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Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

March 6, 2012

You may have heard of the little film titled Invisible Children that came out in 2006 documenting the Lord’s Resistance Army and their kidnappings of children. It took the media world’s attention and ran with it, generating millions of dollars for their newly formed NGO, Invisible Children.The aim was to shine a spotlight on the atrocities, to bring people’s attention to what was happening – hence the title, Invisible Children. They were going to make these children visible.

I became aware of the film shortly after it was released as many in the Church took on the cause of raising money for Invisible Children, screening the film, etc… The filmmakers exploded onto the media and humanitarian scene, creating apparel (their store is now selling ‘action kits’), holding large events, and marketing in all corners – all ostensibly for the benefit of children in Northern Uganda, often centered around the Acholi people and even more so an area named Gulu, where the LRA leader Joseph Kony is from (I attended a church that held a ‘Gulu Walk’ mimicking the children’s flight).

Now, they’re out with a new film titled, Kony – which has again gone massively viral.The aim of the film, according to Invisible Children, is to “make Joseph Kony famous…to raise support for his arrest”.

The problem? From the beginning to now, the goal was premised on a White desire to save downtrodden Africa regardless of facts. The movies are premised on the idea that: North American (White) attention will save Africa. I wrote about this same thing in regards to Nick Kristof and the logic goes like this:

White people only care about White people and the only way to save Black people is to get White people to care about them, so to save Black people we need to talk about White people.

But the problem is even bigger than this. It feeds into the public perception of what Africa is. It’s full of war, famine and rape. Its people can’t help themselves.

Kony and his atrocities are nothing new; they’ve been happening for a long time. There have been numerous very public policy discussions within North America about how best to deal with Kony but he’s elusive, he knows how to run and really governments in North America are minimally interested. To the people in the area he terrorizes, they have had conversations about how to deal with Kony & how to deal with things bigger than Kony – malaria, disease, education, society. I have an Acholi colleague who is researching education in conflict/post-conflict Acholiland. They care, they know, they’re researching and problem solving – this is nothing new, Kony is already infamous. So what will educating White people do?

Some will say, what’s the problem with bringing attention to the atrocities? This is a good thing, now people will know and do something. Who cares if it is White people, Black people, or Purple people who do it?

One problem: It falls into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education. When we tell more people about Kony and the LRA, something WILL happen. It’s not true. Bono, Bob Geldolf, Angelina Jolie and thousands of others have brought more attention, more education, more money to issues – it doesn’t solve them. White ignorance is not the problem. White colonialism/oppression/domination/violence (whatever you want to call it) in the past and present is. It is built on the idea that Africa needs saving – that it is the White man’s burden to do so. More education does not change the systems and structures of oppression, those that need Africa to be the place of suffering and war and saving.

It’s also about history. White folk have for centuries built industries on saving Black people in Africa. In creating images of what Africans look like, in order to justify saving them. Is it any coincidence that all of the filmmakers and subsequent heads of the NGO are white? Is it any coincidence that, despite ‘partnering’ with local people, on Invisible Children’s website, in a colonial-esque era division, that the White people involved in the organization are framed in a modern, neutral (White) room in ‘hip’ fashion while the Africans all have straw huts in the background? No, the ideal African still lives in huts! They’re exotic and poor. This is all no surprise when we bring history into the picture.

Part of this is the centering of our Western vision and logic. The very idea of ‘Invisible’ is ludicrous – these children were never invisible to their communities and families – only to us. It harkens back to the ‘unspoilt’ land of the new worlds where ‘no one had ever been before’ and which completely ignored the lives and realities of the Indigenous people, the Africans who had lived there for centuries before – who knew everything there was to know about this ‘untouched’ land. It is the re-centering of the West and the glossing over of those whose lives are being impacted most. We need to learn: It’s not about us. Race does matter for this reason, because of how it is constituted by history and continues to shape how we view the world.

There are other critiques about where the money that is raised goes, the filmmakers are just kids with no idea how to distribute aid, whether aid is really effective in solving problem, that Kony is long gone from Uganda, etc… They are all relevant but huge issues in themselves. This article is about representation and how Invisible Children erases local realities while purporting to showcase them. It’s about those people who watch the film and believe awareness is the answer to solving the problems. Raising awareness is our generation’s pat on the back, our absolution of guilt, our mechanism for maintaining our neo-liberal, do-good Whiteness which separates us from those OTHER horrible people who ‘do nothing’. We believe making a film or watching a film changes systems of oppression, patterns of violence, or centuries of colonial erasure. That is what this article is about.

More:

For those of faith who are supporting Invisible Children, some bigger questions to think on regarding love and charity.

I’ve posted an interview with a Ugandan colleague of mine, getting his perspective on Kony. You can read it here.

I’ve also added a second post looking at the some of the reactions to critique and looking a little deeper at certain issues. You can read it here.

And a final post on different ways to think about Africa and ways forward.

184 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2012 01:20

    You have captured my amphatic frustration with this Bono-esque crusade absolutely perfectly. Thank you for seeing past the hysteria

  2. March 7, 2012 01:34

    Thanks for this insightful piece. It is interesting to watch the different reactions to the latest Kony movie and many of your points resonate with comments of others today and some of my own feelings.Others I find myself disagreeing with.

    I was one of the some who said “What’s the problem with bringing attention to the atrocities?” and I still do. While I concur with many of your points about self-determination for all people, I disagree when with your assumption that “nothing will happen”. When the thousands of others you refer to have brought more attention, more education, more money – to HIV, for example – it might not solve them, but things certainly have happened.

    Why do you want to perpetuate the dichotomoy rather than destroying it? I am not about to deny anything about the colonial past or post-colonial present, but I refuse to believe that given all the many peoples of the world, and their genuine humanity, that helping one another is somehow wrong or impossible. Attention and education for everyone are part of the answer, and a critical part of self-determination. Since when has wishing to help others been wrong?

    If you want to build walls that’s up to you, but please do not co-opt others (at least not me, thank you) in the “We” that you assert believes watching a film changes systems of oppression, patterns of violence, or centuries of colonial erasure. You are stuck with your own post-colonial ‘pat-on-the-back’ bias if you think that’s how far people have come in their own self-determination, wherever they happen to be in the world.

    • March 7, 2012 01:44

      Tim,

      No one is trying to co-opt you into anything – though, to be fair, if you are a White person you are already part of the systems of Whiteness that I am speaking of. There’s really no avoiding that one.

      In regards to our shared humanity I guess I’m a little leery of that one; too often our humanity has enslaved people, destroyed cultures, and laid waste to the environment all in the name of saving people and a ‘shared humanity’ – especially in Africa. It also sounds a little too much like a grand ‘we are all one’ project which inevitably ends up erasing difference in the name of harmony – again, something that has been harmful and destructive for Africans.

      This is not building walls but recognizing power relations and histories, affirming difference so we can find solutions. I certainly have no allegiance to the so called post-colonial – for millions of people around the world the ‘post’ is imaginary and colonialism continues today. Projects such as Invisible Children are based around these sorts of disadvantaging relationships. When we break down those walls we can work together towards solutions.

      • James permalink
        March 7, 2012 09:32

        I hate this idea of it being the present man’s fault what the past man did. To start with it is flawed to apply today’s morality to history. If we did then nigh on everyone in history would be evil. It’s important to consider history as a way to learn, and not make the same mistakes again. But to not help

        Anyway, this is the point I find offensive:

        ”White ignorance is not the problem. White colonialism/oppression/domination/violence (whatever you want to call it) in the past and present is.”

        Sorry, is it? I was pretty sure that the problems in Africa were mainly caused by agricultural and economic factors. And I don’t see why race has to be brought into it…the constant awareness of being white shouldn’t mean that I have to shy away from any kind of left wing viewpoint because my relative wealth is built on colonialism and white violence in the past.

        I just don’t really understand what your point is…invisible children is a naive organisation? yes, ok. It is more important to avoid being condescending than it is to attempt to solve the problems in Africa? no. It’s not about ‘the big rich white man saving the poor little black child’. It’s about the world, working holistically to ensure that our planet is a fair and just place to live. It’s not just about Africa, but when there are problems which Africa doesn’t have the resources or political stability to solve then that is exactly what the ICC is for. or should we just stand by and watch??

        Don’t get me wrong, I think invisible children do things the wrong way. But at least they are trying, and anything that keeps the atrocities in Africa in the public eye is a good thing. Sorry, was that a bit neo-liberal for you?

  3. Another Actual African permalink
    March 7, 2012 01:43

    Why many thanks!

  4. March 7, 2012 01:50

    I read your post with interest, but I don’t agree with some of what you are suggesting.

    While I agree that some of IC’s imagery makes me cringe at times, I still support what they are doing because of the reality of the situation on the ground.

    You say it is about the White Man ‘saving’ Africa.

    When you boil away the MTV-style drama, Invisible Children are promoting cooperation between US forces and local military forces.

    The fact is that the local forces and the UN mission in the DRC do not have the technology or expertise to find Kony and arrest or kill him.

    An African-only solution was all that was available for the decades before IC were involved, and that didn’t work out so well.

    The only way to make sure the US stick to the task is to raise awareness of the situation, and unfortunately tugging at the heartstrings of people in the West is often the only tool to do so.

    I love Africa and have been all over the continent.

    I have seen many fantastic things and met the friendliest people on this planet.

    But when it comes to the LRA, the stark reality is that death and suffering is all that there is.

    Therefore, when you tell the story of this conflict, that is all that can be focused on.

    Having said that, IC’s first film – The Rough Cut – and subsequent videos have alluded to how wonderful African children can be with their desire to play and laugh just like kids all over the world.

    I understand your frustrations – but without IC and the likes of Resolve, the Enough Project and Resolution Possible, no-one would be talking about this crisis and how to stop it.

    Adam
    (Twitter: adambearne)

    • March 7, 2012 02:04

      Adam,

      You raise some interesting points. First, that we must assume military cooperation is the answer, or suggesting that the US has any desire or willingness to find Kony to begin with. State apparatuses have some power but how about we focus on what the people in these areas ARE doing instead of the narrative of failure. They have not only survived a period of conflict that was messier and more painful that Kony can tell with their ‘parachuted in’ lenses, but they have strengthened the resolve to find solutions on their terms.

      When we speak of US intervention as a solution I have to question: If these interventions solve so many problems why are we not using them to solve problems in our own countries, in our own back yard, and elsewhere? How many US arms aid Mexican warfare? How has the US supported apartheid in Israel? Why does the US prop up a dictator and killer as the head of Ethiopia?

      It’s all about where we choose to point our lens and what we choose to identify as problems worth solving. This is one that can be ‘solved’, one that will pull on heartstrings, and one that will generate revenue.

      I was once walking through the subway and I heard someone with a donation box shouting, “Africa! Africa! Africa!”. There was no need to explain what the money was for or what cause they were championing – Africa needed help. We have created particular images that are convenient for us, images that allows us to become saviours and heroes.

  5. March 7, 2012 01:59

    Well said! Mere gestures of concern and empathy won’t solve this problem; cynical bloggers will.

    • March 7, 2012 02:09

      Sam,

      I appreciate Sara Ahmed’s response to a similar question when she states (and I quote),

      “I am of course risking being seen as producing a ‘useless’ critique…by not offering some suggestions about ‘what white people can do’. I am happy to take that risk. [We] should instead be about attending to forms of white racism and white privilege that are not undone, and may even be repeated and intensified”

      http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol3no2_2004/ahmed_declarations.htm

      This is not to wish inaction or mere critique but to recognize that action in itself it not always desirable when it reinscribes Whiteness. Nor is awareness in itself always desirable…

  6. David permalink
    March 7, 2012 02:19

    I like and agree with many of the points you made in this article. I’m no sociologist, by any means, but I’m just wondering what your response would be if (hypothetically) Joseph Kony and the LRA were indeed Caucasian? While I’m sure there are many flaws in the exact details of the attempts of the Invisible Children organization, are they enough to criticize the (hopefully) good intentions overall? Would there not be a stalemate for non-Ugandans (especially the White) if it is somewhat unethical for them to attempt to improve the basic living conditions of the Ugandan children affected? I understand that one reaches the line of imposing too much on another’s culture/history etc very quickly indeed, but surely the oppression by persons such as the LRA is much greater than any oppression that would occur by the ‘White’ trying to help (depending on how it is attempted, of course). Am I wrong? What is the more ethical alternative for White people in this situation? I’m trying to understand more fully so I can build and refine my personal reaction to these types of issues; as I stand right now, I’m a fair optimist and often value the intention to a great extent IF there is evidence of genuineness and working toward what is right. Once again, I’m not a sociologist, nor do I have an extensive education/understanding of the world, so advanced concepts might elude me without ‘layman’s’ explanations. Thanks

    • March 7, 2012 02:42

      David,

      I’m not sure what the value is in hypothetical situations because much of any situation is about history. History helps provide the context and without context we have all seen examples of how things are misused or used for particular agendas.

    • Ash permalink
      March 7, 2012 09:15

      How about supporting Ugandan-led reconstruction efforts, headed and ran by people who understand the situation–and indeed, have LIVED the situation–on the ground themselves?

      Basically, why not take white filmmakers out of the picture entirely?

      The goal that we really have here is the alleviation of suffering without incurring MORE suffering. Based on the field realities at this point, the best way to do that is not to chase an absent dictator with drones or military spending, but help the affected people put their own lives back together in any way they see fit.

      Check these out:

      http://artforchildrenuganda.org/

      http://www.cpa-uganda.org/about.html

      http://www.ccyauganda.org/

  7. Annoyed African permalink
    March 7, 2012 02:38

    While raising awareness is a good thing I think this is just taking things a little to far, better you help us to help ourselves and stop seeing us as charity cases.

    • Loopa permalink
      March 7, 2012 14:53

      But that’s exactly what the US are doing, they sent troops there to teach the Ugandan military how to deal with the LRA. The 100 troops aren’t hunting down Kony and then fucking off.

  8. Matt permalink
    March 7, 2012 02:43

    I wish to be respectful to you, and your points carry some validity, but you have not considered this issue on an individual level.
    What capacity does the typical young North American person (by the way: not all of us are white) have for effecting positive change in the world? How does he or she go about doing it? I can tell you that, as a person who has never colonized an African country and never oppressed, dominated, nor committed an act of violence against any other person (a status I have in common with most other North Americans between the ages of 18 and 30), I will not be effecting any kind of positive change in my lifetime by simply continuing my standard policy of not colonizing, oppressing, or dominating. I already don’t do it, because it’s basic human decency. It’s true that some of our white forebears lacked it, but we, for the most part, don’t.
    So how can I and millions of other individuals like me do something realistic and concrete to effect some positive change in the lives of my fellow human beings in the year 2012, if not by taking part in a campaign like this? As a white person (I admit it), what exactly am I allowed to do to help another person without running afoul of accusations that I’m trying to assuage my rich white guilt? Should I instead attempt to raise awareness about human trafficking in eastern Europe? If I want to give my coat to a homeless man on a cold Chicago night, should I make sure to look for a white homeless man so that my good deed isn’t misconstrued as simply my way of bearing the White Man’s Burden? Your argument that race somehow matters when it comes to people helping other people is contributing to the idea that, well, race matters. Race has mattered for most of human history, because those in power were, in actual fact, racists. Now that power has transferred to people who are ostensibly not racists (because that sort of thing is no longer acceptable), I think it’s time for race to stop mattering.

    • March 7, 2012 03:02

      Matt,

      There are so many things that I would like to say to you that this blog response will not suffice. So a few short notes, in which I also hope I am respectful to you:

      1. Because you did not personally colonize anyone does not mean you do not still benefit from colonization. As Dionne Brand says, why is it that White folk always get to choose when we start the clocks of history?

      2. Because you were not a traditional ‘colonizer’ in the sense of going to Africa and enslaving people, does not mean you do not still participate in ways that still colonize/enslave people. We all do to a certain extent, some of us more than others.

      3. Those that can choose to ‘stop noticing race’ are those with the privilege. Others are reminded on a daily basis of their position.

      4. Finally, perhaps the best thing you can do IS not to participate. Maybe not. Maybe it is giving your coat to a homeless person you pass on the street. Maybe it isn’t. Don’t let me limit the possibilities of your kindness nor the ability to critically examine your kindness.

      • Matt permalink
        March 7, 2012 21:32

        I don’t think we’d get anywhere if I responded to the first two, because it boils down to a philosophical “what’s done is done” sort of debate.
        What you said in #3 is objectively true. There is still racism, and those who are oppressed don’t have the luxury of pretending that it isn’t happening. Sure, I am able to stop noticing race because I’m privileged. This brings us to #4. As someone who has been able to stop noticing race, do I not still have a duty to try to help my fellow human beings regardless of the color of their skin? Why should my motives be questioned just because there are still people who happen to have the same color skin as I do who actually do hold racist views? Objectively, doing something is in fact better than doing nothing, and that is why I choose to participate.
        This campaign is not about The White Man’s Burden, nor is it about racism. It is about the new-found ability of humanity, thanks to the WWW, to demand social change from our leaders in places they would otherwise not be concerned. The posters say “something we can all agree on”. I thought it was, but I am now disappointed to see that there are so many bloggers who insist that doing the right thing for what they perceive to be the wrong reason is somehow worse than doing nothing at all.
        As I side note, I hope you don’t feel like I was attacking you, and I won’t be offended if you don’t respond to my second long comment here–as you hinted earlier, it might even be more efficient to write a new blog post addressing the responses you’ve received to this one collectively. Either way, I will be back to read :)

      • May 10, 2012 13:01

        I like you article very much. I agree wholeheartedley with it and the fact that white people only ever do things that benefit themselves. Being a person of mixed race I am daily affected by white oppression here in Britain. At work, I am treated in a dehumanised way by my so-called white colleagues. Most black people here in Britain (and most other western countries) work in servitude jobs. We black people are as educated as white people and work as hard as white people but we get no benefit from it. White supremacy is alive and well in western countries. I myself am an administrator/secretary and I have gotten into trouble on numerous occasions for daring to ask to be treated as an equal human being. Most times I have to give in otherwise I will lose my job. When I go out to restaurants I am treated second-class, especially if I am with a white person. White privilege is all around us but unfortunately white people are blinded to it, except for a small minority who get attacked for daring to point out the truth.

  9. Melanie Lynn permalink
    March 7, 2012 02:57

    This article sparked some interesting debate in my head. At first I was like “those bastards fooled me” yet I kept thinking… First let me say I agree wholeheartedly that the western world needs to take a cold hard look in the mirror and figure out why this oppression is happening in the first place. Wholeheartedly agree. Point taken.

    However…
    Could you possibly be overlooking something crucial here?

    I think what I am about to say remains true regardless of the first point, because recognizing what is going on in Uganda could actually be a starting point for westerners to face the facts about themselves that you mention. People like you could help bring awareness to that issue and use the publicity generated to create awareness about the issues you feel are equally (more?) important while people are already feeling charitable about lending a helping hand (but you may want to consider a slightly different approach, like offering a ‘what’s next?” approach, instead of criticizing a movement that’s really born out of love. No one wants to be told that their effort to do good is actually useless, and no one will listen to you if they are angry/offended by you.)

    My main point is: Something that seemed pivotal and unique to me about Invisible Children’s initiative was the creation of the early warning system, that uses available technologies to help CONNECT people so that they can share information and inform others about what is going on at the moment. Is this something that has been done before? This is happening more and more right now (e.g. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/30/smart-phones-meet-smart-farming-indigenous-knowledge-sharing-in-tanzania/). Perhaps that is one aspect of this Invisible Children movement that is different and will effect change in ways that have not happened before?

    Also, I think you may be overlooking another possible piece of the puzzle that is being put together right now, that may not have happened before: Maybe the African people will feel encouraged to take on the hefty tasks they clearly face given the support of the entire world rallying for them? To know that they have the support of millions of people they have never met, don’t you think that could help them find the strength and courage to take on the massive challenges facing them? Maybe you are underestimating the power of the human spirit (see collective unconcscious as well). I strongly feel that is what the Invisible Children movement is partly about. (They actually seem to hint that this might be the first step towards humans uniting to create real change in this very unjust world… A great thing, that would have to address the issues you speak of) Personally, I never once thought, or was given the impression, this was about “saving Black people in Africa” as you say, so maybe your personal biases are colouring how you perceive and receive information? Nothing to be ashamed of, we all do it (its called ‘confirmation bias’), but don’t be afraid to sit back and consider it.

    Perhaps you also undermine the power that is created by social media connecting the world. I heard there are now only 4 pixels of separation thanks to the trusty internet. History is great, but new things have a way of happening, especially when there are tools available to the people that are beginning to recognize untold powers… But to see you must first believe. There are more people on facebook right now than there were on the entire planet 200 years ago… That seems like a completely new ball game to me. So, perhaps things will surprise you in a good way. Perhaps new ideas and new ways of doing things will emerge from people coming together and sharing ideas about the issue… You never really know. But I like feeling hopeful rather than cynical, so I will continue to believe that good things are possible and will happen.

    I believe we are witnessing things in recent years that have never happened before in human history. People are beginning to realize that they are not alone and that they DO matter and they can make a difference with just their voice at first, and actions shortly thereafter. I actually just heard a lecture from a prof at Harvard who showed that by and large humans kills each other far less now than ever before and its been on a steady decline for all time. So, education and awareness always help, always. Keep in mind that children are the ones who are most affected by education, so it will take a decade or more to see the results of that education in their actions. Kids are shaped by what they learn but they make choices as adults.

    What you say here is important but I fear the message will be lost. It would actually help if more people were aware of the history you speak of in this article because it would help them understand themselves better. Forgive people for not being as aware as they should be, because the system we have lived in until now was largely able to directly control everything we ‘learned’ but fortunately, that is rapidly changing.

    We should not let our troubled history prevent us from forming a peaceful present and future. I believe that showing people love and support and kindness is always a good thing. I believe that politics and governments and borders and money do not matter when the people love each other and support each other and show each other kindness in any way that they can no matter what. This is what I believe. And this is the feeling that I will share as far and wide as I can. Because nothing can stop people when they reach out for one another, and return that embrace. But in order to see, you must first believe.

    Many thanks.

    • March 7, 2012 03:07

      Some good points and, certainly, a short blog post such as this one cannot summarize or give every detail. I would love to write more but I keep responding to comments :)

      And of course what I write and think is colored (yes, colored) by my position. To think other is naivety.

      Thanks for the comments.

      • Melanie Lynn permalink
        March 8, 2012 17:23

        And thank you for reading and replying. Keep up the good work, you inspire thought provoking dialogue, which is a magnificent thing :)

    • Mandy permalink
      March 8, 2012 09:22

      Well said!

  10. malkia permalink
    March 7, 2012 03:30

    It is interesting to me that Africans (actual) ones are the ones agreeing with you wholeheartedly.

    I don’t mind the world community “helping” Africa, but this world community must realize that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, its justice (don’t know who said this). The underlying problems in Africa always come down to two things: governance and poverty. Fix those and you “fix” Africa.

    That’s where it gets horribly complicated. And that’s where Bono and company get stuck.

    Thanks for this.

    Another another actual African.

  11. S.A.M permalink
    March 7, 2012 03:31

    Reading this article is quite disappointing because there’s absolutely nothing new brought to the table. The whole “Africa does not need saving” argument is getting rather frustrating. All we seem to hear is criticism of the people trying to do whatever they can to help real PEOPLE, not the impersonal ‘Africa’ generalization. Why aren’t any viable solutions to the problem in question being proposed?The founders of Invisible Children are acting based on a promise they made to a teenage boy who preferred death to the kind of life he was living. They promised to do what they could to stop the war because no one else was doing anything about it. Would it make any difference if the founders of Invisible Children were African American instead of white? Can we seriously discredit their efforts because of the color of their skin?

    You forget that till this day, the international community is held responsible for not acting fast enough to prevent the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. If that genocide had received the same kind of publicity that this war in Uganda is receiving, would you still claim that the international community wasn’t justified to intervene? The west cannot help Uganda because of it’s whiteness; it can help because it has the resources that the Ugandan government does not have at the moment.

    And yes, the children affected by this war were rightly referred to as “invisible.” A civilized world would not allow any child to live in the kinds of conditions that these children live in, if it could see them. Now the world, including all other countries in Africa, is aware of the plight of these children thanks to Invisible Children. I can guarantee you that millions of ignorant people across the western world are only now finding out that there exists a country called Uganda, and that Africa is not a country but a whole continent. I commend Invisible Children for the incredible work they have done in making the children of Uganda, who are affected by this war, visible to the world.

    I am an African born and raised in a country that borders Uganda. I’m sad to say that I had never heard of Joseph Kony or the evils he was putting children and their communities through, before I learned about Invisible Children in 2011. Now I know. And even though I’m passionate about improving the global image of Africa from decades of being displayed as poor, sick, hungry and war-torn, I have put my pride aside with the realization that some causes are much bigger me or my opinions.

    The only person qualified to criticize the work of Invisible Children is one who can look into the eyes of the Ugandan children affected by this war, and tell them what he/she is doing to give them the kind of life every child in the world deserves to have.

    —-Young African Leader

    • March 7, 2012 11:06

      S.A.M.,

      Thanks for your comment. Innovation and newness is a good thing but when the harms being done are so old it’s sometimes hard to simply “move on”. Sometimes we need to linger a little while to highlight the continued pain and injustice that misrepresentations and the colonial desire to help cause.

      As for the so called “civilized world” I cannot speak for it all but I know here, in my country of Canada, we also stole children from communities, enslaved them, raped them, and destroyed their communities. We called it residential schooling.

  12. Gary permalink
    March 7, 2012 04:22

    It’s not about white people at all, it’s about the ignorance of the western media involving black, white etc… living outside of Africa. I’ve been to Uganda and the problem with media coverage is that there are so many problems in Africa that have been around for generations that the media thinks public interest will tire of this. I for one find it incredibly racist and naive you blame this on white people where as any black or Asian person living in a place where media controls the nation is exactly the same. If this guy was a white Colombian warlord, I don’t think there would be a difference

    • March 7, 2012 12:51

      Gary,

      The ignorance of Western media is certainly about White people.

      It’s also funny how those who point out race are labelled racist, as if by talking about it we are creating racism by disrupting the view of the kind White person. Racism is real and it effects media and representations in powerful ways.

  13. Vanessa Hubbard permalink
    March 7, 2012 04:27

    So refreshing. At last some knowledge to back my instinctive feeling.

  14. Christinamanch permalink
    March 7, 2012 05:40

    I thought this was written by a black woman! Thank you for posting, we need more white allies like you. White people only listen to other white people.

  15. Carl Betts permalink
    March 7, 2012 06:16

    Let me first apologize for my bad English and my terrible wording, as English is not my first language and i terribly need to train my writing skills.
    I do agree with most of the things you said, I am not sure if i’m right in any way, or it’s just my hatred for the fake do-good hipsters out there, but i think that something is funny with this whole campaign, first of all they are promoting pollution, most of the dumb pseudo intellectuals won’t even consider this as they are doing it for a “greater cause”, second of all they are promoting a huge viral campaign and want everyone to become a member (buy kits, make propaganda) just so the U.S won’t take some soldiers they deployed over there? I see 2 scenarios here, one:
    They are doing a great thing starting a huge community that later on will be really helping in some way, by gathering up and helping educate children in Uganda, bringing food and etc.. ….What I believe most of those hipsters/young wouldn’t support if they had to actually go to Africa or take real action in any way instead of just walking around screaming revolution,.
    Two:
    They are using propaganda ,appealing to a sensitive matter AFRICA (how could you not want to help poor Africans right?) and advertising the childish idea that you are strong, you can do something by doing nothing, we the good people must unite, we are all one, so they can get attention to their organization, for what? Money maybe, Political support, and what do they partially offer in return? the irrelevant imprisonment of one guy, they are being really smart here, you are giving them money and support, but they haven’t said they are going to do anything concise, they just make it seem like they are with a greatly tailored video.

    Now they do raise awareness to a problem and that is a great thing, i believe that SOME issues can be helped with awareness to the masses, but most of the time people who shares this things and follow them just want some attention or that pat in the back of being a better person.

  16. Kassie W. permalink
    March 7, 2012 07:59

    I’m sorry, I just can’t agree with your premise, sir. We as a global society have learned that fame really does increase the chances of someone being caught. Look at America’s Most Wanted: Their faces are out there and their atrocities are known and people know what to do about them. Also, it’s not just white people. Have you watched the video? IC is in countries all over the globe! Their reach is far, but this campaign is taking it to the farthest it’s ever been and if we as an entire race of human beings (not just as elitist white people) cry out that one man’s atrocities be stopped, someone will listen and he will be caught.
    No, we are not solving the problem at large, but if we can prove to the world that we as a people in this global community of the internet, facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc. can cause change by catching Kony, then we’ll know what to do and how to do it and when he’s caught, we’ll move on to the next person who has decided that they have the right to power for power’s sake and down he’ll come as well.

    • March 7, 2012 12:56

      Kassie,

      This article brings some interesting analysis to:

      “The idea that popular opinion can be leveraged with viral marketing to induce foreign military intervention is really, really dangerous.”

      Worth a read.

  17. March 7, 2012 09:55

    I’ve gotta say, having read this I think you’re missing something. It was hard to put my finger on what exactly, but I think it’s that your emphasis on white and black is misplaced. At the heart of this campaign is cosmopolitan thinking, the idea of thinking that we all have obligations to make things better for everyone, not just our own countrymen – a major recurring theme was that, if this were happening to white people, this would be seen as a much bigger deal, that it would be “visible” on a world stage that is still dominated by white western culture. Your critique only works if you ignore the brutal reality that yes, most people in the west don’t care about Africa unless it’s related back to them. People in the west are, on a subconscious level, still racist. This campaign makes it its business to play upon that, to actually call that out and make them think about that impulse. They’re not going to Africa and going “You guys, there’s some really bad things going on in Africa!” They’re saying it to people who were perhaps unaware. And the reason it’s important to make the US realise this is that they have the resources to affect change. It’s like relying on the tallest person in the room to get things off the high shelf; sure, it sucks that we have to go to them, but no-one else can do it as effectively. To write this off as white self-absorption is to ignore the fact that they can help.

    • March 7, 2012 10:52

      To compare race and height is a grossly unrealistic comparison. Tall people have not been historically oppressed. Yes, it has to do with the West thinking everything is about them and yes this has to do with race.

  18. Nida permalink
    March 7, 2012 09:57

    I wrote about something extremely similar on my blog, but more focusing on the blatant racism that was present in the actual video and not really in the concept of invisible children itself. I’m still struggling however. Kony is the most wanted international criminal and the International Court has done squat to capture him even though warrants for his arrests are out everywhere. Obviously, like you said, awareness is our generation’s activism. It doesn’t do much—-but does it do nothing at all? While the video and the concept behind it is rooted in racism for sure, are we still better for the awareness it raises?

  19. March 7, 2012 10:03

    @Eric: What, that’s it? You start a discussion and then bow out because you don’t have time to respond further? If that is the case, then I am stunned.

    @Sam: Nice point, succinctly put.

    • March 7, 2012 10:55

      Lots of things in life, not just the blog. Working on replying to as many comments as possible. Though this reminds me…. it’s not all about you.

    • David permalink
      March 7, 2012 13:39

      That’s definitely an unfair statement, Tim. Clearly there are numerous comments being made on this blog, and the blogger/moderator is doing his best to reply to as many as he can. His profile outlines aspects of his life which would make it impossible to reply to everyone, and in a perfectly punctual matter.

  20. March 7, 2012 10:15

    I’m enjoying this conversation–great comments and thoughts to consider. I think there’s a lot to examine in the situation, ourselves and this campaign—as you point out, Eric, and as others point out in agreement and disagreement. There’s an exciting, healthy debate going around the internet.

    I’m particularly impressed with this campaign and how they’ve put elements together to be spread. From the high quality execution of the video to the website, social media elements seamlessly plugged in, and a concise, hopeful message. I think this campaign has the potential to a lot farther than any other campaign I’ve seen in a while.

    I’d love to get your thoughts (and others’) on what you would do differently. What are the pieces (content or execution) you think are working well and would keep? Which ones would you throw out entirely? Which pieces need adjustment and how would you change them to do the most good? Would you change the goals and what would you change them to? It would be great to get a constructive critique.

    I think this campaign does a great job at appealing to the target it’s after—young, compassionate, relatively affluent, English-speaking people—and creating easy, engaging and appealing ways to take action from where they are. I understand the dangers of firing them up and pointing them in the wrong direction, or giving them an incorrect message or shaping mistaken perspectives. In what role do you think this group of people could be the most effective? They certainly shouldn’t be encouraged to leapfrog Africans’ own efforts, but how should their interest, enthusiasm and energy be harnessed to be as supportive as possible?

    Thanks for your thoughts and for keeping the discussion going.

    • March 7, 2012 14:44

      Dave,

      I too, for the most part, am enjoying the dialogue – I think this in itself is a positive step rather than jubilantly taking up a cause without interrogation.

      The very goals of this movie seem to be based around a viral model: Stated goals like 500,000 shares. They are promoting themselves in this process, as the medium for raising awareness (“Buy a kit!). As you said, they know their audience and are doing everything right in terms of appealing to it.

      But perhaps that is part of the problem. In order to appeal to this crowd, you need to take liberties with the truth, you need to portray Africa as in need of saving, you have to display children who have already been traumatized – you have to exploit their pain.

      Really, many of the arguments boil down to this: Is this exploitation worth it if we can stop the suffering? It’s a very utilitarian model. Some have to suffer for a larger group to benefit. I think, though, in this case the group that benefits the most is Euro North Americans. Guilt is displaced or assuaged, their position as saviors and civilized is affirmed, and little is actually done on the ground. It’s an old model, one that IC has re-packaged in glitzy social media and consumerism.

  21. anon permalink
    March 7, 2012 10:30

    This was a really great article. Thank you for this.

  22. March 7, 2012 10:36

    The way I see it, scepticism and such aside, Is that there are children caught up in all this and being forced to do things no child should ever have to even witness. That’s why I’m supporting. There’s cynicism scattered everywhere. It’s not about the black man or the white man or who saves who. We are ALL part of the human race and it should be default human nature that we look out for one another at all times.

    • March 7, 2012 10:57

      It is good to care about the kids because you are right, they have gone through things no child should have to witness. As a father, I fully agree.

      But the belief that we are all part of a human race and that we should ignore difference and history is misguided. Race is real and it’s effects are material.

  23. Josh permalink
    March 7, 2012 10:48

    I almost feel like my opinion will not be valid here, because of the level of intelligence and depth this discussion has gone. But I will try make my point and leave my opinions and feelings with you all.

    I’m a 20 year old from Australia, our country was also colonized, I may be open to the fact, but I generally disagree with the comments that I may in some way to feel guilt or feel a “white mans” burden for what my ancestors have done.
    Just to paint the personal picture more so you can get a understanding of my personal view, I’m a career firefighter , and also a volunteer fire fighter when off duty, its my job to protect and serve the community and preserve life most of all. At no point during my service do I feel less caring for a white man as a black man and at no point does my feelings change even if the person I was helping were their own reason why they are facing a life threatening situation . My job is not to judge , I have been raised especially not to judge color and I see every man as equal.

    I understand how it may seem that the white man across social media networks like twitter and Facebook may come across to you as a charity case to make them feel good, or pay the debut of the white mans burden off. One fact that cannot be ignored is, when you help a fellow man whether big or small it makes you feel good Regardless of color. Now maybe some of the people joining this campaign are doing so to feel good and maybe that’s not the best motive, but its still a human decent one , you feel good when you do good, whether its spreading awareness across social media in belief that it will benefit some how, to going to Africa or Uganda to help.

    Maybe in older generations prejudice and racism still remains , but in my generation its generally been wiped out to a acceptable point. I am a white young man with a Philippine female who is a close friend, my other mate is a Mauri from Newzeeland, Some of my closest friends growing up were aboriginals and Greek and Chinese one even Indian. I think that if this was happening in a predominantly western white country the response would be same if the advertising was the same. At no point did the color of these people being affected enter my mind. Maybe I’m complacent of it because I’m used to seeing and hearing about 3rd world standards in African country’s because of media.

    Recently in Australia , one of our prime minister gave an apology to the aboriginal people for the treatment they were once given by our ancestors, I agree with this I am sorry for the treatment they were given, in the same way I am sorry for some one else’s loss, but I am not sorry in the sense that I contributed to it or contributed to the act that lead to there suffering. Because I did not personally take part in that and I am against it strongly. I think the message the invisible children are delivering and the power its spreading is amazing. Its showing that predominantly the younger generations that will be the leaders of this world one day, will not stand for this sort of treatment to humans. We are controlled and influenced about what we see by our media, but that is changing and that change in treatment to other races and what information and injustices we are informed about is changing to because of mostly the younger generations. I think it shows that we are one day going to be past racism and control of the media one day. We may never be 100% past racism ever, but I think we are heading in the direction of the closest thing to it.

    I think intention whether or not you see it as relevant has to be bought into consideration. The invisible children, got help form the US military to help try and catch Kony, and the US government already admitted it would not help if it was not of financial or political concern to them, but they managed to get action. I don’t think they done this as a charity case or because they believe the Ugandans way of doing things isn’t working, I think that majority of invisible children’s followers done this because they felt like if we were in they’re shoes , we would like some one to offer help and support. Because that’s how I see and feel about it, its about helping as much as you can and were you can in your personal capacity. Your right in saying this wasn’t in interest of the US government, but the people who cared made it a interest of theirs, and made sure something was done. You don’t offer to help some one and do everything you can the only way how, to be criticized and told your not doing the right thing or useless, you thank and appreciate what help your offered in life and cherish the fact that some one wanted to help preserve happiness love an life in the world.

    We can’t change the past but we can change the future the best we can, to me it looks like we are on the right track. If I ever are in the position of some of these people I would not mind any sort of help and I would not mind if it was a American who helped me or a African.

    • March 7, 2012 11:17

      Josh,

      All are welcome. Just two quotes to leave with you. One from Dionne Brand:

      “It never occurs to them [Whites] that they live on the cumulative hurt of others. They want to start the clock of social justice when they arrived. But one is born into history, one isn’t born into a void”

      And then, from Bell Hooks:

      “Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?”

      Having racialized friends or believing for yourself that racism has been eradicated does not make it true. The systems that disadvantage people are still firmly in place and, only now, are hidden because we believe we are “post-racial”.

  24. March 7, 2012 11:02

    To all who are commenting: I appreciate the level of discussion that this has generated and it has been truly overwhelming. Since this was posted 11 hrs ago it has been read almost 10,000 times and is still snowballing. I am trying to respond to as many comments as possible bit it is simply not feasible to respond or post them all. In order to ensure your comment is responded to, some simple hints:

    If you call me names, curse at me, or are generally inflammatory for the sole sake of being inflammatory, I will not post your comment or respond.

    That said, I am trying to work through the backlog that happened while I slept. I will not be able to post and reply to everyone so, for brevity’s sake, some of the posts that duplicate the “same old” argument will not be posted. Again, I appreciate both the skeptics and the supporters – both aid the discussion around this which was the goal of this article. Much love.

  25. Tom permalink
    March 7, 2012 11:05

    A lot of what you say resonates with me.

    But I can’t take such a simple racial dichotomy seriously. This sort of anti-colonial-101 narrative is outdated, if it was ever useful in the first place. That it seems to come solely from America seems to evidence its subjectivity.

    • March 7, 2012 13:08

      As Andrea Smith so aptly states:

      “The Black/White binary is not the only binary which characterizes White supremacy, but it is still a central one that we cannot “go beyond”.

  26. March 7, 2012 11:22

    Thank you for your post and for your perspective. I definitely think that there are many errors in how we as white north americans approach others.

    We are not the saviour of the world and it is detrimental for us to think that we are.

    That being said, I do believe we can stand with our fellow humans (no matter their race) whilst not ignoring our own problems.

    The God that I believe in calls me to this – sometimes to merely stand with or be with, and other times to give functional aid.

    My God tells me to be a “Good Samaritan” and that the lines are not drawn because we are from different countries or continents, or because our skin is a different colour. I am called to help the poor, the widow, the needy, the orphaned, the hurting, etc.

    I plan to one day physically go to Uganda and do my part to support those people and care for them.

    There are so many great organizations that are making an impact and rebuilding Uganda, but frankly this war and Joseph Kony is larger than Uganda. He has moved out from there and now it is more than just one country’s problem. I, for one will, choose not to ignore the atrocities that have been done and will not merely let them fend for themselves while I am busy only “talking about white people”.

    I will not ignore the problems in america either however. We have our own poor, widowed, needy, orphaned, hurting people that need to be cared for and it would be wrong for me to only focus on those across the world. I choose to do my part, whether nationally or internationally, to care for the children of my God.

    I will not allow my privileges be the reason that I choose not to take action. I aim to use any privileges and blessings that my God has provided me with to make an impact in His world, for His glory. I aim to do, what I believe, he would want me to do.

    I am not here to force anyone to contribute or even take part in the actions of Invisible Children. Frankly, they are not the perfect organization (I personally don’t know of one that is) but they are doing what they can to make a difference. They are flawed and they need to be held accountable but can we choose to do that out of love rather than out of hate.

    Don’t feel compelled to be against it or for it based on what you read here – whether by myself or the original blog author. I encourage you to watch the video and if you want to support it, great. If you choose to not support it, thats okay too.

    • March 7, 2012 13:42

      Testing2/Cam,

      The answer is certainly not disengagement, I’m not advocating that. Critique is not meant to be paralyzing, it is meant to be the starting point for action. If critique does stop action, then perhaps that action was not the right one.

      It begins with each of us being honest with ourselves about our privileges, being self-reflective, and acknowledging the violence and pain our actions can cause – then looking for ways to critically move forward.

      I think this is certainly in line with many religious creeds but, unfortunately, they tend to get co-opted by less savory intentions.

      • Cam permalink
        March 7, 2012 14:30

        I agree wholeheartedly that we need to approach this from a heart of honesty about all that you mentioned. Especially in regards to being aware of how our actions can affect those across the world, who we will most likely never see.

        Race definitely comes into play, as much as we may pretend it doesn’t. And so much of what we do can have wrong motives (for a “us helping them” mentality).

        That being said however, being a good samaritan means looking beyond those cultural boundaries. I can’t imagine how humbling, and frankly inappropriate, it would be for a Jewish man to be helped by a Samaritan man but that is what needed to happen for his own good, health and safety.
        I will choose to “clothe [myself] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” even beyond borders.

        I am not advocating for Invisible Children or for Kony 2012, but rather for those children. I also am not advocating for violence but rather, I am praying for safety on all sides.

        I unfortunately have no great, new ideas that could accomplish the safety of these children. I choose to support something that can help accomplish that. People have a voice and if IC is moving in a wrong direction, as people we can also help nudge them back to the direction that needs to happen.

        I worry that people reading this will be immobilized rather than creatively seeking solutions that take into consideration the people that are directly affected. If there are new ideas that fully take this into account, I am all ears and ready to support. I definitely appreciate that you are not advocating for disengagement but rather for careful critique.

  27. matt permalink
    March 7, 2012 11:36

    Your post suggests that any attempt to do good in Africa by privileged (you call them “White,” and I think you’re overstating the usefulness of that term as an explanatory paradigm) North Americans inevitably reinforces neo-imperialist strictures and racialized, hierarchical modes of thinking.

    But we can’t turn back the clock on globalization. We can’t rebuild the walls that have been broken down by our knowledge of other peoples, other cultures, and other societies.

    Concern about Kony may be fickle, sappy, and driven by sensationalism, but is it really all that bad a thing? Unfortunately, the best way to effect change is to work within the inequitable and unjust world system that we’ve inherited. Mass awareness of a problem does not do anything in and of itself to solve problems. It does, however, inspire people to come up with creative solutions to problems of which they may have been heretofore ignorant.

    • March 7, 2012 13:20

      Matt,

      Thanks for your reply. You’re right, we can’t turn back the clock on colonization or globalization which raises some interesting/serious questions about HOW we work with these histories and current unjust systems.

      I would like to see more creative solutions which actually engage with Whiteness (which is really what I am discussing moreso than “White people”) and how White people perpetuate it. This really begins with listening to the voices of Africans who have been talking about solutions for a very long time, solutions no one has been listening to.

  28. Thembi permalink
    March 7, 2012 12:00

    When did this become about black or white?
    Would you prefer the world satyed silent?

    • March 7, 2012 13:17

      When Europe colonized Africa and stripped it of its people and resources it became about Black and White – this continues today.

      Who is this “world” you are mentioning? Many have been talking about this for years and years (before Invisible Children) but few were listening… because they were African.

  29. Josh permalink
    March 7, 2012 12:34

    I know so many people have been affected by the history of white people and that pain would be hard to overcome. In a way we have gone from a racist accepted world to anti racist world. I know this is hard to believe and I can only empathize with those who have lived through that or been affected. But the general populations especially younger generations do care and do want to help, and what racism is left is so much dramatically lower than what would have been 50 years ago. I understand your frustrations and your points seem so much clearer to me know, I appreciate this chance to discuss this with you all. The one thing is although the way we attempted to help wasn’t the exactly the way you wanted help, please understand that it was only best intentions. Keep hope and faith that the world one day will have little to none racism and a better privileged Africa. Although you may perceive a lot of this hype as a hero act or the white man trying to help because he feels his burden to, it’s not exactly the case. Its because we have a heart and we do not believe in racism but believe in equality, we wouldn’t want these events to happen to us and be tolerated, we would want action and that’s what were trying to do with invisible children. You may have your doubts about awareness but its worked in ways none of us could have predicted. With out the KONY 2012 video and awareness that’s erupted, we would most likely not have ever had this conversation and your points on this issue would have not been shared. But because of the turn of events it has allowed this to happen, so good regardless what you believe has come of it. You have changed my approach and some of my views on the topic, even if you have changed one man’s views is that not one minor success in a small victory step in the right dirrection?

  30. March 7, 2012 13:04

    @James

    If we believe agriculture and economics to be Africa’s problems, WHY are they problems and how (history) did they become problems? This has everything to do with colonialism and race. White ignorance continues these problems.

  31. Ms. J permalink
    March 7, 2012 13:08

    While I commend Invisible Children for trying to spread awareness, I think this issue is more complex than just sharing a video to your friends. We in the Western world don’t like to consider the fact that our lifestyles are a result of poor people’s oppression worldwide. Our clothes, electronics, food, etc. are made in places that have been historically exploited by European countries who replace their leadership with harmful dictators over time. Besides, the UN has all these ordinances that criminalize genocide, but it still happens! Stopping KONY is a start, but it barely scratches the surface of a darker history. But I’m ready to delve into the darker aspects of this issue because its perpetuated by “good citizens” and “evil dictators” alike.

    Thank you, Eric.

  32. March 7, 2012 13:09

    Important thing to note is the amount of oil Uganda has.

    • islc permalink
      March 8, 2012 00:23

      If it were about the oil, the world govt’s, especially the US would have gotten involved years ago.

  33. Brian permalink
    March 7, 2012 13:11

    Interesting article, some very well presented points. But, in my view. IC’s heart is in the right place.

    I feel that they have to show Africa has a place that needs saving, because, otherwise no-one will notice.

    If you show actual Africa, people in the west, will just look at it, and say, that doesn’t look too bad. You have to shock people to keep their attention.

    Also, I kept cringing when you used “whites”. We’re all part of the one race, the human race.

    • March 7, 2012 13:55

      Brian,

      Intentions or a good heart are a terrible way to gauge if something is valuable or not. The European colonizers in Africa also believed what they were doing was good and right.

      We are all human yes, but race is real and has real consequences – if you are cringing it might be for a reason.

      If we NEED to show Africa as in need of saving to get attention, shouldn’t we be questioning if such attention is worth it or good at all? If we have to perpetuate a false stereotype to get help, is that help really helpful or harmful? I argue, harmful.

  34. Mark permalink
    March 7, 2012 13:17

    Yes, because we all know how U.S. interventionism in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan worked out. >_> You can’t erase violence with violence. Flooding a country with weapons and arming militia leads to short term good but long term bad.

  35. March 7, 2012 13:51

    Thank you so much for writing this thoughtful and insightful post. As a donor of grassroots organizations it frustrates me to see these groups raise millions of dollar and put very little thought into how best to allocate those funds. I think it is important to stand for what you believe in but your intention has to reflect cultural competency, gender equality, respect, power structures etc. in regards to the beneficiaries you are serving. It is so much sexier to believe you are helping helpless children and as you said that is how we end up in situations of oppression, violence and the continuation of the colonial mind set. Thanks again and I am going to tweet your post.

  36. alex permalink
    March 7, 2012 14:09

    Great article. It’s like a punch in the stomach seeing hundreds post this all over facebook, thinking their Ghandi for doing so.

  37. Molly permalink
    March 7, 2012 14:17

    It seems to me that you are more concerned with differences in colour and culture, than you are with the coming together of humanity to help one another.
    We didn’t choose where, or when, we were born, as the documentary significantly points out. We are all the same, and we should not feel ashamed of wanting to help out our fellow man.
    And if it is awareness via Facebook, Twitter or any other social media that evokes this in us, then so be it. We are living in the 21st Century.

    Stop directing your efforts towards supposed racial heirarchies and maybe think a little more about what you can do to help the guy across the water.

    • March 7, 2012 14:53

      Molly,

      We are not all the same and are not all treated the same. Denying privilege is not the way to stop the violence it begins and perpetuates.

      One way, perhaps, to “help the guy [sic] across the water” is to attend to the racial hierarchies.

  38. March 7, 2012 14:19

    Came across this piece from a blog on The Independent and I completely agree with you. Good work. I’m following you now!

  39. david permalink
    March 7, 2012 14:25

    eric you stated “Many have been talking about this for years and years (before Invisible Children) but few were listening… because they were African.” i understand that and i do wish we as a global people had listened to them. sadly we did not as proven by the shock people who watch this video have been having. my question is why now (racisim or not) can we not try and help try and raise awarness. why does people wanting to help and do something a bad thing? if people make this known to their governments that this is something we care about why is that an issue. i also live in canada as you have stated you do. not all of us can go over to africa or where ever there are these problems and help them ourselves. if i as a person who believes that everyone deserves to live in peace can do something to help this one thing here what is the harm?

    • March 7, 2012 14:46

      David,

      It’s a good question. The problem lies with the type of awareness being raised and how it is being done. Not all awareness is positive awareness that leads to change. Awareness is not inherently bad but can be used for bad purposes (to simplify it).

  40. March 7, 2012 14:47

    Thank you for adding your critical perspective to the madness that is IC’s message. The hope and resiliency found all across the beautiful communities on the African continent, as well as the countless powerful local initiatives, are all completely ignored by IC’s latest campaign. What a missed opportunity considering the huge audience they reach. I wish the people behind IC would consider a genuine dialogue with people like yourself, Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters, etc. – Thanks again for posting this.

  41. March 7, 2012 15:10

    @Cam

    I know intentions can be good and many are (yours included) but to suggest we can “look past cultural boundaries” speaks to our privilege in being able to do so. Racialized bodies are constantly reminded of their position and are not able to cross these boundaries, much like in a very physical way we have the ability to cross national boundaries to go ‘help’ but the Acholi are “stuck” in their situation. Our mobility, both in terms of identity, and physically is brought from privilege. Intentions are not enough, our actions can still harm.

    The feeling of “Well we have to do something” forgets that actions also cause harm. If by doing something we are going to cause more harm (as American intervention has so often done, history is littered with examples) should we do something?

    Again, I’m not advocating doing nothing but the model that IC is promoting is not only beneficial to them but not beneficial to those who are already bearing the brunt of a terrible situation.

    • Cam permalink
      March 7, 2012 19:41

      Thanks for the replies. I was wondering if you could help me, and perhaps many others, understand the major negative repercussions of this action. I agree that there definitely could be some but perhaps you have a better idea of those pitfalls specific to this issue. I know there have been many incidents in history but for this one, attempting to arrest Joseph Kony, what are the draw backs?
      If we can be aware of those, we can begin to attempt to find a better way of solving this problem that hopefully will have a benefit for those who are “bearing the brunt of a terrible situation”.
      If there are legitimate concerns, we need to address those and take action. But if on the other hand we are only worried that there could be concerns but have no idea of what they may be, how long will we let our fear and worry of being insensitive to culture and race stop us from taking action?
      Please help me understand the major concerns as I do not want or intend for any of my actions to cause harm but realize that if not fully thought through, this is very likely to happen.
      Also can you explain what you mean by the “model that IC is promoting”?

      • March 8, 2012 09:49

        Cam,

        Good questions. For one, the model of military intervention has tried and failed – actually doing more harm to these communities. Operation Lightning Thunder was a fully US backed military intervention using Ugandan, Congolese, Sudanese troops. It not only failed to capture Kony but sparked a war of attrition where both sides began killing women, children, communities that were believed to be loyal to other sides.

        The simplistic message of Invisible Children is damaging in that it promotes simplistic solutions to complex realities. It is also dangerous in that it feeds and perpetuates negative stereotypes about Africans, ones which have very real implications for their lives, their economies, and their communities.

  42. chante permalink
    March 7, 2012 15:10

    I appreciate the idea that by watching a film or donating money, we feel as though we have done our “good deed” for the day and allow us to live our lives without a second thought to this matter.

    Firstly, i presume you are of an ethnic group that is not Caucasian, however you have not grown up in africa?
    As a caucasian woman that has grown up in Africa please allow me to explain some home truths. ” The blame game helps none. Yes, colonialism was wrong and the reprecussions made by our ancestors many years ago are still present in the hearts of todays people. We learn resentment from our parents and social groups, a child does not know color or the history of its people. We are taught all this. I was educated in a classroom that was of mixed race, however my parents were of a generation that was segregated therefore i was influenced by their opinions. But I’ve learnt that the color of your skin does not define who you are and the idea that we can not progress because of this vicious cycle of blame saddens me. The men and women who are helping in this campaign to stop injustice are not doing so because the children are African, but because they are precious lives that have the same value as any other. We are not helping because we feel we need to correct our ancestors indiscretions, but rather we are all children of God and if we can do anything to save a childs life then that should be the coarse of action.

    • March 7, 2012 15:16

      Chante,

      I was just commenting to a colleague about the danger of the anonymity of the internet. I am a White, male Canadian scholar.

      You say you have “learnt that the color of your skin does not define who you are”. It SHOULDN’T define who we are, but it does, even in today’s so called “modern” society. That is what we need to learn.

      • March 8, 2012 04:52

        I think Eric, that addressing a root cause of a social issue works on an entirely different time scale.

        I think the whole point of this campaign was to get something done in short period of time rather than instigating a thought process that would take generations to solidify.

        I don’t think people are presumptuous enough to think that this campaign is going to be a magical way of address of all of Africa’s problems, or the obvious social and political modern day disparities caused by a string of imperialist invasions through out history.

        All I know is that if my family was going through this, I would much rather get help AS SOON AS POSSIBLE…

        It’s like being stabbed to death on a street in front of everyone while people stand there watching and arguing about how to they could stop it from ever happening again and asking themselves “why is this happening”.

        Mate, if I was in this position, I wouldn’t give a fig about colonialism. I’d just want something done.

        It’s good that this video has brought to surface some of the deeper cultural issues prevalent in the world today, but from a practical point of view, I think sometimes it’s better to DO something than to theorize about things. There’s definitely merit in it.

      • March 8, 2012 20:35

        @DJ

        The time scale issue is interesting. There are certainly times, like getting stabbed, that I am hoping someone just jumps in.

        Unfortunately, the time to jump in for Uganda was 20 years ago. Now we are just flogging a horse that has already endured 20 years of violence.

  43. March 7, 2012 16:50

    Very interesting post and comments alike

  44. Khorrie permalink
    March 7, 2012 18:04

    It’s interesting to note that IC and their campaign has done something that they likely didn’t intend: They’ve shone a spotlight on discussions like these and, funnily enough, proven their own point. Awareness is crucial. Education is crucial. Not just about the “cause” but about those who are championing it. We need to be a more informed society on all levels.

  45. Samuel permalink
    March 7, 2012 18:39

    I’ve got so much respect for this article, its nice to see someone less affected by the hype around Kony 2012.

  46. Jess permalink
    March 7, 2012 18:49

    Why are people going on about white people helping Africans….the American president is NOT WHITE!

    This movement isn’t just about raising awareness…although I personally think it is a good thing. It is about putting pressure on governments around the world that have the resources required to end the Kony regime. It is about finding the man that is at the top of the ICC’s war crimes list.

    Lets not be naive and believe that he is working alone. But getting rid of the ring leader is always a start.

    If there was somebody in the western world that had committed such atrocities but managed to remain elusive and also somehow hidden…….a similar campaign to raise awareness about him would also be happening.

    Kony2012 is not about teaching the west about the war in Northern Uganda/Congo. It’s aim is to facilitate the resources of governments/ICC etc to find Kony.

    • March 8, 2012 20:56

      Jess,

      Because there is a Black president it can’t be about race or Whiteness? Obama is a whole ‘nother topic and debate but suffice it to say he is working within a system of Whiteness.

      There are many in the Western world who have committed terrible atrocities (I’ve used the example of residential schooling in Canada, which continued into the 1990s, at least 10 years after Kony began his war) but are not the focus of media attention. White people just don’t like thinking about White terrorists, dictators or warlords.

  47. March 7, 2012 19:25

    Excellent article mate. Expressed what I was having a bit of difficulty doing. Thanks!

  48. March 7, 2012 20:04

    Eric,
    As usual you open my eyes and make me think of something in a new light. I think your thinking can also be applied to the First Nations people in Canada. And to think, I knew you when.

  49. Phil permalink
    March 7, 2012 20:43

    A very interesting read. However, like a few others who have commented, I’m not sure the racial differentiation is particularly relevant here. If anything, it is more a geo-spatial divide between ‘here’ and ‘over there’. We (here) need to assist them (over there) because that is where the problem is. There is quite a lot of colonial rhetoric in the Kony video, not least the implication that these atrocities are taking place in one particular location (a historical fallacy) in what is, as you pointed out your blog, purported to be a ‘backwards’ and ‘primitive ‘ society. However, I think that the rhetoric is more geographical than racial. This is not to say that race does not come in to the matter, rather that the video represents a wider persistence of colonial rhetoric (as seen also in the numerous Geldof- and Bono-inspired campaigns) whereby there is a need for the supposed ‘civilised’ society to assist those worse-off. I am not trying to argue that this is a bad thing, much to the contrary, however I do feel that this is not so much about racial backgrounds, than a longstanding colonial guilt.

    • March 8, 2012 07:36

      Phil – we have our own war criminals: Bush and Blair.

      Together they killed over a million Iraqi civilians, half of them children. They killed them because we put them in power, our taxes paid for the bombs that were dropped, the bullets that shot kids in the street, the electrodes that detainees were attached to for photo opportunities, the white phospherous that was used in the siege of Fallujha that practically wiped out a large town.

      Bush and Blair are already famous, we know where they are already – why arent we putting *them* in the Hague?

      Our leaders, our money, our genocide, our responsibility.

  50. Gabrielle permalink
    March 7, 2012 22:47

    I can’t even begin to thank you and show my respect for this eloquently written article that has completely hit the nail on the head. Wow.

  51. March 7, 2012 23:39

    Good thought provoking article!

  52. E.S. permalink
    March 8, 2012 00:11

    While I can see your point to an extent, I am appalled at the manner in which you address white people. True, white people do not know what it means or feels like to be an African-American, but at the end of the day, you do not know what it means or feels like to be white either. You are sitting around insulting white people for helping the people they enslaved. Explain to me how that is not racism? Furthermore, Invisible Children is not an ethnic organization. It is full of the black, white, pink, and purple people whom you referenced in your article. Their mission is to use the resources we have as AMERICANS to help those who are obviously in dire need of help. For some reason, I highly doubt that IC is an oligarchy of white elitists sitting around a conference table discussing how to assist their poor, black neighbors. You say the color of our skin doesn’t define who we are, yet you insist on emphasizing the black and the white in this article. Maybe if you considered those who need help and those who want to help, you might better understand the mission of Invisible Children and those who have partnered with them to ensure that Joseph Kony can go nowhere without being recognized as the Sadistic human being that he is, regardless of his color.

    • March 8, 2012 21:01

      E.S.,

      A couple comments. I have never said the color of skin doesn’t define who we are, in fact that is exactly the opposite of what I am arguing. It SHOULDN’T define who we are but it does and we need to recognize these differences. For white folk, this means recognizing our privileges.

      And yes, Invisible Children IS in fact an oligarchy of White folk sitting around a conference table discussing Black people. Please look at their Board, made up solely of White folk, mostly male, who really like talking about Black people.

  53. andrea permalink
    March 8, 2012 00:21

    This was a very insightful article. For anyone else who is interested on reading about why “the white man” will not safe Sub-Saharan Africa, I recommend a book by Dambasia Moyo called “Dead Aid”. The thesis of the book pertains to why foreign aid will not and has never worked to “save” Africa. The book is written from an economical perspective (Dr. Moyo, who was born and raised in Zambia, obtained her PhD in economics at Oxford University), but it is a very interesting and easy read for anyone from any academic background. I highly recommend it, it is an eye-opener for anyone interested in humanitarian work.

  54. rob permalink
    March 8, 2012 04:17

    This is a great article but I’m struck by the importance you put on race. As far as I’m concerned, the problems with the Kony 2012 video have very little to do with ‘do-good whiteness’ as you argue. Would you still have the same criticisms if the makers were African American? Neoliberalism is indeed a major issue here but don’t reduce it to a racial issue.

    • March 8, 2012 20:44

      Neoliberalism is a form of White politics that White folk, and others, have used to “Save” Africa.

      • rob permalink
        March 9, 2012 05:27

        I don’t agree that there is anything inherently ‘white’ about neoliberalism. True in many cases it has been pushed through by white people but at the same time people of many different ethnicities have taken the initiative. I think it is much more of a reflection of an international system that seeks to extract resources and value through continuing subordination of many people around the world, regardless of colour. Also I think it is much more than a form of politics. Economics is key and more importantly the discourse that is created to legitimate the system is paramount.

  55. March 8, 2012 06:25

    I am 21 years old. I am white. I am African, born and bred. My father works for the UN in central Africa. I know what happens there. I am not talking about the news headlines or underground blogs or even the “social revolutions” on the internet. I am talking about what really happens there. I am offended by the “KONY 2012″ movement, and I approve of this article.

    • March 8, 2012 20:45

      You may have been born in Africa but may I, respectfully, disagree that you are African.

      Similarly, settlers in Canada cannot claim to be Indigenous or Indian. Born in Canada, but still intruders.

  56. Lou permalink
    March 8, 2012 07:29

    Great article. I’m glad to find that someone else had a bit of an uneasy feeling after seeing that vid. I loved it, but there’s definitely the ‘black people need white saviours’ message in there. Sadly, it’s hard to explain to people who don’t understand white privilege. I studied it at uni as part of a subject investigating racism, and it opened my eyes to so much! I wish it was compulsory in schools.

  57. peytontheasian permalink
    March 8, 2012 09:46

    You are absolutely right.
    Thank you for writing this!

  58. Considering All Points of View permalink
    March 8, 2012 11:20

    “In my country of Canada, we also stole children from communities, enslaved them, raped them, and destroyed their communities. We called it residential schooling.”

    You are obviously brilliant, well-spoken and have done your research. But the above comment, to me, almost discredits you entirely. How DARE you compare ACTUAL RAPE to residential schooling? Do you know what a complete slap in the face this is to rape survivors? You should be ashamed.

  59. March 8, 2012 13:35

    I have read many opinions on the topic of Kony 2012 hoping to come up with my own educated opinion/stance on the topic. While I agree with and see relevance in many of the oppositional points, it still feels wrong to completely denounce the power of awareness/togetherness/advocacy/community. I want to believe in the goodness of mankind – whether it actually exists in reality or not. I like to believe that each child is born as a tabula rasa and is somewhat molded by experience, education and knowledge. I believe in the power of education. But I also understand this war on injustice/inhumanity/poverty/whatever the label, it is multidimensional. There will never be only one solution to this problem, there are many different complexities that I can’t even begin to understand right now. Whether capturing Kony in 2012 will bring upon justice for the children of Uganda, we won’t know unless it happens. Will it destroy the LRA or will a new leader take his place? Will there be rehabilitation programs in place for the child soldiers? Will the White man ever stop exploiting Africa for personal gain? I have no idea, and it hurts my heart and my brain to think of what could happen. I know what I WANT to happen, but who is to say if that is a plausible result. My point is, that we just don’t know. Experts in politics/sociology/foreign affairs/human rights can make strong educated hypotheses based on their extensive knowledge of these topics far better than I will ever be able to, but it still comes down to trial and error. Would there not already be a solution if trial and error were completely ruled out? This is why I do commend IC for at least trying to gather the masses into supporting a common cause. The voice of the people can be a powerful motivator (for at least a short while). But in saying so, I also see where this amount of togetherness/community may turn out to be something of a fad. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when passion is high, and soon easily forget once that passion dissipates. But at this point, I feel as long as this sense of community exists, the government should be made aware of the collective agreement of the average citizen enough to try to impose or change a policy. It might make a difference (however small) in changing the lives of at least a few children.

    As a white middle class female, I can’t help but see the relevance with your statements and quotes regarding race, White vs. Black and the White man’s burden. I have heard time and time again that “Africa does not need the White man to save them”. There is no denying that race remains a substantial issue in Western society. If I could come back in this world as anything but White, sometimes I wish I could, if to truly understand the perspective of others. I am ashamed of the decisions my ancestors have made and the turmoil they have caused in this world that is still burning strongly. I will never fully understand oppression. I will never fully understand destruction, pain or suffering. I can only empathize and try to grasp and make sense of the horror that occurs in our world every new day that the sun rises. But it still hurts me to want to sit on the sidelines and watch. I don’t have an answer or a solution to the worlds problems. I’m not knowledgeable on politics. I’m just your average white female that was provided with many opportunities that many others were denied. I will always be passionate about cruelty towards children and humankind in general. I will always believe in education and providing children with equal opportunities. It might not be the “be all, end all” solution, but at least it is a small start towards preventing the formation of hatred and oppression that creates individuals like Joseph Kony. Like I stated above, I am a strong believer of the tabula rasa concept that we are shaped by our experiences and knowledge/education gained as young children.

    I truly hope that my stance on this topic doesn’t create more harm than good. I may not be able to defend much of what I said with statistics and facts, and I feel that I have given many opinions a fair chance, but still continue to lean towards at least some form of action.

  60. Joshua permalink
    March 9, 2012 05:23

    I appreciate the pride and respect given to Africans, but we as Africans also need to acknowledge that we do fuck up a lot. Africa is a nice place and full of nice places and people. But also far too frequently, there is too much rape, famine and war.

    And we as Africans have mostly failed to solve our own problems. So if some white college kids wanna give it a go, why spend so much time criticising them? If you people spent more time trying to solve problems instead of criticising others peoples solutions, the world would be a better place.

    Besides, IC’s main message is that we should stop Kony as soon as possible with whatever means at our disposal. What exactly about that message do you disagree with?

    • March 9, 2012 11:51

      Joshua,

      I agree with your first point, there’s little value in romanticizing Africa (though somehow Europe gets away with having a whole Romantic Era without any question…) – but we do need to recognize Africa as a site of solutions and not just problems.

      As for IC’s message… There are the words they are actually saying and then the whole world of other messages that they are also conveying. I’m not against catching Kony, I’m against all those other messages.

  61. sams permalink
    March 9, 2012 05:45

    Hi,

    Thank you four your nice writing on Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

    Thanks.

  62. March 9, 2012 11:43

    It’s difficult to argue with Invisible Children’s goal of a world without the LRA. But the campaign is sorely lacking the voices of local people. There are hundreds of local organisations in Uganda – and beyond – tackling the LRA. On Insight on Conflict we have a post by one such Ugandan peacebuilder refelecting on the campaign: http://www.insightonconflict.org/2012/03/kony-2012-ugandan-perspective/

  63. Melanie Lynn permalink
    March 9, 2012 12:33

    Invisible Children has issued an official statements in response to the ‘healthy criticism’ their campaign has created: http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html
    Cheers!

  64. March 9, 2012 20:41

    UGANDA: A/S FRAZER DISCUSSES LRA, CONGO, AND SOMALIA WITH PRESIDENT MUSEVENI

    ¶4. (C) Senior Advisor Shortley asked Museveni for his views on how Kony would be handled if he agreed to a deal. Museveni described his provision of protection, livelihood, and homes for Kony,s mother (and now deceased father) since 1994. Museveni was flexible on Kony,s future, saying that the LRA leader could live anywhere in Uganda where he had not committed atrocities.

    http://wikileaks.tetalab.org/mobile/cables/07KAMPALA1449.html

    Read the entire cable – the reason Joseph Kony has been running some kind of outfit for decades, is because he has support from some ‘very prominent’ figures. The question is who and why?

  65. March 9, 2012 23:17

    this piece by a former LRA child soldier is one of the best responses to the IC video:

    http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/03/09/kony-2012-a-view-from-northern-uganda/

  66. Anna permalink
    March 10, 2012 11:00

    Hello,
    Thanks for the article, it’s a very impressive critique.
    I have a question though which is somewhat unrelated to Kony 2012, as it is definitely not the same situation.
    What, in your opinion, should have been done in the lead-up to the Rwandan massacre?
    I naturally feel very apprehensive whenever the West announce that they should have done something, it was our responsibility, etc. Also, as a Westerner myself, I have no idea what is my business and what isn’t, where I am able to direct research and advocacy, etc. I’m often told that as I’m white I shouldn’t theorise or ‘get involved’. As an IR student this is constantly a problem…
    So I just wanted to use Rwanda as it is a fairly strong example of a tragedy which did occur in central Africa, after which the West all said ‘We should have gone in’.
    Can you give me your opinion on how it would have been best to act?
    Cheers.

    • March 11, 2012 13:17

      Anna,

      That certainly is a strong example and I am really in no position to tell people what should have been done or not – mostly because I was not involved and because these issues rarely have such simple solutions.

      What we need to realize is that American policy in Africa has been largely reactionary and simplistic. The hesitancy to intervene in Rwanda was born of their previous eagerness in Somalia. Much of this hesitancy had to do with public perception of failure in Somalia – which, as many have argued with Kony2012, is a dangerous game when we start crowd-sourcing military policy. Few of us have any grasp of the complexity of the situations.

      For those who argued a quick response was needed in Rwanda so we need to be quick to act in Uganda… they are missing the reality of the situation that, if there was a “time to act” it was 20 years ago when this was beginning. The film uses old footage and does not reflect realities on the ground.

      I certainly disagree with those who tell you not to think about these issue or to ‘theorize’ some sort of response. Critical engagement is needed – the problem becomes when people engage without critically thinking about their involvement.

      • March 12, 2012 20:10

        There are two words that can describe what is going on in Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda – proxy warfare.

        Every side is supported by some kind of backer, who gains access to the nation’s resources when that side wins.

        Today, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda fall into the Anglo-Saxon sphere of influence.

        Paul Kagame started out as the head Military Intelligence of the Ugandan Army, and trained in intelligence at Fort Huachuca, NM. He then took off his Ugandan Army uniform, put on his Rwandan Patriotic Front uniform, and invaded Rwanda in 1994. Prof. Allan Stam has some interesting things to say about how that happened.

        Prof. Allan Stam 1 On Rwanda Genocide Data Collection

        Check out all three parts.

        When ICC prosecutor Carla del Ponte filed charges for war crimes against Paul Kagame, she was told in no uncertain terms by the Bush Administration, through Louis Prosper, not to prosecute. She told him “I don’t work for the US, I work for the UN”. She was fired within two months. It is in her autobiography.

        Paul Kagame ‘made his bones’, and he is ‘a friend of ours’, so he is protected as long as he keeps doing the West’s bidding.

  67. Vivie Tunstall permalink
    March 13, 2012 20:54

    Finally someone says it! I agree with everything you said. I’m so glad someone eloquent and intelligent adresses the ludricous of Kony. The only reason so many people on facebook, twitter, etc have become so engrossed in this is to make them look like good people who are all about aiding the “helpless Africans”, when really they’re doing nothing at all. THANK YOU!

    • March 13, 2012 21:05

      Vivie,

      Thank you. Though, not to be contradictory, I think many Ugandans and Africans have been equally critical about this White saving tendency, and specifically Invisible Children, for quite some time. I’m not positing a particularly new argument, just adding to the discussion.

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