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KONY 2012 or PHONY 2012?*

Posted in Human Rights, Politics, Racism with tags , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by innothingwetrust

*Title inspired by Russia Today

This KONY 2012 thing has gone what internetophiles and YouTube types call ‘viral’ seemingly overnight. For those of you who have not yet seen what this is about, the link to the video is below. Just so you know, it is nearly 30 minutes long, but it is well worth watching:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

I was at first encouraged at the fact that what is clearly a very important cause has gained such worldwide recognition. There is no question: what has been happening in Uganda, DRC, CAR and Sudan for two decades now is absolutely appalling and there can be no argument against someone – whomever you deem that to be – stepping in and doing something about Joseph Kony and the LRA.

I was also encouraged by the slightly more measured reaction to the video which considered possible downsides of the campaign and highlighted potentially dubious outcomes of supporting it. Such arguments can be found at the following link. These are also well worth reading:

http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/ (scroll down – the original post is at the bottom and the author’s responses to readers’ responses are on top)

I must first take issue with some of the points raised in this critique. Firstly, Chris Blattman’s point about the ‘White Man’s Burden’ is offensive and totally irrelevant: a worthy cause is a worthy cause is a worthy cause, no matter who is advocating it. Moreover, this movement has gained support from all over the world from people of all cultures, nationalities and races. Just because it was started by Americans, doesn’t mean it is just a bunch of empowered self-righteous philanthropic honkies. To rubbish the movement because of what he sees as a ‘saviour attitude’ is absurd and focuses on entirely the wrong side of the story, concentrating on the credibility of the activists rather than the plight of the victims. If children are being taken from their families and forced to kill, who cares who is trying to stop it happening? It is important only that someone is trying – no one has more or less legitimacy to do so. To claim the opposite is downright idiocy.

Secondly, I would dismiss the criticism that Invisible Children (IC) has spent a lot of money on film-making. The film clearly has extremely high production value, but I’m convinced that this quality has directly led to a far greater following. No amount of money can be deemed too much when the lives of so many thousands of kids are at stake, and if they had to blow some on an expensive, professional video to make their point, that’s fine with me because the undoubted added exposure will yeild much, much better results in terms of action taken.

However, there are some good questions asked. The ‘KONY 2012’ campaign is so professional, slick and convincing that it is easy to see how such a well-oiled media machine has gathered so much pace and notoriety. However, it is so emotive that many people don’t even think about whether the people to whom their few notes a month go might not themselves be so spotless. If the allegations in the article by Grant Oyston are true – firstly that the Ugandan army (UPDF) have themselves committed numerous rapes and lootings, secondly that IC have defended them and thirdly that some of the donation money goes toward funding the UPDF – then you have to question whether your dollars, pounds, yen or euros are going to the right place. There is also a very interesting point raised regarding IC’s support of a military intervention approach. This would not be so much of an issue in normal circumstances, but the huge spanner in the works here is that most of Kony’s bodyguards are the very children that the cause is trying to save. Such a militant mission would undoubtedly result in the deaths of some of these children, which is the opposite of what is trying to be achieved. IC has already responded to most of these criticisms which you can read here:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

They strongly deny that they have defended the UPDF’s human rights abuses or that the Ugandan government sees any of their money, and they have reiterated the transparency of their finances which is all great. They don’t really address the military approach issue though, so it is still something to think about. Also, posing for a photo with guns was pretty silly and their explanation that it was a ‘joke’ wasn’t as convincing as their film-making. But still, their rationale and certainly their intentions seem sound from most of these rebuttals.

Although I am happy to see something important take center stage on Facebook et al., I also wish to condemn those outskirt-dwelling snide web-surfing snipers who contribute nothing to the topic except unhelpful sarcastic comments and ‘hilarious’ memes (memes???? I’m becoming one of them!!!!!). If their aim is to expose perceived ‘slacktivism’ (the act of raising awareness of causes solely through free and minimal-effort methods, such as liking, sharing and status updates on social networking sites which does very little to affect any actual change but leaves the slactivist with a sense of self-gratification and smugness), then my aim is to expose the fact that their ‘reaction-to-a-reaction’ is an utter waste of time and no different to that which they are attacking – call it ‘la-zeal’. My friend Alistair Bremnath put it well: ‘Slacktivism’ is better than ‘DoingFuckAlltivism’. Surely their ill-informed knee-jerk reaction to the sudden support for KONY 2012 is no different to the ill-informed knee-jerk reaction of those supporting it, except that the former camp is achieving nothing while the latter might actually contribute toward something good. If the slacktivists are on their high horses, then the la-zealots are just lying down on the floor. The answer is to walk sensibly between them.

I do get where this negative reaction comes from. It is kind of annoying to see people whose status yesterday was ‘dnt b talkin shit at me if u dnt no wot ur talkin bout get a fukin life fuk sake’ or ‘OMG just saw Joey Essex in Tescos’ suddenly become human rights activists. There’s an irritating insincerity about it. But still, if you’re going to insincerely spread the word about something, better it be something like this.

The final sentiment of Grant Oyston’s critique rang very true however: this is about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012. You do not have to give money to IC in order to create awareness or pressurise governments into action. Their posters are not exclusive, copyrighted official merchandise – you can make your own. And, as IC themselves point out, word of mouth is free. If you do wish to contribute to IC however, then I see no problem with it. Just make sure you’ve read all the info first and aren’t just reacting like Pavlov’s Dog. That goes for the nay-sayers as well.

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