Point vs. Counter Point: Kony 2012

Point by Philippa Johnstone – 

I often wish I could live on a sailboat, drifting along the waters of New Zealand, away from TV, advertisements and the daily propaganda, lies, and schemes spread by today’s ever-expanding media. The sailboat dream has yet to come true, so instead I latch onto my few trustworthy companions-anti sweatshop labor unions, organic and locally grown food sources, fair trade crafters, social and political documentary filmmakers and obscure political parties (I’m not that pretentious, I swear”¦unless you get me talking about Walmart) as I try to stay level-minded in this complex world. I spend my time investigating, challenging and criticizing what many choose to accept and support, but I didn’t know enough about the Invisible Children organization before I joined millions of viewers in watching the KONY 2012 video and donating to the cause. I became a ten-minute philanthropist- quickly typing in my credit card information to make a donation, buying the merchandise, and advertising the campaign. But soon after I got caught up in the flurry of KONY 2012, I realized I was doing the very thing I tell myself and other people not to do- believing and supporting what I saw right in front of me, without the questioning, without the investigating. So I decided it was time to do some research on my own.

The KONY 2012 video may have simplified the facts, sped through the issues and covered everything in 29 minutes, but it had a purpose. It was not a journey through the lives of victims of Kony’s army, it was not a historical documentary covering the disastrous effects of this ongoing war and I did not spend the next five minutes after the video drying waterfalls of tears. This video was made to spread awareness and hope, giving people the motivation to learn about an ongoing war on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and what we, as individuals, could do to help. This war, although no longer completely occupying Uganda, is spreading west, as Joseph Kony, along with Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, presses on to the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaving “markets surrounded and looted, students abducted from school, properties burned and dozens of civilians killed, including several local chiefs, and tens of thousands [Congolese] displaced” (2008 Press release from the International Criminal Court). This is only part of the large trail of destruction Kony and his LRA have left and continue to leave behind as they blaze through central Africa in their purposeless war effort. Kony has proven, time and time again, that his peace efforts are merely to avoid prosecution and buy time to expand and recharge his army. Invisible Children has tried, through tours, media, and documentaries, to bring awareness and inspiration to Americans so that we can ask our government to continue sending support to help the Ugandan army stop the LRA. Just as Haiti and Japan are still recovering, the affected countries of the LRA are still fighting to end this war, but they are under resourced and underfunded. The KONY 2012 campaign is not only reminding us that this war is still persisting, but also uniting people world-wide in bringing this fight to an end. I support this campaign to support the sending of American troops to bring their resources, strategy, and strength to help prevent more victims from being taken by this war and bring Joseph Kony and his partners to justice.

Philippa Johnstone is a first year majoring in environmental studies and theatre. She is involved with the Invisible Children group on campus.

Counter Point by Jacob Uzman – 

I would like to preface this discussion of the Kony 2012 video by saying that I think much of the work Invisible Children does is admirable. I do not have a problem with the organization as a whole. That being said, I found the Kony 2012 video exceptionally frustrating and, at times, painful to watch.

My problem with this video is that it creates a sense of activist fervor grounded in a dangerously simplistic understanding of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF). Despite the video being 30 minutes long, there is little actual information provided about the conflict. A significant portion of the video’s informational value came in the form of Jason Russell explaining the conflict to his son, and this discussion did not transcend a simplistic “good guys vs. bad guys” dichotomy, aided by the bizarre and inappropriate visual comparison of Joseph Kony to Adolf Hitler.

As a side note, I found it incredibly offensive to compare the atrocities of Joseph Kony to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. I do not mean to imply that one set of horrors is worse than the other, but rather that they are entirely different stories. Comparing the two stories does a disservice to victims of Joseph Kony because it presumes that their stories cannot stand on their own and speak for themselves.

This inaccurate narrative in the Kony 2012 video is dangerous primarily because it becomes the foundation for activism against the LRA. When U.S. policies are grounded in inaccurate readings of other societies, they have a tendency to muck everything up for the people we are trying to help. When we settle for simplistic explanations, we fail to account for the historical background and the regional dynamics surrounding a crisis, which tends to lead to the development of policies that either fail to accomplish their objectives or make the problem even worse.

There many historical examples that testify to the horrifying consequences of policies grounded in simplistic understandings. This is especially true in the context of Africa, and for an area of the world with which the American public is already extremely unfamiliar, the simplicity of Kony 2012 is especially dangerous.

While the video never explicitly advocates a particular policy to bring Kony to justice, another aspect of the video I find rather frustrating, I gathered that they were advocating for military assistance to the UPDF. On face, this seems reasonable. Assisting regional militaries in capturing a war criminal appears intuitively beneficial. This presupposes that our assistance will not be misused. We should not forget that it was only last January that Egyptian riot police used U. .made tear gas to try and put down the democratic movements sweeping the country. Despite the horrific nature of Joseph Kony’s crimes, it is important to recognize the UPDF, the organization we would be providing military equipment and advice to, is repressive as well. In constructing a campaign focused solely on Joseph Kony, the narrative propagated by this video blinds us to the victims of the UPDF and, in advocating for further military assistance, makes us complicit in their crimes.

In response to charges of inaccuracy and simplicity, the Invisible Children campaign admitted the video is incredibly oversimplified, but they intended for the video to be a starting point and for people to go out and do more research. While that may have been their intent, nowhere in the video is this intent conveyed to the viewer. At the end of the video, Invisible Children lists three things we can do to get involved. None of these things, however, include getting more information, and the immediate jump into activism presupposes that the viewer is already sufficiently informed to get involved.

However, even if we grant that this video should be a starting point for research, the narrative of the video frames and directs the viewer’s research in a specific direction. Additional research will be directed toward validating the idea of military assistance toward the UPDF. Viewers are less likely to research the historical legacy of military assistance or the atrocities of the UPDF because they would contradict the narrative that has been already presented and these issues aren’t raised in the video.

I am not saying that the raising awareness about the LRA and violence in Uganda isn’t important. My point is that providing people with overly simplistic and inaccurate explanations is not raising awareness. It is unintentional misinformation that is both irresponsible and counterproductive to global efforts to end the violence committed by the LRA.

Jacob Uzman is a junior majoring in political science.