Africa Notes: Seeing Kony, Part 2: A timeline

I have resisted posting more about “Kony 2012” since my first post. There has just been so much going on, though it has started to calm down, as the graph of Google searches shows:

To organize my own thoughts about this I thought it would be useful to construct a timeline of some of the major (and minor) stories associated with Kony 2012. This is not intended to be comprehensive (I don’t have the time) but mostly reflects postings on blogs and news websites that I frequent. My main thoughts:

1. This is a great teaching moment.

2. This highlights important challenges for American-based NGOs and advocacy groups doing work in Africa. On the one hand, it is not a bad thing to want to do “good” in the world. On the other, it is tricky to know what it means to do “good”. On balance, I think the intentions of Invisible Children are fine, often laudable. I sincerely doubt that they overtly want the kinds of imperialism and militarization of US foreign policy that there critics suggest they want. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that their message and their agenda doesn’t have some important flaws.

3. It is hard to insert nuance into propaganda. I do believe that Russell and others at Invisible Children know more about what is going on with the LRA than many critics give them credit for. But video pieces like Kony 2012 don’t do enough to show that. Perhaps they should try to do a “real” documentary?

4. In the age of the internet, it may not matter what your intended audience is. If this had only been shown at college and high school events in the US (the intended audience) it would have had a different reception than it did being shown globally.

The timeline

March 5: Invisible Children releases the video

March 7: Reactions come trickling in.

Joshua Keating provides one of the first and frequently cited reactions to Kony 2012: “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)”.

March 8: Video has at least 38 million views; critics of the video sound out

Michael Deibert on March 8 stated one of the enduring criticisms of the message of the Kony 2012 campaign early on:

The problem with Invisible Children’s whitewashing of the role of the government of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni in the violence of Central Africa is that it gives Museveni and company a free pass.

Christine M. Rose at GhanaBlogging:

Overall, my concern is that although awareness can be an incredibly beneficial boost for a campaign, by itself it doesn’t do anything. Furthermore, it sometimes serves to absolve people from any further effort, including taking the time to actually understand the issue, including its root causes. Reposting a video on facebook is incredibly easy. Throwing red and black posters all over the place and wearing awareness bracelets is easy (look at livestrong.) Even donating money is relatively easy. Facing up to the complex and myriad factors that have contributed to this problem is much harder,

Rosebelle, a Ugandan blogger, was heavily cited for her video response to the Kony 2012 campaign.

Bloggers at Wronging Rights begin a seriesof public media events that show how they are “Kony 2012 skeptics.”

March 10: the range of perspectives, and responses to the criticisms, expands. Many see this as a teaching opportunity.

Kony 2012 Director responds to critics

Teju Cole blogs on American sentimentality towards Africa, in Twitter form:

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

Qualified Approval
Chris Blattman, who has criticized some of Invisible Children’s earlier campaigns, comes out to provide heavily qualified approval for their campaign.

But, mostly amazement at how big a phenomenon this became.
As Duncan Green blogged, “why did it get 60 million hits?”

And teachers begin to try to think about how they can use this as a teaching opportunity
See Tiemessen on the Duck of Minerva: Bandwagon Empowerment
See also a later post by Charli Carpenter on “The Kony 2012 Experiment”

March 13

Ethan “unpacks” Kony 2012.

Jason Mogus digs deeper into the success of Kony 2012:

IC knew who its audience was, simply, American youth. It speaks in their language, using their cultural heros and influencers. Everything in KONY 2012 from the visuals (Facebook, hip posters) to the tone (hopeful, not dour or depressing) to the emotional hooks (kids, the power of people to tip the world, social media) speaks directly to this audience. Maybe this is one reason why it annoyed so many “institutional experts” over 40!

David Kenner compares Kony to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

March 14: More Ugandan perspectives, criticism

The video is shown to Ugandans. (The Guardian reports). At Al Jazeera, they stress “angry” reactions by Ugandans to the video.

Also at FP, Betty Bigombe, State Minister for Northern Uganda, responds to some interview questions.

It’s coming rather late, and I’m not quite able to understand the objective. Is it fundraising? Is it awareness creation?

So with this kind of campaign, [Kony 2012], I do not know whether it makes any difference as far as taking him out is concerned. However, what is important is bringing this to the attention of policymakers. I hope that something innovative will come out of it.

The criticism continues to build:
Sverker Finnstrom, a cultural anthropologist and Uganda specialist:

A most prominent feature of the Invisible Children lobby is the making and constant remaking of a master narrative; it reduces, depoliticizes and dehistoricizes a murky reality of globalized war into a completely black-and-white story pitting the modern Ugandan government and its international partners in development who defend the noncombatant citizenry against the barbarian Lord’s Resistance Army

David Rieff, at Foreign Policy, calls the film “dangerous progaganda”.

March 15

Criticism of howInvisible Children’s finances work hit the web.

March 16: A rebuttal from IC; parodies

One of the best rebuttals to the critiques comes via Foreign Policy by Adam Finck. Indeed, one of the most popular criticisms of the video is that it misleads us into thinking the LRA are still in uganda, but as Adam points out:

Kony 2012 does portray the LRA’s movement away from Uganda into the DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan (minute 15:01), and a quick look at the LRA Crisis Tracker leaves no doubt about the LRA’s current area of operation.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, it is notable that IC has created this crisis tracker tool. And it just goes to underscore how the Kony 2012 video was intended for a limited audience (young Americans) as a publicity piece.


Some of the critique, in my opinion, go a bit overboard, like this comedic one from The Juice Media (h/t Global Voices).

Global Voices has a number of other parody videos over at their blog as well, including some starring Hitler.

March 17: Things begin to go wrong in a bad, weird way for IC

Invisible Children Co-Founder Jason Russell arrested for doing some strange things in public. We now know he had a sort of stress-induced breakdown and it is expected that it will take some time for him to recover. He has a family and there is no reason for criticisms of IC to involve criticisms of him.

March 18: The Ugandan government responds with its own video

Here is Ugandan Prime Minister Mbabazi on YouTube:

The PM does a nice job providing a balanced view on the video, praising the good work of the IC:

it has been inspiring for me…. to be reminded of the innate goodness that exists at the heart of humanity…

But also correcting some of the misperceptions of Uganda that may have arisen from the publicity surrounding the Kony 2012 video:

Joseph Kony is not in Uganda

Some comments on his address are available at Global Voices.

March 19: The reactions to IC begin to broaden in focus

One meme that makes its way out there has been the “What I Love About Africa” narrative, as reported at Global Voices.

March 21 through today: And the responses continue to come.

Over at Foreign Policy, we hear from Norbert Mao, a former presidential candidate in Uganda: “I’ve met Joseph Kony and Kony 2012 isn’t that bad” He has an interesting take on Western advocacy such as this:

To those critics who say that the video was propelled by less than savory aspects of western media culture that perpetuate the mentality of the white man’s burden, I say that western advocacy matters and can make a difference. From the anti-slavery struggle to the anti-colonial struggle, voices from the West have been indispensible. The key is for Africans to influence the direction of that advocacy. We cannot stop it, but we can redirect it.

One of the least well-advised responses to this Wronging Rights’“The Definitive ‘Kony 2012’ Drinking Game” post. It goes too far (and can make you sick).

Julian Ku, over at Opinio Juris, critiques Kony critic Teju Cole and his comments about the “white savior industrial complex”, finding “much to like and dislike”:

I agree much of this “white savior complex” is real, but I don’t get what he wants to do about it. Cole believes that U.S. foreign policy is almost completely evil and hypocritical. So would he make common cause with U.S. non-interventionists like Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan? Is that road better just so he doesn’t have to watch condescending and self-regarding white “saviors” strutting around the world?

Update #2: African Union to send 5000 troops to “hunt” Kony on Saturday (Reuters, 3/23/2012)

Google Map of Kony 2012 Searches

Update #1: I fixed the formatting a bit above at “March 16”.

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