Joseph Kony is famous, but who is this man, and what has he really done? The phenomenon ´Stop Kony´, which bothers the media all over the world, pictured in wave motions.
Illustration: Louise Druelle
There is no way around the phenomenon ´Stop Kony´ and its propaganda video KONY 2012. It is aimed at making Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord´s Resistance Army in central Africa), as famous as possible. Almost everybody is riding on waves of either support or criticism, spread by social media.
After watching the thirty minutes long movie made by the American Jason Russel and his team, many people I have talked to were emotionally moved by it. However, they had to face that stopping one bad guy does not necessarily mean that the problems in Uganda are solved. Suddenly, the awareness of this fact created silence within the public.
First wave: KONY 2012 goes viral and brings out millions of activists.
After five days KONY 2012 had achieved over seventy million hits, and up to now it has over ninety million. At times as many as one million hits per hour could be listed. No other internet video has reached that many views in such a short period of time before, proclaims the advertising analysis company ´Visible Measures’. The video lives on people sharing the video in social media. However, the most effective weapon of ´Invisible Children´ is them playing with our emotions.
The story that is told grabs us by our guts. It introduces the film’s director Jason Russel, master spirit of ´Invisible Children´. His common, white middle class family life contrasts the fate of the children, abducted by the LRA in northern Uganda. From then on, most of them live their lives as child soldiers. After presenting the Russel family, the movie introduces Jacob Acaye, a boy who fled from the LRA. In the video he tells us about his experiences, fears and dreams. By the time Jacob starts talking, you cannot help yourself feeling sympathy for this boy, but coincidentally, at the same time you feel sadness and guilt. Most of us have to admit now that we live a Russel-like normal middle class life as well. The injustice that this video reveals, tortures us.
In the end, we are offered three plus one opportunities to support the ´Stop Kony´ movement. Sign the pledge to show our support, get the bracelet and the action kit (t-shirts, posters and stickers to cover your city with Kony’s face in the night of April 20th) and donate a few dollars a month. But above all we are asked to share the movie online – it´s free! Highly motivated, I enter the online shop. I ignore the pop up, which asks me to donate, and search for the action kit which costs 30 $. The effort to find my credit card seems too much for me right now, I am going to buy it tomorrow instead. At first I feel sad and tired, but then I remember the last appeal: Share the movie online. IT`S FREE. I log in to my Facebook account, share the video with all my Facebook friends and feel like I did something good.
Am I an activist now?
Second wave: Criticism comes – The mighty West is trying to save Africa. Again.
– We do not need another outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children, says the Ugandan woman Rosebell Kagumire in her video blog.
She is talking about grievances in KONY 2012. Other points of complain in her video are that ´Invisible Children´ is simplifying the whole situation. They put Uganda in the center of conflict even though Joseph Kony left the country; the material used for the video is older than five years, and the situation has changed dramatically since then. In her article on thisisafrica.me Melinda Ozongwu states:
– We don’t want our country to be defined once again by another dictator.
KONY 2012 made it to the news. There is a wave of criticism running across the world of media. In 2009, Tullow Oil plc., a global oil and gas exploration company, announced the discovery of oil deposits near Uganda’s border with The Democratic Republic of Congo. Evil to him who evil thinks when ´The Guardian´ announced: “Obama sends 100 troops to combat LRA in Uganda.”
– It’s strategic in terms of its geography, and strategic in terms of its future economic opportunities, tells Angelo Izama, a Ugandan Journalist, to ´The Guardian´.
Bloggers around the world set themselves up to do analyses on KONY 2012 and ´Invisible Children´. The variety of articles reaches from conspiracy theories to founded criticism.
Now the interested earthling feels obliged to do research on this topic. What is the actual situation? And finally: Who the fuck is Joseph Kony? The whole world knows his face. So one could say he is famous now. But do we really know what he has done and does? The more information I collect, the more I get confused. Is the ´Stop Kony´ movement what it seems to be? Or is the whole campaign a sad try to justify the appearance of the U. S. army in this region? At this point I am kind of glad that I did not buy the action kit. My monthly budget would not have allowed it anyway.
Third wave: The calm before the guerilla marketing storm
The world falls silent in a digestive nap. Having started my research I get overwhelmed by contradictory statements and thousands of articles orbiting the topic. By now I realize: Helping children in Africa is a more complex endeavor than sharing a video on Facebook. With this knowledge my enthusiasm ceases. Are child soldiers in faraway Uganda close enough for people to take all the extra trouble? In this silence, ´The Washington Post´ lets us know that the ´Invisible Children´ co-founder Jason Russell was hospitalized after a public breakdown, and we notice it with a tired shake of the head.
Fourth wave: Answering Criticism
One month after KONY 2012, ´Invisible Children´ launched another video named KONY 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous. I expected another heartbreaking video, but this one has a more rational approach. The most obvious indication for that is that your eyes stay dry while watching it. Actually, ´Invisible Children´ answers a lot of the criticism. An article on National Geographic’s web page headlines as follows: “Kony 2012: A New Video, and Lessons Learned”. I agree on that estimation. It seems the video softened the critics and showed that ´Invisible Children´ have improved their actions. Even from Ugandan people one can hear smooth words, just as the lawyer and politician Norbert Mao, for example, wrote about the Kony movement:
– Is the video a bad thing? I would say no. Has it got gaps? Plenty.
On April 20th supporters decided to do more than just clicking ´share´ on Facebook and took to the streets with posters and flyers. I, for my part, did not buy the action to support this guerilla marketing. Even the new video `Invisible Children´ could not remove all my doubts. Nevertheless, I have signed the pledge and shared the video. It is a fact that without KONY 2012, this conflict in central Africa would have never gotten so much attention; the attention the masses have to pay when there is something to change in our world. Still, a bitter taste remains: Do we really want a video to exercise so much power over us?