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Unpacking Kony 2012

Traduzido para o Português por Natália Mazotte e Bruno Serman

This Monday, March 5th, the advocacy organization Invisible Children released a 30 minute video titled “Kony 2012“. The goal of the video is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, a wanted war criminal, in the hopes of bringing him to justice.

By Thursday morning, March 8th, the video had been viewed more than 26 million times, and almost 12 million more times on Vimeo. (Needless to say, those numbers are now much higher.) It has opened up a fascinating and complicated discussion not just about the Lord’s Resistance Army and instability in northern Uganda and bordering states, but on the nature of advocacy in a digital age.

My goal, in this (long) blogpost is to get a better understanding of how Invisible Children has harnessed social media to promote their cause, what the strengths and limits of that approach are, and what some unintended consequences of this campaign might be. For me, the Kony 2012 campaign is a story about simplification and framing. Whether you ultimately support Invisible Children’s campaign – and I do not – it’s important to think through why it has been so successful in attracting attention online and the limits to the methods used by Invisible Children.

Who’s Joseph Kony, and who are Invisible Children?

Joseph Kony emerged in the mid 1980s as the leader of an organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army, that positioned itself in opposition to Yoweri Museveni, who took control of Uganda in 1986 after leading rebellions against Idi Amin and Milton Obote, previous rulers of Uganda. Museveni, from southern Uganda, was opposed by several armed forces in the north of the country, including Kony’s group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since the mid-1980s, northern Uganda has been a dangerous and unstable area, with civilians displaced from their homes into refugee camps, seeking safety from both rebel groups and the Ugandan military.

Kony and the LRA distinguished themselves from other rebel groups by their bizarre ideology and their violent and brutal tactics. The LRA has repeatedly kidnapped children, training boys as child soldiers and sexually abusing girls, who become porters and slaves. The fear of abduction by the LRA led to the phenomenon of the “night commute“, where children left their villages and came to larger cities to sleep, where the risk of LRA abduction was lower.

The Ugandan government has been fighting against Kony since 1987. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Kony and four LRA organizers. The United States considers the LRA a terrorist group, and has cooperated with the Ugandan government since at least 2008 in attempting to arrest Kony.

Invisible Children is a US-based advocacy organization founded in 2004 by filmmakers Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole and Jason Russell. Initially interested in the conflict in Darfur, the filmmakers traveled instead to northern Uganda and began documenting the night commute and the larger northern Ugandan conflict. The image of children commuting to safety became a signature for Invisible Children, and they began a campaign in 2006 called the Global Night Commute, which invited supporters to sleep outside in solidarity with children in Northern Uganda.

As a nonprofit, Invisible Children has been engaged in efforts on the ground in northern Uganda and in bordering nations to build radio networks, monitoring movements of the LRA combattants, and providing services to displaced children and families. They’ve also focused heavily on raising awareness of the LRA and conflicts in northern Uganda, and on influencing US government policy towards the LRA. In 2010, President Obama committed 100 military advisors to the Ugandan military, focused on capturing Kony – Invisible Children was likely influential in persuading the President to make this pledge.

The Kony 2012 campaign, launched with the widely viewed video, focuses on the idea that the key to bringing Joseph Kony to justice is to raise awareness of his crimes. Filmmaker and narrator Jason Russell posits, “99% of the planet doesn’t know who Kony is. If they did, he would have been stopped years ago.”

To raise awareness of Kony, Russell urges viewers of the video to contact 20 “culturemakers” and 12 policymakers who he believes can increase the visibility of the LRA and increase chances of Kony’s arrest. More concretely, Russell wants to ensure that the 100 military advisors the Obama government has provided remain working with the Ugandan military to help capture and arrest Kony.

Criticism of the Kony 2012 campaign

As the Kony 2012 campaign has gained attention, it’s also encountered a wave of criticism. Tuesday evening, Grant Oyston, a 19-year old political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia published a Tumblr blog titled “Visible Children“, which offered multiple critiques of the Invisible Children campaign. That site has attracted over a million views, tens of thousands of notes, and evidently buried Oyston in a wave of email responses.

The Visible Children tumblr points out that Invisible Children spends less than a third of the money they’ve raised on direct services in northern Uganda and bordering areas. The majority of their funding is focused on advocacy, filmmaking and fundraising. It also questions whether the strategy Invisible Children proposes – supporting the Ugandan military to seek Kony – is viable and points out that the Ugandan military has a poor human rights record in northern Uganda. (Invisible Children reacts to some of these criticism in this blog post.)

As a set of Kony-related hashtags trended on Twitter yesterday, some prominent African and Afrophile commentators pointed out that the Invisible Children campaign gives little or no agency to the Ugandans the organization wants to help. There are no Africans on the Invisible Children board of directors and few in the senior staff. And the Invisible Children approach focuses on American awareness and American intervention, not on local solutions to the conflicts in northern Uganda. This led Ugandan blogger and activist Teddy Ruge – who works closely on community development projects in Uganda – to write a post responding to the Invisible Children campaign titled “A piece of my mind: Respect my agency 2012“, asking supporters of Invisible Children to consider whether IC’s framing of the situation is a correct one, whether IC’s efforts focus too heavily on sustaining the organization, and whether a better way to support people of northern Uganda would be to work with community organizations focusing on rebuilding displaced communities.

Other criticisms have focused on more basic issues: Kony is no longer in Uganda, and it is no longer clear that the LRA represents a major threat to stability in the region. Reporting on an LRA attack in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a UN spokesman described the attack as “he last gasp of a dying organisation that’s still trying to make a statement.” The spokesman believes that the LRA is now reduced to about 200 fighters, as well as a band of women and children who feed and support the group. Rather than occupying villages, as the LRA did when they were stronger, they now primarily conduct 5-6 person raids on villages to steal food.

Invisible Children’s theory of change… and the problem with that theory

I’d like to start an analysis of Invisible Children’s techniques by giving Jason Russell and his colleagues the benefit of the doubt. I think they sincerely believe that Kony and the LRA must be brought to justice, and that their campaign is appropriate even though Kony’s impact on the region is much smaller than it was five to ten years ago. While it’s very easy to be cynical about their $30 action kit, I think they genuinely believe that the key to arresting Kony is raising awareness and pressuring the US government.

I think, however, that they are probably wrong.

Kony and his followers have fled northern Uganda and sought shelter in parts of the world where this is little or no state control over territory: eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, eastern Central African Republic and southwestern Southern Sudan. The governments that nominally control these territories have little or no ability to protect their borders, and have proven themselves helpless when international agencies like the ICC have demanded their help in arresting Kony.

Finding Kony isn’t a simple thing to do. The areas in which he and his forces operate are dense jungle with little infrastructure. The small size of the LRA is an additional complication – with a core group of a few hundred and raiding parties of a handful of individuals, satellite imagery isn’t going to detect the group – that’s why Invisible Children and others are trying to build networks that allow people affected by the LRA to report attacks, as those attacks are one of the few ways we might plausibly find the LRA.

Russell argues that the only entity that can find and arrest Kony is the Ugandan army. Given that the Ugandan army has been trying, off and on, since 1987 to find Kony, that seems like a troublesome strategy. Journalist Michael Wilkerson, who has reported on the LRA for many years, notes that the Ugandan army is poorly equipped, underfed, incompetent and deeply corrupt. Past efforts to crack down on Kony have failed due to poor planning, poor coordination and Kony’s deeply honed skills at hiding in the jungle.

Complicating matters, Kony continues to rely on child soliders. That means that a military assault – targeted to a satellite phone signal or some other method used to locate Kony – would likely result in the death of abducted children. This scenario means that many northern Ugandans don’t support military efforts to capture or kill Kony, but advocate for approaches that offer amnesty to the LRA in exchange for an end to violence and a return of kidnapped children.

Invisible Children have demonstrated that they can raise “awareness” through a slickly produced video and successful social media campaign. It is possible – perhaps likely – that this campaign will increase pressure on President Obama to maintain military advisors in Uganda. As Wilkerson points out in a recent post, there’s no evidence the President had threatened to pull those advisors. And as Mark Kersten observes, it’s likely that those advisors are likely in Uganda as a quid pro quo for Ugandan support for US military aims in Somalia. In other words, the action Invisible Children is asking for has been taken… and, unfortunately, hasn’t resulted in the capture of Kony.

The problem with oversimplification

The campaign Invisible Children is running is so compelling because it offers an extremely simple narrative: Kony is a uniquely bad actor, a horrific human being, whose capture will end suffering for the people of Northern Uganda. If each of us does our part, influences powerful people, the world’s most powerful military force will take action and Kony will be captured.

Russell implicitly acknowledges the simplicity of the narrative with his filmmaking. Much of his short film features him explaining to his young son that Kony is a bad guy, and that dad’s job is capturing the bad guy. We are asked to join the campaign against Kony literally by being spoken to as a five year old. It’s not surprising that a five year old vision of a problem – a single bad guy, a single threat to eliminate – leads to an unworkable solution. Nor is it a surprise that this extremely simple narrative is compelling and easily disseminated.

Severine Autesserre, a scholar focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo, has recently written an important paper on the narratives and framings of the conflict in eastern DRC. (I know of this paper only through the good graces of Dr. Laura Seay, whose Texas in Africa blog is required reading for anyone who is interested in Central Africa, and who has been one of the prominent voices on Twitter calling for reconsideration of Invisible Children’s strategy.)

Autesserre’s paper argues that the wildly complicated conflict in eastern DRC has been reduced to a fairly simple narrative by journalists and NGOs: to gain control of mineral riches, rebel armies are using rape as a weapon of war, and they should be stopped by the DRC government. This narrative is so powerful because “certain stories resonate more, and thus are more effective at influencing action, when they assign the cause of the problems to ‘the deliberate actions of identifiable individuals’, when they include ‘bodily harm to vulnerable individuals, especially when there is a short and clear causal chain assigning responsibility’; when they suggest a simple solution; ad when they can latch on to pre-existing narratives.”

Sound familiar? The Kony story resonates because it’s the story of an identifible individual doing bodily harm to children. It’s a story with a simple solution, and it plays into existing narratives about the ungovernability of Africa, the power of US military and the need to bring hidden conflict to light.

Here’s the problem – these simple narratives can cause damage. By simplifying the DRC situation to a conflict about minerals, the numerous other causes – ethnic tensions, land disputes, the role of foreign militaries – are all minimized. The proposed solutions – a ban on the use of “conflict minerals” in mobile phones – sounds good on paper. In practice, it’s meant that mining of coltan is no longer possible for artisanal miners, who’ve lost their main source of financial support – instead, mining is now dominated by armed groups, who have the networks and resources to smuggle the minerals out of the country and conceal their origins. Similarly, the focus on rape as a weapon of war, Autesserre argues, has caused some armed groups to engage in mass rape as a technique to gain attention and a seat at the negotiating table. Finally, the focus on the Congolese state as a solution misses the point that the state has systematically abused power and that the country’s rulers have used power to rob their citizenry. A simple, easily disseminated narrative, Autesserre argues, has troublesome unintended consequences.

What are the unintended consequences of the Invisible Children narrative? The main one is increased support for Yoweri Museveni, the dictatorial and kleptocratic leader of Uganda. Museveni is now on his fourth presidential term, the result of an election seen as rigged by EU observers. Museveni has asserted such tight control over dissenting political opinions that his opponents have been forced to protest his rule through a subtle and indirect means – walking to work to protest the dismal state of Uganda’s economy. Those protests have been violently suppressed.

The US government needs to pressure Museveni on multiple fronts. The Ugandan parliament, with support from Museveni’s wife, has been pushing a bill to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The Obama administration finds itself pressuring Museveni to support gay and lesbian rights and to stop cracking down on the opposition quite so brutally, while asking for cooperation in Somalia and against the LRA. An unintended consequence of Invisible Children’s campaign may be pushing the US closer to a leader we should be criticizing and shunning.

Can we advocate without oversimplifying?

I am now almost three thousand words into this blogpost, and I am aware that I am oversimplifying the situation in northern Uganda… and also aware that I haven’t simplified it enough. It makes perfect sense that a campaign to create widespread awareness of conflict in northern Uganda would want to simply this picture down to a narrative of good versus evil, and a call towards action. While I resent the emotionally manipulative video Invisible Children have produced, I admire the craft of it. They begin with a vision of a changing global world, where social media empowers individuals as never before. They craft a narrative around a passionate, driven advocate – Jason Russell – and show us the reasons for his advocacy – his friendship with a Ugandan victim of Kony. The video has a profound “story of self” that makes it possible for individuals to connect with and relate to. And Invisible Children constructs a narrative where we can help, and where we’re shirking our responsibility as fellow human beings if we don’t help.

The problem, of course, is that this narrative is too simple. The theory of change it advocates is unlikely to work, and it’s unclear if the goal of eliminating Kony should still be a top priority in stabilizing and rebuilding northern Uganda. By offering support to Museveni, the campaign may end up strengthening a leader with a terrible track record.

A more complex narrative of northern Uganda would look at the odd, codependent relationship between Museveni and Kony, Uganda’s systematic failure to protect the Acholi people of northern Uganda. It would look at the numerous community efforts, often led by women, to mediate conflicts and increase stability. It would focus on the efforts to rebuild the economy of northern Uganda, and would recognize the economic consequences of portraying northern Uganda as a war zone. It would feature projects like Women of Kireka, working to build economic independence for women displaced from their homes in Northern Uganda.

Such a narrative would be lots harder to share, much harder to get to “go viral”.

I’m starting to wonder if this is a fundamental limit to attention-based advocacy. If we need simple narratives so people can amplify and spread them, are we forced to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions?

As someone who believes that the ability to create and share media is an important form of power, the Invisible Children story presents a difficult paradox. If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them? And if we do, do our simplistic framings do more unintentional harm than intentional good? Or is the wave of pushback against this campaign from Invisible Children evidence that we’re learning to read and write complex narratives online, and that a college student with doubts about a campaign’s value and validity can find an audience? Will Invisible Children’s campaign continue unchanged, or will it engage with critics and design a more complex and nuanced response.

That’s a story worth watching.

265 thoughts on “Unpacking Kony 2012”

  1. I think Nina Mollerup and James above voiced it perfectly. I am seeing all these posts about “more worthy” charities and NGOs in Central Africa but don’t you get it there would not even be any eyes on those names or click throughs on those links if IC didn’t change the game in this way. You didn’t “unpack” anything in here but really just went over tired old elitist (oh yes, I said it) arguments which say this is too complicated an issue for your little minds if you were drawn in by this slick video. Let’s face it these IC folks have done something none of the “internet experts” or media masters have ever been able to do which is to get 50 million people and counting to care about something serious. I am pretty sure donations to almost every NGO in Central Africa is gettina a bump from this as nasayers and hipsters look for alternatives to IC. Say “thank you” folks. And, by the way IC NEVER claimed as thier principal goal on the ground infrastructure building. They were always filmakers and always motivated by the goal of bringing this to international attention. So they spend lots of thier money educating young people not just about the evils of Joseph Kony but about caring at all. And, for that we should all be grateful.

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  3. Maisha…well said!

    Also, recognize the successes and efforts of those, who organizations like IC forget to give credit to: Betty Bigombe, Rwot David Acana, Angelina Atyam, HURIFO, Oxfam, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and a whole host of local and international NGOs who have been working tirelessly in the background to achieve amazing things. IC on CNN last night appeared to take most of the credit themselves for US action! What a slap in the face to all the other people who have worked without any desire for credit.

    IC has accomplished 1, 2, 3 and 8 (kudos to them, it was needed)…but have much to learn about how to do 4, 5, 6 and 7. Rather than pointing potential activists to the IC website to buy IC messaging kits, instead point them to the amazing individuals I listed above! If IC had done that, then they would deserve real praise. Then the potential activists would be directed towards advocacy that works.

  4. Pingback: Joseph Kony Links « Jsa08′s Blog

  5. By the way..James with all due respect, no one is telling teenagers that they can not do anything or that they are not smart enough to engage. This is not what the critique of IC is about. You are missing the bigger picture.

    The critique is not of the teenagers who could become involved, it is about the shallowness of IC’s call to action. If you are going to mobilize millions of youth, offer them real opportunity to engage (bracelets and posters are fine, but ultimately do not lead to real action). In other words, treat them intelligently, for they are intelligent individuals. Respect them enough to not just get them motivated, but to offer them actions that can truly help (or better yet, ask them what they think we can do and help them turn those ideas into action). To begin with, how about connecting them to the dozens of youth-led organizations in northern Uganda? Peer-to-peer efforts; not “pay for our kits so that we can make more films.”

  6. Ethan, this is indeed a profound question:

    “I’m starting to wonder if this is a fundamental limit to attention-based advocacy. If we need simple narratives so people can amplify and spread them, are we forced to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions? … If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them? And if we do, do our simplistic framings do more unintentional harm than intentional good?”

    But maybe I’m misreading the tone of your post, as it has a very crisis-of-belief flavor to it. There’s nothing wrong with Kony as an example, but this sort of oversimplification in politics is generic. There’s plenty of examples very close to home, where e.g. the whole the social-media/start-up world went nuts over SOPA, getting into a lather over a very overblown narrative of the evil enemies of the Net destroying sites over single infringing link. Or Net Neutrality just before that, where relatively minor network management issues were treated as essentially literal conspiracies. There are good policy reasons to oppose SOPA/favor NN, but those aren’t amendable to popular campaigns. Why expect Ugandan politics to have more of a “complex and nuanced response” than US politics (e.g “death panels!”).

    Is it just that this topic is near and dear to you, from your experience in Africa? Again, that’s fine, we all have our personal touchstones. But it seems little late to be discovering that the Internet is really good at spreading appealing stories without regard to truth, and manipulators with money can exploit this for their agendas.

  7. Thanks Ethan for unpacking this.
    small note: the link to IC’s answer to critique is broken. this one:
    (Invisible Children reacts to some of these criticism in this blog post.)

  8. I am a little ashamed that I had never read your blog before this issue arose in the media. Thank you for a perspective full of integrity and context… and I’m going to bookmark your archive for further reading.

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  10. It was in a recent conversation about Facebook that I had with a 9th grader who I was driving to school when I learned about this viral video about Kony. She let me know that “everyone is talking about it,” meaning that her Facebook friends, most of whom are her age, were spreading it around through Facebook and were very disturbed by what they were seeing and hearing. At that time, and this was just two days ago, I hadn’t heard about it, which I guess speaks more to the friends I have on Facebook and on Twitter. And it was before any news organization — that I’d seen — had started writing about it. Now, in the hindsight of just two days, as I’ve read a lot about how this video went viral, a part of me has to agree with some of those who’ve already commented that until emotions were tugged, this story — one I’d known through much past reporting on these atrocities — was not even on the radar screen of most Americans. And now Oyston’s post is getting viral action, too, so the topic is being engaged. All of this does take us to these very tough crossroads (of simplicity vs. accuracy, of emotion vs. fact) that you write about so well in this post, Ethan. I want to thank you once again for educating me not only on the political situation but how this plays into today’s media ecosystem. Grateful for your post and for the terrific dialogue it has elicited.

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  14. Ethan, please contact the people at IC and suggest to them that they work with more people that are, as you put it, “pushing back.” If you do not have a direct contact, then email me at joshuagay@gmail.com and I’ll try to get you a connection.

    I think you could probably give them a lot of suggestions on the types of people they might reach out to so that they can have an infrastructure that makes it easy to collaborate and share ideas with others.

    On a different note, one thing that bothers me is the framing of the communication that is going on. And, I don’t mean to target you in particular. But, people have a tendency to talk about this as being “the media”, and reference it as a “story” that we are watching. This makes it sound like entertainment, and we are all passive observers. I think such framing actively makes it harder for an individual or a group like IC to view others as collaborators and to embrace individuals who are providing critical feedback to the narrative they have shared with the world.

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  18. To deliberately oversimplify, the moral of the story is this: a good human story that connects with people will get you more action than an intellectual discussion of issues and events. Kony2012 IS the story-telling of the times. This IS how advocacy will now now be played. This IS how the world will now engage itself. Your input — which has an intellectual take — has now taken its role as part of the fine-tuning, redirecting and recalibrating of such new rules of individual and global engagement for catalytic change.

  19. hi erin,

    just wanted to point out that not everyone who’s responding to the campaign is a bleeding heart white, American liberal. otherwise, i agree with your question; i have been asking the same question in response to the not-so-constructive criticisms “what then do we do?”

    a bleeding heart american-born asian who won’t-even-label-herself-as-an-independent.

  20. ” Or is the wave of pushback against this campaign from Invisible Children evidence that we’re learning to read and write complex narratives online, and that a college student with doubts about a campaign’s value and validity can find an audience? Will Invisible Children’s campaign continue unchanged, or will it engage with critics and design a more complex and nuanced response.”
    THAT is my question…

  21. I find this post overly critical. The Kony 2012 video serves as rapid education for a largely uneducated public on an important global human rights issue. I like the fact that the organization spends money on advocacy and filmmaking; that is a more intelligent approach than sending direct aid. We already know that direct aid is not sustainable- we must teach people to fish and not only give them fish. I also agree that IC has oversimplified the issue. But, most of all I thank them for calling attention to an important issue. The educational value of the video alone, while it oversimplifies the issue, is worth their annual budget. It’s not all about the money.

  22. Raising awareness of an issue that’s not really an issue any longer, demanding action that’s already being taken, not involving those it directly affects or contributing a significant amount of funds to those they were raised for isn’t called naivety or simplicity, it’s called profiteering.

    I know that many would like to believe that Invisible Children are doing good work, that by raising awareness of some issue (real or not, relevant or not, oversimplified or not) somehow raises awareness of similar issues on the whole.

    The sad fact is that what Invisible Children serves to mostly accomplish is gaining respect & praise for its founders, fundraising & patting themselves on the back. Further, their success does little or nothing to raise awareness of other issues. What it does succeed at doing is inspiring more entities like itself who do little but profit off of the suffering of the very people they claim to be raising support/awareness for and the emotions of those to whom they appeal. Meanwhile, such marketing floods out the messages of other legitimate organizations doing difficult and important work, as well as potentially siphoning donations that others may have received instead.

    Additionally, circumstances as exist with Invisible Children – where the situation isn’t as presented and the actions proposed have already been taken or are underway or where such profiteering is exposed – the effect is not to raise awareness but to harden the public against such emotional appeals, to lessen the overall willingness of the public to pay attention to similar issues, to believe any information provided, to seek further information, or to contribute or lend support.

  23. Thanks for your post.

    This dilemma between oversimplifying vs inefficient communication is only going to get worst.

    I think we should accept that simple campaigns are the most effective. That has always been like that, and won’t change because that’s the way our mind is. We cannot process very fast a lot of information.

    But we may decide where to put the effort on. As you said the situation in Syria is far more urgent now.

    The only solution I can see is that an organization tempting to oversimplify for a wrong reason should consider the risk of receiving backfire when more aware people address tell them they are wrong. Of course, we get the problem about what’s wrong. But anyway we should keep watching each other.

    The challenge is that I have the feeling that traditional ways used by mass media for gaining attention, are being used more effectively in the social media world. Have you seen the first spot of Obama new campaign? A friend called it guerrilla cinema. It’s very good and people are learning to that. To do something that looks real, grounded, and people can decide to share themselves. This is becoming domesticated. We knew this was going to happen, as happen with the cinema, the tv, the radio, and even the writing!

    So, people who want this to be used well need to gather together and be aware of what’s going in the right direction, besides using this themselves for the right things.

    The origin of problem is that this organization seems to be rather isolated for other ones in the field. We should try to create networks that lower the level of stupidity.

    The world is changing very fast.

  24. Lot’s of analogues with mainstream democracy and the success of narrative vs the difficulty of communicating complexity to a general population.

    I have often mulled that it is quite ironic that religions are subject to their own evolutionary pressures (i.e. a religion must have embedded in it’s DNA the traits which will enhance the likely hood of perpetuation (for example encourage evangelism, discourage contraception, make the family strong etc).

    And so it is with the Kony campaign plea for advocacy- I certainly think it is somewhat economical with the truth. However do the ends justify the means?

    I think it’s quite right for us to analyse the Kony campaign. We are quickly eating through the available resources on the planet with no corresponding replenishment there will probably be an escalation in related conflicts over the next 30 years.It is surely best to equip ourselves with a culture of criticism rather than a culture of stories.

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  28. I definitely think the dialogue opened up by Invisible Children about the LRA, international development, and the ICC has been great. Kony 2012 has definitely caused some controversy, but taking a critical look at aid and development is very important. I am an employee for a NGO based in Uganda called BeadforLife. Kony 2012 is all about the people BeadforLife is directly serving in Nothern Uganda – over 5600 people in over 700 households. If you want to help people directly affected by the atrocities of the LRA in their rebuilding process, BeadforLife is a great organization to work with. We work with women who create beaded jewelry out of recycled paper, and harvest Shea nuts for soap, lip balm, and body butter. Host a free BeadParty to help introduce the products and the women to your community, and help women in Ugandan lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Learn more at http://beadforlife.org/beadparty.html

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  36. Ethan with all due respect when you can’t get figures right due to lack of due diligence in the 2nd paragraph of your novel – how can I trust the rest of the numbers you provide.

    You need to click twice on YouTube stats then your get the full breakdown of how 67,106,844 people have now watched the video. On Thursday they were were over 50 million.

    The fascinating thing for me is the spread across the world this video has attracted. This really is now a global campaign.

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  39. Why are people even wasting time trying to get Kony. It annoys me that people just blindly follow what the video is trying to get people to do. My reasons why this is a waste of time.

    #1. First off, your not gonna find a man hiding in the jungles of Africa, good luck
    #2. It won’t matter if send in troops, the moment we leave, they’ll just come running back in full force and take over the country again. Ex 1993-94 U.S entering Somalia. Outcome? It failed.
    #3. You will NEVER SOLVE the problem, it doesn’t matter what you do. Like I said in #2, the moment we leave they’ll just come running back
    #4. Other countries in Africa do the same thing, should we spend money to help them and send in troops/advisers as well?
    #5. We have issues of our own in the country like the U.S still recovering from the recession, lets fix that before we fix another country, honestly makes no sense as to why WE must fix THAT countries issues before fixing our own.. Just mind boggling

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  41. I’m grateful that Kony 2012 was made so that I now have the opportunity to read your post, Ethan.

    I hope you’re wrong about the film doing more harm than good. I hope people move past this first level of engagement to deeper study and understanding of what’s happening on the ground.

  42. This campaign is war propaganda. Uganda has been called the next Saudi Arabia in terms of oil. This is the same movie we keep seeing over and over again. Chase bad man, bomb his country, take their oil. “What CAN we do?” Demand that your president not go to war without the approval of the people and their Congress. Support the rights of american children who can now be assassinated within or beyond the border’s of the US–like the 16 year old boy from Denver, CO who was targeted and killed by the administration. If the president does not need the people (their legislature) to make war and it does not need the courts to determine who can be executed at their hand, then we live in Uganda too. Our children also need saving.

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  48. I have my own take on this — the smart folks in the international justice movement are terribly jealous of the enormous play this Kony2012 campaign got in ways they could never have managed with their own access to the liberal media and establishment and even their high mindshare with large numbers of Twitter followers. And that’s a large part of it. Oh, I get all the things wrong with the simplification of the story — I’ve been raising the issue of the LRA for 15 years at the UN and I totally get how it works. But simplistic of not, this campaign got primarily teens on Tumblr and Facebook to think about one of the world’s bad actors and what might be done about him, and that can’t be all bad.

    I reject this narrative that the campaign constitutes a “theory of change” or even a “bad” theory of change. The notion that the LRA might finally come in from the bush with offers of an amnesty that would avoid them killing any of their child recruits seems dubious at best. Any kind of commando raid also seems fraught with things going awfully awry. But what’s wrong with a campaign that lets the world’s “culture makers” and “political decision makers” (even Stephen Harper!) know that people really, really care and they should try to find a way? It’s like Syria — or anything else.

    What’s wrong with a “narrative” about “ungovernability” in Africa, Ethan? There are parts that are really not governed and where people really suffer tremendously. Why can’t we say that? Can we never say that because we are white? Could we never care about our fellow human beings in ungoverned places in Africa on this basis?! I reject that notion, totally, and won’t be stampeded into political correctness.

    Remember when they couldn’t ever seem to capture Karadzic? And he was in a place more accessible than the African bush. When those kinds of things happen, it’s because the players don’t want it to happen. Governments back figures like that, warlords, opportunistic corrupt people. And perhaps it takes a massive wave of outpouring from children on social media to change the chemistry.

    As for the idea that we can only “empower” local actors blah blah — look, we’re in an interconnected world. “Africa for Africans” is a mantra most often wielded by corrupt and abusive governments. Obama sent 100 advisors there because lots of people wanted something done about this awfulness. Just because it’s awfulness that may be dwindling and may be on it’s last legs doesn’t mean it doesn’t merit a world campaign. And guess what — this is one time the justice elites just didn’t get to say yay or nay, and everybody stepped right over their own incompetence, indifference, and horrid selectivity in choosing some causes over others. Good!

    I’m more worried about the larger aspect to this story that has to do with the “Facebook Nation” stuff that Zuckerberg started peddling a few years ago when he warbled at SWSX to Sarah Lacey about how FB sharing was going to put the FARC on the run in Colombia (!) or prevent young Arab men from becoming terrorists (!!). Only connect, and all will be well, is his betterworld concept.

    I’m not worried only about “simple narratives that cause damages,” I’m worried about a world that has 38 million views (and their likes and shares and chats) on a video, but only 1 million views on the obvious criticism of the cause. That’s not a good coefficient for a liberal democracy; that’s not enough of a corrective as you imply. But then, that’s not what’s being built on Facebook — a liberal democracy with checks and balances.


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