this article brings some light to.  International development was never purely intentioned from the start.  At the same time, whether or not people have a desire to help people and have pure intentions, this does not always lead to positive impact as we have clearly seen in the case of KONY 2012.  However, I think it is imperative that we don’t stop at KONY 2012.  Besides projects with tied aid or for security purposes, it is crucial that we are critical of all development because of its very nature and the guaranteed profit in some form that someone gains (which is usually the donor in this market-society). While people need to be able to make a living to do good work, we have to be very clear about how development workers have come to have their jobs and be cognizant of the history of development and each individual’s role in the process of reframing what that means.  If we truly are pure about our intentions, why would we resist having these real conversations about white privilege and the way in which we operate our development projects?  In my opinion, if we don’t have these conversations, than we are merely adding to the many problems with development.

The Inherent Undertones of Fundrasing

Somehow in my college career I’ve managed to become an expert in fundraising, information dissemination, and marketing operations of institutions. I couldn’t help but view IC’s campaign primarily through this lens. I’ve spent four years fundraising for Tulane University, cold calling alumni for donations, and a summer door-to-door canvassing for the local environmental non-profit the Gulf Restoration Network. I love the environment—I’m an environmental studies major and currently filling out applications for national park ranger positions post-college—but somehow this deeply held appreciation was hard to keep in mind when I was personally appealing to New Orleans to help save the wetlands. I think there is an inherent dark side to fundraising: a manipulative, calculating, and dishonest lining to the “let’s make a difference” mentality.

This brings me to Kony 2012. As all the rebuttals and responses show, Invisible Children struck several important nerves in the international development community. Cries of oversimplification of a complex sociopolitical situation overwhelmed the video’s response. The simple emotive narrative has been deemed key to the video’s wild success. Many Africans were angered by the video’s lack of Ugandan inclusion. However, as a longtime fundraiser, it was obvious that this video was brilliantly calculated for young Western eyes and not for others. Fundraising is so crucial to an organization’s longevity but so often support hard to gain. Though many can agree a situation needs to be resolved, disagreement about the finer points is standard. The Gulf’s wetland ecosystems are incredibly important for biodiversity, hurricane prevention, fishing industries, and cultural preservation, but I didn’t bring that up at every door. After a few weeks, I discarded the organization’s preapproved speech and began to target my doors very specifically. If there were animal statues in the yard and a woman at the door, I would ask, “Did you know there are more dead baby dolphins washing ashore than ever before?” American-made SUV in front of a wealthy house, “We want to make sure BP’s Clean Water Act fines aren’t taken away from our communities by the federal government.” An oil company bumper sticker on the car, “Well, actually, our organization doesn’t support the moratorium on drilling unless state residents also support it. Our goal is safer drilling so that oil, as well as fisheries, remains an important part of our state’s economy.” I never lied at the door, but I did become an expert at assessing people’s political leanings by their landscaping (I swear I was deadly accurate) and tailoring my message specifically to appeal to them, and omitting the points they probably wouldn’t have approved of. After switching tactics, my number of contributions went up; I was assigned to higher yielding neighborhoods closer to the office. Fundraising becomes a game when your employment depends on the number of people you sign up and the probability of rejection is 90 percent. Though I was happy to be raising more money for an organization I believed was doing good, the change also left bad taste in my mouth particularly when a person appeared particularly weak to the powers of persuasion.

Kony 2012 hit its targeted audience dead on. Others have complained that IC spends only a third of its money on actual projects and the rest of fundraising, marketing, and documentaries. IC grew out of a few American kids looking to make a documentary to bring awareness to the plight of the “invisible children”, so it sort of makes sense that they continue to spend so much on public awareness; these are the organization’s roots. For those educated in international discourse the message seems disjointed, but the vast majority of people are not so informed. There are glaring inaccuracies and tonal issues with IC’s Kony 2012, but I cannot condemn the effort. As an employee that whole-heartedly believed in an NGO’s mission, I can attest to the deep inherent pressure to simplify narratives for mass consumption and support and the ease with which one can muddy their ethic stance for a greater mission.

Disclaimer: I’m not a representative of all Gulf Restoration Network employees or the organization. This was my personal experience. As I said, I discarded the NGO’s preapproved speech after a couple of weeks.

Gawker and Kony

In 2010 Gawker had 215,504,439 visits with users overwhelmingly from the United States with an 80.7% rate, followed by Canada at 6.01% and the United Kingdom at 3.01%.[1] Since then their readership has grown considerably-as I speak 8,242 people are currently reading. This blog/newsmagazine in based in New York City whose readership is twenty something’s young urban professionals who like satirical editorials. I was interested to look into their take on KONY2012 because I wanted to know what some people in our age range were being exposed to without actively looking for answers.

Two days after the release of the video Gawker published “How You Should Feel About KONY2012, the Campaign That’s Taking Over the Internet: A Guide” to their explainers section. In this piece Max Read divides the possible opinions into 5 camps. Within each explanation the author states who believes this opinion, what it entails and the problem with this opinion. The first is “Joseph Kony is a horrible human being and war criminal” stated that almost everyone believes this and that indisputably “Kony is a very bad dude”. Here he explains what the LRA is, how he uses children soldiers, and how he is no longer in Uganda. Read doesn’t believe there is any problem with this opinion except figuring out the best next step.

Opinion 2 is that of Invisible Children: the U.S. military should intervene to find and arrest Kony. Here they summarize the campaign then state that there is a “gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation”. Opinion 3 is the opposite of the previous opinion, stated that the U.S. military has actually made the attempt at Kony’s capture worse by prompting retaliatory strikes. Read also does not forget to mention that the Ugandan army has not had the best human rights record.

Finally opinion 4 states “Invisible Children in misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and possibly making the situation in Uganda worse”. Here the author points out that under a third of IC money was spent on direct services last year, that the video is misleading and simple, and that Uganda has more urgent issues that Kony. Read compares this campaign to a “change your profile picture to a cartoon character to protest child abuse” and points of how the film centers on “well-meaning westerners will save Africa”.

Finally, the article ends on a less serious note mocking those on twitter calling Kony a gangsta (wouldn’t be a Gawker article without some humor). And overall I was pretty impressed that such a short article could drive home many of the most important points we had been discussing all week. When considering if this video was a good think or a bad thing I felt very conflicted. This did start a very important dialogue, but it also lead million of people to believe that this oversimplification was true. This cannot be forgotten but it is nice to know that thousands of people read and commented on this article.

[1] Read, Max. “How You Should Feel About Kony 2012, the Campaign That’s Taking Over the Internet: A Guide.” Gawker. 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

Kony 2012 from the Perspective of Another Nonprofit

John Travis, co-founder of Drop in the Bucket, a non-profit organization devoted to the construction of wells and establishment of sanitation systems in African schools, published an article today entitled, “Kony 2012: Why It Worked”. Prefacing the body of his article analyzing why the video was a successful use of social media, Travis outlines the two sides of the campaign, and defends the opinions of both sides, asserting that it is impossible not to become impassioned about a matter involving the intentional and deliberate harm of children.

Travis makes several important points addressing the success of this video campaign. First, the message of this video was more effective than any of the previous attempts Invisible Children has made in the past. It was a simple (some claim too simple), direct and inspiring message which resonated with many more people than ever before. While many of the “facts” Invisible Children claimed to be true in this video are inaccurate, a mistake they have been highly criticized for, Travis maintains that in the thirty minutes the organization had to relay their message, they certainly made an impact and delivered a memorable and and more easy to understand message, despite some inaccuracies.

Travis concludes that Invisible Children did have some successes, including the fact that because of their campaigning, great numbers of people around the world have become aware of the nation of Uganda, and its struggles because of, and since, the terror inflicted by Kony and the LRA. However, Travis after showing thanks to Invisible Children in that regard, he then continues to request to the reader not to participate in the day of action, April 20th, as advertised in the video. He asks this from the position of a person close to many people affected by Kony and his violence, and out of respect for them, especially those currently living in the US as a result of the death, violence and forced removal from the country. Instead, he merely asks that you educate yourself. Find out more about what is going on in Uganda now, and consider contributing your money to an organization devoted to helping the Ugandans with their current struggles. Look toward the future, instead of the past.

Here is an article on why Kony 2012 worked.