John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: KONY 2012, Beyond the Buzz

by John Campbell
March 9, 2012

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) soldiers, in this exclusive image, pose during peace negotiations between the LRA and Ugandan religious and cultural leaders in Ri-Kwangba, southern Sudan, November 30, 2008. (Africa 24 Media/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Melissa Bukuru, CFR Africa program intern.

After 50 million views and a media buzz that shows no sign of dying down quickly, backlash to Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video campaign was inevitable. Many African journalists are protesting the “imperialist” undertones of the video, arguing that the video presents only a “single story”and ignores the community-based organizations already at work in Uganda and its neighbors (not to mention plenty of important details about the LRA.)

Invisible Children’s campaign appears to be a cash machine: as of now the ‘action kit,’ a $30 pack that contains a t-shirt, a bracelet, and other gear is sold out. For all the popular attention generated by the video, there has been less attention paid to the actual solution the advocacy group is pushing for– to have Kony arrested, and brought to the ICC to stand trial.

The International Crisis Group’s excellent report (pdf) on the LRA published in November explains that while advocacy groups and others should press for the arrest of Kony and the other LRA leaders, “this could leave many LRA fighters in the bush [who] would continue to be a threat to civilians.” Its final assessment is that while US involvement is promising, “African buy-in” is required. But, the strengthening of the Ugandan army in particular could have the undesirable consequence of helping Museveni hold on to power after thirty years in office, as well as supporting a continued culture of impunity within the army. (He spent $740 million on new Russian fighter jets last summer.)

The danger here is best articulated by Ethan Zuckerman who wonders if the fundamental shortcoming of the Invisible Children approach is that it “forces [us] to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions?” Yesterday, the State Department’s spokesperson fielded five questions about the KONY 2012 campaign — the same number of questions she answered about defections in the Syrian government — and reiterated that the US is “quite aggressive in trying to support the governments that are going after the LRA.” The fragile East and Central African region is complex, and the LRA is more than just Kony.

One possible benefit of the video’s visibility is the space it has created to educate Americans with a counter narrative about the complexities of the conflict in central Africa (which the blogosphere has made a commendable effort to do).

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    Nothing illustrates the state of relations between the West and Africa better than the Kony video.

    It is all about a “single story” being flogged relentlessly, fascination for bad news and an exaggerated sense of the West’s power to shape outcomes.

    The same applies to this blog – anyone who has followed this blog for a year will not come in contact with a human Africa, but an Africa dominated by malign figures and an undifferentiated mass of human drones who lack agency.

    What is left out of 99.9% of Western discourse about Africa is the incredible drive, resilience and creativity of the African people. 95% of Africans don’t depend on a white man for any thing, yet they still survive and thrive, how?

    The West wants the next generation of Africans to have the same inferiority complex as their parents generation. From Nollywood movies, to local businesses – we are saying by our deeds and our words that we refuse to be “put in our place”.

  • Posted by Constance J. Freeman

    This was one of the best pieces I have read on the current anti’Kony campaign. Especially happy for the referral to the International Crisis Group report. Thank you. Connie Freeman

  • Posted by Nolan Mowery

    wonderful post, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists of this sector do not realize this.
    You must continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a great
    readers’ base already!

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