It happened quite quickly. The Internet erupted with Kony 2012. Celebrities were tweeting about it, the video on YouTube was getting over a million views a day, and my Facebook wall was littered with literally hundreds of posts about it. By any definition, it had gone viral.
The motivation behind the video is very righteous, as it encourages viewers that anyone can make a difference in a tragedy occurring halfway around the world. Of course, as with any viral campaign, the Kony 2012 video has attracted a lot of criticism. A lot of that criticism is absolutely justified as well.
A very common complaint is that most of the money donated to Invisible Children (the non-government organization that created the video) goes towards generating publicity. Very little actually goes towards helping people in Uganda. The purpose of Invisible Children seems to be to lobby for Congressional support, not to directly help any of the victims of Kony’s tyranny. If the cause of Invisible Children has truly touched you, and you want to help the people of Northern Uganda, I would not recommend donating to Invisible Children. There are hundreds of charities that directly aid the people of Central Africa, and a small amount of online research should help you find the right charity for you.
Kony 2012 tends to also ignore many of the details and nuance, in the situation in Northern Uganda. It’s important for people to know that Kony’s influence has all but disappeared in Northern Uganda, and he mainly operates out of areas such as the Central African Republic, the Congo and South Sudan. For many of the people of Northern Uganda, Kony is a distant memory they’d like to forget and not a current issue. Although they’d welcome the news of Kony’s arrest or death, they are more concerned with obtaining clean water.
Speaking of Ugandans, in general they don’t like this film very much. The reactions by the communities most affected by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) violence have been mostly negative, with some villagers throwing rocks at one screening. Most of the movie features white Americans protesting, while the plight of the African people is glazed over. Of the few Africans that are shown in the film, none are shown to have any character depth. On top of that, the idea that one of the world’s worst criminals may be “stopped” simply by enough people tweeting about it seems ludicrous to a people who have lost everything. Inadvertently, these people are being told that atrocities committed against them don’t matter unless enough rich, white, Americans care about it. Perhaps most offensive was the scene from the film in which the narrator explains to his son that the reason that Kony can’t be “stopped” is because nobody knows who Kony is. This seems a bit calloused when it is watched by people who have been personally touched by the bloody influence of Joseph Kony.
Perhaps what is the most worrying is how the word “stopped” is used in Kony 2012. Such ambiguous statements are oddly reminiscent of the rhetoric surrounding the Iraq War, where every day a new politician was calling for Saddam Hussein to be “stopped.” After all, how do you capture Kony without killing any of his children bodyguards? It’s not very feasible, which is why it may be easier simply to kill Kony. But as with any extrajudicial assassination, there are complex legal ramifications and there is no reason to believe that someone else won’t take Kony’s place as the leader of the LRA.
Personally, I hope Kony 2012 is not just a fad. I hope the campaign works and he is brought to justice. But as with most things in life, the bigger they come, the harder they fall. If you really care about helping the people of Central Africa, don’t just donate money to whatever charity makes the most viral video. Get involved. Educate yourself. Find out where your donations will make the biggest impact in the lives of Central Africans. Making Joseph Kony infamous may make you feel like you’re making a difference, but fame isn’t everything. After all, it took 10 years, trillions of dollars, and thousands of American lives to bring the last “most infamous man” to justice.