I’m not the betting type, but I would theoretically wager a lot of money that at least 90% of those of you reading this blog have watched Invisible Children’s video about Joseph Kony and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). Through an incredible demonstration of the power of Facebook and other media, almost 100 million viewers have watched (or at least linked to) the video since its release on March 5. The purpose of the video is to bring the atrocities of the LRA and it’s elusive leader, Joseph Kony, into the spotlight and ultimately create a movement of activists so strong that the collective force sways the U.S. government to take actions that lead to Kony’s arrest and trial before the ICC (International Criminal Court).
This video really caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First of all, I was in Uganda this January, and while I was there, I spent time with some folks from back home who were working in Kampala with MCC (the Mennonite Central Committee). MCC Uganda supports a number of Ugandan-run programs and organizations that promote peace, education, health, and community development. They have two programs in northern Uganda that focus on reaching out to those impacted by the LRA:
The St. Monica’s Girls Vocational School in Gulu teaches women who were abducted by the LRA how to earn an income through sewing, clerical work, and handicrafts. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe was recognized as one of CNN’s Heroes in 2008. In this video, she talks about the power of such programs to create a sense of family and confidence for women and their children as they heal from the traumas of abduction and find ways to become more self-reliant.
- The Recreation Project in Gulu uses the model of experiential education to address the social, economic, and emotional impacts facing young people who have grown up in an area torn apart by the LRA. The program brings youth together to participate in guided ropes courses, zip-lining, and other outdoor adventures that mimic real-life obstacles and create character-building skills that are necessary for strong and creative leadership in adverse situations.
The second reason this video caught my attention was that I love the conversations that it has stirred up about social media, international development, Uganda and nearby countries, activism, and wars of all kinds. My fiancé and I have spent more time following the twists and turns of responses and feelings this video has elicited than talking about our upcoming wedding! As you can see from the summary of responses below, the reaction has varied from praise to all-out critique.
Praise for the video & Invisible Children
- A powerful, captivating piece of work.
- Taps into cyber-idealism and the “untapped power” of the viewer.
- Has reached almost 100 million viewers in under 10 days, something no other organization or media source has been able to do for any world issue.
- At least Invisible Children is doing SOMETHING unlike the armchair critics.
- Raising an incredible level of awareness about something that people may not otherwise know about.
- Making world issues and politics digestible and interesting to the masses and creating an incredible collective energy around what continues to be a very worthwhile mission.
- Makes taking actions steps toward the goal very easy and exciting.
Critique for the Video & Invisible Children
- More focus on Jason Russell (the videographer and director of Invisible Children), his young son, and the power of social media than the Ugandans Invisible Children is trying to help.
- Represents a patronizing, “white man as savior” attitude without representing the voice of Ugandans.
- Over-simplifies a very complex situation for the benefit of buy-in.
- Focuses a sizeable part of funding on large-scale productions and reaching out to the rich and famous instead of allocating more funds to on-the-ground projects in northern Uganda.
- Strong advocacy for U.S. intervention gives the U.S. the excuse they need to go into a country rich in oil and resources to ultimately achieve their own benefits.
- Glosses over or misrepresents the current LRA situation: 1) Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda and have been forced into neighboring countries like the DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan; 2) LRA numbers are now in the hundreds rather than the thousands.
What do YOU think about all this? Which side of the fence do you come down on? If you’d like to make a more informed decision, here are a number of articles that cover the conversation from all sides. Tell us what you think!
- Invisible Children’s official response to critiques
- Northern Ugandans react to the Kony video in Lira, Uganda
- Visible Children, a compilation of critiques initiated by a student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
- Nicolas Kristoff’s defense of the Kony video in the New York Times
- Noam Cohen in the New York Times, stating that this campaign appeals to “slacktivists,” those who connect to the world through social media.
- The Guardian
- Interesting response from a development worker inside Uganda.