If you're on Facebook, the video called called Kony 2012 has surely popped into your feed sometime this week. Again and again, its re-posted by dozens of your friends with tags like "inspirational" or "I cried so many times while watching." Next thing you know you're watching the half-hour film by NGO Invisible Children, which aims to bolster international support for bringing Uganda rebel Joseph Kony to justice for crimes against humanity.
But does the viral video actually do anything to help Uganda? Cultist got in touch with an Africa expert at FIU to find out -- and you might want to read what he has to say before you click "like" and repost the video yourself.
An incredibly slick and well-produced film, Kony 2012 in and of itself is absolutely brilliant. It plays so well on all the little internet viral concepts that visually and conceptually grab people. Like explaining complicated ideas to a little, blonde hair, blue eyed white boy who adorably proclaims through a child's lisp, "that's a bad man." Pictures that move slightly while on earth toned backgrounds set to inspirational rock music and graphically designed charts and images. Plus exploiting the tragically horrible moment of a young Ugandan boy talking about how death is preferable to life. All it needs is a cat playing a keyboard.
It should be incredibly easy to point at Invisible Children's motives to destroy their credibility. It should be easy to point to the Evangelical intentions of the organization. It should be easy to point to the fact that the vast majority of money the organization collects goes to overhead and film production.
Yet the film keeps growing, and it's currently about to pass 50 million views. Give it another week and there's bound to be about 10,000 Kony 2012 posters plastered around the walls of Miami.
Florida International University's director of African and African diaspora studies program, Dr. Jean Muteba Rahier, though, says the Kony campaign misses the mark.
"[They] tend to focus exclusively on problems, and nothing on things that are beautiful to Africa," he laments. "They may eventually contribute to the reproduction of stereotypes, like [constant] famines, atrocities, and coup d'etats."
A YouTube video by Ugandan blogger, Rosebell Kagumire, for instance, states that the issue is much more complicated than it's being portrayed. "[It] tries to bring one man, one bad guy, against the good guys, and the mighty West trying to save Africa," she says.
Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama, a Ugandan writer and blogger, writes, "to call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement." And continues, "these campaigns are disempowering of [African] voices."
And this is the real harm of Kony 2012. The intentions and motives of Invisible Children is questionable at best. Their strategy of playing on "White Man's Burden" by ignoring the voices of the people they are trying to "save" only supports the stereotype that African's can't take care of themselves and needs the White man to save them.
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Dr. Rahier is quick to add that "if Joseph Kony is brought to justice, it would be a good thing."
It would also make an incredibly powerful statement on the strength of internet activism. The ultimate judge will be the outcome of Invisible Children's influence on actions against Joseph Kony, and what it means for the future of Central Africa.
In a just world, it all works out for the best. Unfortunately, things rarely do.