Tag Archives: Africa

About that “Kony 2012” video

We may not have previously seen a social-media phenomenon quite like “Kony 2012,” the online video aimed at raising public awareness about Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. I saw it on Tuesday, urged on by my son. He was skeptical from the beginning, having seen this. Today, some 50 million views later, “Kony 2012″ is on the front page of the New York Times.

You may be familiar with the criticism by now, which I will attempt summarize as follows:

  • It oversimplifies a complex situation.
  • Kony’s forces, which once terrorized Uganda, have dwindled to a few hundred, and have long since fled for parts unknown.
  • Invisible Children, the not-exactly-transparent nonprofit that made “Kony 2012,” is pushing for the U.S. to launch an ill-advised military action.
  • The film plays down the brutal nature of the current Ugandan government, which, among other things, is considering a measure calling for the death penalty for gay men. (A star of the film is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who has been accused of inadvertently helping to foment anti-gay hatred in Uganda.)
  • The underlying message of the video is that bringing Kony to justice is something white people must do for poor, helpless black people.

“While I’ve been waiting years for a spotlight to be shown on Kony, what Kony 2012 is all about is shining the spotlight on [filmmaker] Jason Russell,” writes my WGBH colleague Phillip Martin on Facebook. “This is indeed a great white hope form of self-aggrandizement, albeit whatever good intentions he has.”

Personally, I’d been going back and forth on “Kony 2012″ until last night, when I ran across this lengthy blog post by Ethan Zuckerman, an Africa expert who is director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media as well as the co-founder of Global Voices Online, which has rounded up African reaction to the film. It’s exactly the sort of nuanced, deeply knowledgeable analysis I would expect from Zuckerman, and I urge you to read it. (If you haven’t seen “Kony 2012″ yet, this will take you less time.)

There’s no question that “Kony 2012″ will raise awareness, and it’s possible that it will even do some good. But it’s not entirely clear what the goal is, or for that matter should be.

Video recorded by @rosebellk for Al Jazeera.

Former Liberian dictator threatens to sue Boston Globe

Days before the Boston Globe published a withering editor’s note essentially retracting its Jan. 17 story about former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor’s alleged ties to the CIA, African news sources were reporting that Taylor was threatening to sue the Globe for libel.

Taylor escaped from a jail in Plymouth, Mass., in 1985, under circumstances suspicious enough to stoke rumors that U.S. authorities were involved. He is now facing charges in a war-crimes trial stemming from his brutal reign.

This past Monday, two days before the editor’s note appeared, the New Dawn, based in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, quoted Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, as saying that Taylor denied having worked as a spy for the U.S. government. The article includes this:

“I spoke with Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Griffiths said. “He was very adamant that he has never worked for any American (spy) agency. The Liberian Security Agencies have worked … His National Patriotic Party of Liberia (NPFL) … But he as an individual has never worked (for the US Intelligence Agency).

“I know Mr. Taylor is very angry and he is not taking this likely [sic],” Griffiths told the New Dawn.

The story was carried in All Africa, which aggregates African news from a variety of sources. It includes the text of a letter Griffiths said he sent to Globe editor Marty Baron and others at the newspaper demanding copies of the documents they relied on in putting together their report. But the Globe now tells us there are no documents.

The editor’s note couldn’t be much tougher. It begins: “A front-page story on Jan. 17 drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberia president Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a ‘sought-after source.'”

It goes on to describe the Globe’s longstanding Freedom of Information Act request that U.S. officials turn over documents related to what if any relationship the government had with Taylor. But though the Jan. 17 story, by longtime Globe staff reporter Bryan Bender, appears to be based at least in part on the documents, the editor’s note says otherwise:

[The US Defense Intelligence Agency] offered no such confirmation; rather, it said only that it possessed 48 documents running to 153 pages that fall in the category of what the Globe asked for — records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence going back to 1982. The agency, however, refused to release the documents and gave no indication of what was in them.

The editor’s note concludes:

Taylor, now standing trial before a UN special court on charges of rape, murder and other offenses, denies he was ever a source for US intelligence. The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form.

There is still much that we don’t know. For instance, on Tuesday, Africa Review reported that Griffiths had “acknowledged that the Liberian Security agencies as well as his [Taylor's] National Patriotic Party of Liberia worked or associated with US intelligence organs but not himself personally.” That’s hardly a blanket denial.

And at Foreign Policy’s Passport blog, Joshua Keating doesn’t seem all that upset about Taylor’s injured feelings. Calling the Globe’s note a “near retraction,” Keating nevertheless ends with this: “The fact that these ‘records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence’ [quoting the Globe] exist but the CIA won’t release them is only going to increase the curiosity about what they contain. The correction is unlikely to stop the rumor mills in Monrovia, Washington, or The Hague.”

Bender is a good and careful reporter, and it seems pretty clear that there are other shoes yet to be dropped. The only thing we can say for certain at this point is that it’s all way too weird to come to any conclusions.