#KONY2012

Great story, pity about the movie

Why are millions of people infatuated with a video which treats Ugandans as pets, asks a Nigerian writer.
Nwachukwu Egbunike | 16 March 2012
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The activists at Invisible Children have made a fantastic video which shows the amazing potential of social media. This YouTube video with nearly 80 million viewers in less than two weeks has all the glossy professionalism of Hollywood – but the heart of the campaign is fallacious. Was it made to help Ugandans or to help high school kids in US ease their consciences? And, most importantly, did it tell the truth?

Joseph Kony needs no introduction in Uganda. He has been killing and maiming many for over 25 years. However, the Invisible Children’s documentary makes Kony famous now, six years after he left Uganda.

Watching the documentary left me with a bitter taste of stereotypes, especially its “messiah complex” of saving those poor Africans. Granted, international collaboration is needed to arrest a dangerous warlord like Kony. But the video will be of little help. It is more like a soothing balm for those who love to wear armbands labelled “saviour”.  

A journalist for Kampala’s Daily Monitor newspaper, John K. Abimanyi writes: “Ugandans were angry that once again, the West had hijacked an African struggle; putting themselves at the front line of the fight against Kony and making it look like Uganda was sitting by idly as Kony murdered, abducted and raped.” Little wonder the violent reaction of some youths in northern Uganda, where Kony had been most active, when the movie was screened for them. They pelted the organisers with stones.

If Kony 2012 has been denounced by the people it purports to help, what then is the real aim of the movie? In simple language, it’s all about marketing and advertising: a potent tool to fill the purse of this US charity.  But it is certainly not advocacy. This is civic engagement of some US citizens treating Uganda as a pet. “The warmongering, the narcissism, the commercialisation, the reductive and one-sided story they tell, their portrayal of Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white Americans”: that’s the selling point. What heart would not melt in the face of such misery?

The flip side of this documentary is the pitiable ignorance of the West about the continent. Invisible Children’s co-founder, Jason Russell’s logic is arrogant and irritating:

“In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in. But in order for American advisors to be there, the US government has to deploy them... And they will only know if Kony's name is everywhere.”

I cannot fault what an Ethiopian blogger, Solome Lemma, has to say:

“Simply, a long socioeconomic and political conflict that has lasted 25+ years and engaged multiple states and actors has been reduced to a story of the good vs bad guy. And if a three-year-old can understand it, so can you. You don’t have to learn anything about the children, Uganda, or Africa. You just have to make calls, put up flyers, sing songs, and you will liberate a poor, forgotten, and invisible people.”

If the above does not work, then a load of noise on Twitter, Facebook and celeb ranting will surely stop the bad guy. Share millions of arm bands and let college kids have a great deal of exercise. But this will neither stop Kony nor help Ugandans. The bottom line is about fund-raising for the US charity and certainly not about Kony or Uganda. As a Ugandan friend told me: “The movie does not tell the West about Kony but about the West. And what it says to the West is that ‘You are so gullible!’”

Nwachukwu Egbunike is a writer, blogger and publisher in Ibadan, Nigeria.  

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