Reactions to Kony 2012 and Invisible Children: What Next
Since my original post, tens of thousands of you have chosen to read it, other articles and critiques have popped up like wildfire around the internet and Invisible Children has decided to respond to some of these. From my original article, I received hundreds of comments, and hundreds more that abounded on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues and want to respond to some of the major questions that I have seen arise out of the responses to the critiques of Invisible Children and #StopKony
Race matters. Dozens upon dozens of commenters believed race was irrelevant to this issue. As I gestured to in my original article, there are myriad issues around Joseph Kony, many of which Invisible Children chose to respond to, and it it not ALL about race. But race is very important in this issue and that is what I wanted to bring to the forefront. The Black/White opposition that is brought into play when we talk about Africa is not the only racial opposition or binary in play, but it is an important one that we cannot “move beyond” or “forget”. It shapes how we view Africa and, in turn, how we create mental pictures of Africa – our beliefs and perceptions – affect how respond. To illustrate:
One day I was walking through the subway and passes a man with a donation box. Above the din of all the people rushing by, he was shouting, “Africa! Africa! Africa!”
No more needed to be said to raise money. People had their own perceptions to fill in the blanks, to create images of need, to feel guilty and give, etc… Africa has been portrayed as disease ridden, famine stricken, and war riddled. This is not an accurate image of Africa, it is not an accurate image of Uganda, but still these are images that Invisible Children chooses to benefit from. The big question can be seen as:
How does this film affect perceptions of African agency?
Race matters in terms of how we construct Africa but also in how European or North Americans construct themselves. How we understand our positions in the global order is built up, maintained and furthered by Whiteness. Whiteness as a system, benefits not only White bodies but those who choose to buy into its superiority. The belief that the Western world is superior, civilized, advanced, or developed is built on the superiority of Whiteness. Again, this is what Invisible Children is basing their campaigns on – the belief that we – as the better, caring, civilized part of the world – need to help the less fortunate, the less developed, the inferior other.
The argument that Invisible Children have made in their film Kony is simplistic. Africa Is A Country’s new post states (and is a must read):
The point of the film is absolutely not to encourage deeper questioning of Ugandan governance. The name of Uganda’s Life President Yoweri Museveni is nowhere to be found. Instead the point is to “literally cry your eyes out”
It focuses on Kony as an embodiment of evil and boils down complex Ugandan and African politics into one message “Catch Kony”. Not only has this been tried before with US support (which is what Invisible Children is wanting) during Operation Lightning Thunder, which failed and created a war of attrition wherein the communities who had already lost so much lost more – but it focuses the problems on in the individual of Kony. I’ve written before about the US politics of embodying terror, in the examples of Hussein, Bin Laden, and Gaddafi. This allows a simplistic reading of complex politics and embodies violence and terror in targets that can be contained and eliminated. The solution is simple, the film screams: Catch Kony! Other articles also have some cogent analysis on why this “crowdsourcing” of military intervention is an incredibly dangerous trend.
The reality is, Kony is supported by political allies both in Africa and in the Diaspora. They fund him and they support him. The network of power is much bigger than Kony. It also ignores the complex politics within Uganda. Critical understanding of the problems bring a historical and political context. How has the LRA come to be as a result of colonial divide and rule mechanisms? How is the LRA crucially connected to President Museveni and American support of him as an “African strongman” in the region? Talking to an Acholi colleague of mine and one of his comments was that this hunt for Kony was problematic because not only is he supported by others but there are much bigger issues at play if Kony is caught. How do communities deal with returning child soldiers who are now old, changed, and not used to civilian life? How does it affect politics in Uganda, Sudan, and the Congo? Military intervention to capture or kill one man is a neat answer that refuses to engage with much larger issues and political contexts.
Finally, many of the more pointed responses has been: So what? If Invisible Children is not the answer, what is the way forward? And, even more clearly, from people in North America – what can I do to help? Some have seen my critiques as paralyzing, so how can I offer a way forward?
First, critique should not be paralyzing, it should be motivating – it should be a basis for compelling action. If it is stopping action, perhaps that was not the right action in the first place. Second, I think there is benefit in lingering a while, as Sara Ahmed says, because there is a tendency to want to rush past the problems, the pain, and the critiques. They play an important role and we don’t want to miss that in our haste for action. many have told me, “Well, at least I am doing something“. Not all action is beneficial and many are in fact harmful.
So what to do? If you’re interested in awareness, take the time to find out more than what Invisible Children feeds you. Awareness is not inherently bad but the type of simplistic awareness that they advocate certainly can be. If you really want awareness, that is not what Invisible Children offers. If you’re interested in donating, find more sustainable, community driven organizations who have a better handle of the issues in the communities – there are lots of these organizations out there. But most of all, think. The LRA is real and the children and communities affected by them are equally so but that does not mean they are unable to deal with the crisis, that they have not already been coming up with solutions, or that they have been passive victims.