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”.

Africa Notes: US-African Union Relations

An interview with Michael Battle, the US Ambassador to the African Union: Africa: U.S. Ambassador in Conversation On African Union.


First, there are the necessary vague policy statements:

it is in our strategic, tactical, and vested interest to have a kind of capacity to strengthen the capacity of the African Union, to make the African Union strong where it is not so strong, to cooperate with the African Union in areas where it is strong,

Then there is the reaction to China’s donation of a modern building complex to the AU:

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: I was asked this same question when I was doing a taping with Ethiopian TV, and the person who was doing the interview said, “How are you going to feel walking into this massive building built by the Chinese?” I said, “I’m going to feel absolutely splendid and wonderful walking into the building,” for two reasons: the U.S. would never build the building. The African continent cannot afford to build the building. So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do and that the African continent cannot afford to do.

But yet, there was a great need for the African Union to have a facility that could actually house its summit, because up until this year the African Union has had to rent UNECA to have its own buildings, which was costing the African Union money, taking money out of the African Union budget, putting it into the UNECA budget. So I have zero problems – zero difficulty with much of the activity that China is doing. What I would like to see and what Assistant Secretary Carson is actively trying to see is how we can find synergies that we could work with the Chinese. I mean, the Chinese Government is not a competitor for the U.S. on the African continent, because we have strategically different orientations. They are not the bad guy; they are the people doing stuff that we are not going to do. And so I embrace it. Yeah.


Here is the key phrase in that statement, pasted again:

So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do

Which really says a lot about the differences between what the US and China are doing in Africa

Visiting Professor Position Here at Wes!

The Department of Government at Wesleyan University invites applications for a position as Visiting Assistant Professor specializing in International Relations. This one-year, non-tenure-track appointment will begin August 2012 and is not renewable. Primary responsibilities will include teaching three undergraduate courses in the fall 2012, two undergraduate courses in the following spring, and supervising up to two senior theses. One course each semester will be an introductory course in IR. Another course will be International Security. This amounts to four preps. The other courses are subject to negotiation, but there will be a strong preference for courses with an international security theme. Candidates with an earned doctorate are preferred, but we will consider candidates who have achieved all-but-dissertation status. The successful candidate should have prior experience teaching his or her own courses.

To apply, please send a letter of application, a curriculum vita, three letters of recommendation, a brief statement outlining your teaching and research experience, and teaching evaluation statistics or other evidence of teaching effectiveness (but please do not send copies of individual student evaluations). The search committee will begin reviewing files as they are received and will continue work until the position is filled.

Wesleyan University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Please send all materials to:

Africa Notes: Gay Rights and the Alien Tort Statute

Do African politicians have a reason to support gay rights?
A recent conversation with some colleagues and the discovery of a post about “Gay Relief” on Ramblings of a Procastinator in Accra got me thinking again about the politics of homosexuality in Africa. In the blog post, Abena Serwaa writes:

Contrary to what most people believe, African leaders love gay people. In recent times, the African politician has come to realise that no single issue can galvanize and unite the citizenry across the usual divides than calls for gay rights.

As she mentions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for African leaders to respect gay rights has not had its intended effects. Ghana’s President had this to say:

Ghanaian society frowns on homosexuality, if the people’s interest is that we do not legalize homosexuality, I don’t see how any responsible leader can decide to go against the wishes of his people.

And recent Nobel Prize Winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also vowed to veto any bill legalizing homosexuality. Her Press Secretary said this:

Liberians should hold this government by her word. This President will not sign into law anything called same sex marriage. This government opposes gay rights. In fact, government will not compromise its religious belief for any (foreign) aid. We have listened to the vast majority of our people who have spoken on this issue and kicked against it, so this government has the will of the people and believes in the dreams and aspirations of the people and I can assure you that President Sirleaf will not sign that bill.

Of course, Africa is not the only part of the world that struggles to accept gay rights as Brian Whitaker notes, there is an “ongoing battle for gay rights in the Arab world.” And how can we expect this to happen any easier there than it does here in the US? Jimmy Carter, one of our most famous human rights campaigners, has just now come around to supporting gay civil marriages. And I think everyone knows how Santorum has felt about gay rights for some time.

The question becomes: what will it take to incentivize politicians in Africa (and elsewhere) to promote gay rights? No, I don’t yet have the answer.

Can Americans be sued for pursuing anti-gay agendas in Africa?
Indeed, just recently a Ugandan gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, has filed suit against American evangelist Scott Lively using the Alien Tort Statute (ATS; a statute I have written about here). As reported by the New York Times:

The lawsuit maintains that beginning in 2002, Mr. Lively conspired with religious and political leaders in Uganda to whip up anti-gay hysteria with warnings that gay people would sodomize African children and corrupt their culture.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a different ATS case which may impact whether other cases such as this get heard. But this could be an interesting way to hold our own extremists accountable.

Africa Notes: Black Star Surf Shop

Surfing in Africa
The Economist, has this story on the “Beach Rush”. I don’t think the numbers of surfers going to Africa are all that substantial, but there are some cool scenes and great possibilities. In the story the mention the Black Star Surf Camp, which is run by theBlack Star Surf Shop at Busua Beach.

The story behind this outfit is pretty neat, involving some help form a couple former Peace Corps Volunteers in the mid-2000s. A brief documentary on their effort is available here:

Personally, I think the sign of their greatest success–or Ghana’s, at any rate–will be when local demand for their services consistently outweighs foreign demand.

Research Resources: KOF Index of Globalization

KOF Index of Globalization.

This might be useful. They describe their data:

The KOF Index of Globalization measures the three main dimensions of globalization:

  • economic
  • social
  • and political.

In addition to three indices measuring these dimensions, we calculate an overall index of globalization and sub-indices referring to

  • actual economic flows
  • economic restrictions
  • data on information flows
  • data on personal contact
  • and data on cultural proximity.

Data are available on a yearly basis for 208 countries over the period 1970 – 2009.

KOF Index of Globalization

Africa Notes: Angola has had a busy week

I’m not the only one who has noted Angola’s busy week in politics. Africa is a country has a post on this. Here are the big themes:

Fall Elections
The elections are six months away. It is unlikely that the current ruling power, MPLA, will lose power, but that doesn’t mean others are not challenging them.

  • A UNITA population, Abel Chivukuvuku has now created his own party to launch his presidential campaign: CASA, short for “Ample Convergence of Angolan Salvation” (Africa is a country)
  • Independent newspaper, Folha 8, was raided by Angolan authorities.
  • Anti-government protests took place in Luanda and its suburbs. There were minor clashes with police. Attempts to protest in Benguela as well were apparently blocked by police intervention. Concerns about the head of the electoral commission were central to these protests.
  • Rafael Marque, who I was fortunate enough to meet not so long ago, testified this week regarding human rights crimes in Angola’s diamond mines (Africa is a country). If human rights is his cause, he might have more work cut out given reports on how the police have handled the recent protests: “Activists Beaten Just Days Before Protest.”

Meanwhile, the President is trying to bolster his self-image. Dos Santos announced new investments in small and medium businesses. Shrikesh Laxmidas at Reuters has a quick overview of the“Key political risks to watch in Angola”: succession, protests, the election itself, transparency, economic growth, and oil dependency.

Angola saves Portugal
The tone of this theme was set last fall, when news reports showed increased investment flows from Angola to Portugal. And, while it has been standard in recent years to discuss the problems of African immigration to Europe, it seems that migration flows are the other way around with respect to Angola. From Reuters:

Pedro Luz, 34, who recently graduated with a second degree in business management, is a typical young professional who has been drawn to Angola by opportunity and better pay. Sent out from Lisbon, he is working as a business consultant on a project that will last four months but expects to stay longer.

“As expatriates here we have a lifestyle we simply don’t get at home,” he said. “If we didn’t have this crisis in Europe, Angola wouldn’t be my first choice.”

Songangol is reportedly in talks to “buy more of Portugal’s Galp”.

Updated: I shouldn’t post things late at night. I accidentally pasted the wrong quote above in the original version of the post (a quote about migration to Brazil instead of Angola… both are covered in the Reuters article).