“Kony 2012” — a YouTube video that has drawn 10 million views and celebrity support this week by advocating action against a Ugandan rebel leader — is also drawing critics who say the video oversimplifies a complicated problem and may not help Uganda at all.
Grant Oyston, a political science student at Acadia University in Canada, wrote on the social media site tumblr.com that the group behind the viral video – Invisible Children – is problematic.
“Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again,” write Oyston, who does not dispute the crimes of rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
He adds, “The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces.”
To prove the point, Oyston links to a photo of the non-profit’s principals, including filmmaker Jason Russell, brandishing weapons with Ugandan army troops.
Oyston also complains that the group targets Kony’s atrocities against children – kidnapping and forcing then to kill and mutilate opponents – while overlooking atrocities committed by the Ugandan army.
Oyston is not the only one with critical voice.
A lengthy piece in Foreign Affairs magazine in November lamented that Invisible Children and other similar groups “have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.”
The article by Mareike Schomerus, Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot, added: “They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”
Invisible Children has been trying to raise awareness about Kony for years, and targeted 2012 as the time to push for a final capture of the leader.
On Thursday morning it responded to critics on its website: “We’ve done our utmost to be as inclusive, transparent, and factual as possible,” the group wrote. “We built this organization with ‘seeing is believing’ in mind, and that’s what why we are a media-based organization. We WANT you to see everything we are doing, because we are proud of it.”
The viral video – embraced already by Oprah, Ryan Seacrest and Rihanna – targets 20 celebrities and 20 policymakers and aims for a national action on April 10, 2012, to make Kony’s name and face ubiquitous in the media.
The idea is to shame policymakers into action by leveraging social media to combat international crimes.
But critics say this may solve nothing. They say the problems in the region around Uganda are much more complicated than removing a single leader, however tempting that may be.
“The LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence,” according to the Foreign Affairs article. “If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.”
Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, writes on his blog that however well-intentiond the movement, it smacks of naïve Western interference into complex African issues.
“There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden,” he wrote. “The savior attitude… it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”
Filmmaker Jason Russell could not immediately be reached for comment.