The Kony 2012 video is a heart-wrenching plea that has been heard by millions across the world – to stop a gruesome dictator in Africa (the Uganda province to be exact), who’s lust and greed for power has led him to abduct nearly 80,000 children till date. Through fear of mutilation, starvation and ultimately death, he forces the boys he captures to join his army – The Lord’s Resistance Army, and carry out inhuman acts of violence and unkindness; and the girls, into slavery and prostitution.
The video has been hailed as the biggest viral sensation ever. Created by the NGO – Invisible Children, it has received over 80 million views in the last 14 days and the awareness continues to spread. Joseph Kony who is currently No.1 on the ICC’s war-crimes list has managed to evade capture for over a decade. By spreading the word – using that power to coax politicians into making a decision – and ultimately harnessing that outcome to enforce a global arrest warrant for Kony, Invisible Children believes it can once-and-for-all bring him down. A first step towards making this world a safer place for our children.
A dignified and defined cause, a clever delivery and a simple call to action.
Why then, are so many, being so bitter and so cynical?
1)“Make Kony famous” is a largely misunderstood message. Till a couple of months ago, hardly a handful around the world, knew of Joseph Kony. So on paper, the logic seemed sound. Step one – spread the word, generate awareness. Make the problem famous. By sharing the story with friends and their friends, millions were proving that the cause was near and dear to each and every one of them. And later, that public pressure was to be used in goading the government into action. Many however have criticized the very idea, asking “Why give such criminals celebrity status? Why not prioritize addressing the plight of the victims whose sufferings are visible?” At a special screening of the video in Uganda according to al-Jazeera, one person in the crowd likened the merchandising to selling Osama bin-Laden t-shirts after 9/11 – “likely to be highly offensive to many Americans, however well-intentioned the campaign behind it maybe.” Despite Invisible Children’s best efforts to explain that its is not a form of movie-star mayhem that they are intending to bring about for Kony, but rather, simply inviting people to ask the question – who is he and what has he done, so that they maybe made aware of the grisliness of his acts; there is a burgeoning sense of cynicism.
2) Some also feel the initiative has been ‘oversimplified’. Apparently if one were to take a closer look at the video, dissect and debate its very essence and then admit to being one of the biggest pessimists in the world – one would come up with a number of flaws. For starters, “it only made an impact because of its slick Hollywood type treatment.” So the fact that someone put effort and time into making the video more presentable and impactful takes away from the seriousness of it all? How many of us would have actually watched a 29-minute, shaky phone-camera video with distorted images and sound? Other accusations have been that only 31 per cent of the money Invisible Children raises goes to actual charity work. Something that was vehemently denied by the organisation with an open invitation to have their records checked.
There are however, some genuine issues. Experts believe that the organization has just simplified a deeply complex issue. Much like a plain Hollywood narrative: Kill Kony, save Uganda. Invisible Children’s stripped-down version of the story doesn’t mention that Kony is no longer operating in Uganda, that his troops have been greatly reduced, and that rather than eradicating Kony completely what Uganda really needs is stability to rebuild their health and education systems, their infrastructure and their society. There is no doubt though, the more you think about it – the more obvious it becomes that the Kony 2012 video has gone viral not in spite of, but because of, its simplified, black-and-white message, paired up with some stirring music and rousing visuals.
3) As people delve deeper into the campaign, a question that is repeatedly asked is – while the video urges spreading the word, signing a pledge, buying a Kony 2012 action kit (comes with bracelets and posters), and of course donating to Invisible Children, it’s hard to understand the impact and how this will aid the current slow chase of Kony and his forces through some of the most intractable terrain in the world and help Uganda as a whole. While both topics are trending on Twitter, doesn’t awareness mean a basic understanding that goes beyond Kony’s name? Thousands of eager tweeters cry out for action to stop violence in Uganda now. But little do they know as per reports, Kony and his army haven’t been in Uganda since 2006. In-fact Uganda has many more serious problems – a president in power for 26 years, millions in stolen funds and missing medicine, oil wells soon to begin flowing (with the potential for further corruption) and one of the world’s youngest populations facing high rates of inflation and rising unemployment. Many worry that these important and more complicated issues will be overwhelmed by the half-informed outcry over the LRA in Uganda.
4) Ultimately it all really just boils down to one’s philosophical bent. A simple campaign with a clear objective – a starting point, just to rid the world of Joseph Kony; or a misguided endeavour that has foolishly overlooked everything else that’s ‘also’ important? Insisting that the video was merely a swansong towards the final arrest of Kony, the organisation continues pursuing its “really deep, thoughtful, very intentional and strategic campaign”. Speaking in an eight-minute video released on Monday night, Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children said it had been “difficult” to hear some of the comments and criticisms. “But I understand, because for many people they just learned about Invisible Children a couple of days ago through the Kony 2012 movie and if that’s the case, I think I understand why a lot of people are wondering ‘is this just some slick, fly-by-night, kind of slacktivist thing’ when actually it’s not at all, it’s connected to a campaign that’s been years in the making.”
Written by Suhail Bhandari for Image Management