Thursday, 8 March 2012

Kony 2012 - how to make complex issues simple

I am sure most of you by now have heard about the campaign and film  that the US lobby organisation InvisibleChildren launched. It has, as often in the case of conflict, led to a highly polarised debate. The problem with the campaign is not that Invisible Children is an organisation with a murky agenda. They surely have good intentions and have done some respectable work (for example by extending the Early Warning Radio Network, launching Mobile Response Teams, and creating the LRA Crisis Tracker, which allows communities in the region the ability to receive warnings of LRA activity and alert local security forces to LRA violence) BUT good intentions can have unintended consequences.  

In this case, with the Kony 2012 campaign, the main problem is that Invisible Children reproduce a stereotype of Joseph Kony and LRA that has very little to do with reality. I think seven points are important to make:

  • LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006, hence the group is not a security threat to the population in that country today 
  • LRA is not an army of children, although LRA abducts children the bulk of the combatants consists of adolescents or adults and numbers a few hundreds although it is hard to know
  • LRA is one of many other security threats to civilians and children in the region, these threats include other rebel groups, criminal gangs and state security forces
  • The state security forces in the region are notorious for committing crimes against civilians, so what is the likelihood they will be able or willing to protect the population?
  • To train and equip these security forces will most likely lead to further militarisation of the affected countries, hence it will increase the insecurity in the region
  • Invisible Children’s board is comprised of Americans, not Ugandans or any other Africans
  • Invisible Children does not represent people affected by LRA violence, hence Africans are once again deprived of agency and portrayed as helpless victims who needs to be saved 

Since there are so many good, informative, critical and interesting comments out there by now I will not further elaborate on this but refer you to those articles, comments and blogs. You are just one click away. 

One last comment; the solution to (armed) conflicts is never to demonise the enemy, on the contrary, this is often what starts and keeps a conflict going on for years, decades or even centuries. To launch a campaign film without any nuance whatsoever, in which one man is portrayed as bad simplifies the reality and takes the whole problem out of its context. I don’t think that will help anyone. However, if we look at the campaign with critical eyes perhaps this “blank spot” on the map will get some attention. The question is if this will bring something good? 

I guess time will tell, good intentions may have unintended consequences …

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