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.