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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Casting a critical eye on “Kony 2012”

Published: March 9, 2012
Section: Opinions

I woke up one morning and the Kony 2012 video was all over my newsfeed. It started with one person and then it spread like the bubonic plague, every friend posting the video, every status a plea for viewership. In the course of two days the discussion on the situation in northern Uganda was put in the spotlight and Invisible Children was handed the microphone.
In case you’ve imposed a Facebook moratorium on yourself, Invisible Children—an organization that, according to its website, is committed to using “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity”—produced a 30-minute video that gives a quick history of the organization including the life of its founder, Jason Russell, and its mission to bring Joseph Kony to justice for the crimes he’s committed.
Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that started in Uganda (but is no longer present there) that engages in violent campaigns and is responsible for abducting “more than 30,000 children and displac[ing] at least 2.1 million people” based on Invisible Children’s definition. The slogan of the video “Kony 2012” now decorates the walls of the elevator in my dorm and the whiteboards outside of rooms, and a friend of mine running a charity organization at a large state school is discussing rerouting her raised funds to Invisible Children.
This afternoon at lunch I overheard someone asking those around him if they had seen the Kony 2012 video. When his friends replied in the affirmative, he responded, “Good. Its important.” The Kony 2012 video is important. It brings awareness to the heinous atrocities Kony has committed. While one could argue that the understanding of the conflict in Uganda has been simplified, dissolving ignorance is never a bad thing. Instead I worry about the lack of resolution. In two weeks from now, when the Kony 2012 video has faded into our generation’s virtual collective memory, the problems in Africa will continue to exist. As Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub wrote in their article, “Solving War Crimes With Wristbands: The Arrogance of ‘Kony 2012’” in The Atlantic, “treating awareness as a goal in and of itself risks compassion fatigue—most people only have so much time and energy to devote to far-away causes—and ultimately squanders political momentum that could be used to push for effective solutions.”
The first wave of viral campaigning took place and now the second wave of cynicism seems to be settling in. From disdainful Facebook statuses to YouTube videos attesting inaccuracy in Invisible Children’s representation of the conflict, it is hard to tell what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to modern-day campaigns against foreign injustice. Scarred into everyone’s memory are past fads that have swept the nation that were proved to be false. The Central Asia Institute and the fame it found through Greg Mortenson’s books is now irrevocably damaged due to the outing of the mismanagement of his organization’s funds and the lies he wrote under the banner of truth in his memoirs.
Although I struggle with the potential blowback when Kony isn’t brought to justice in the American community that bought the wristbands and watched the video, I can’t help but wonder why American teenagers are so quick to focus on the injustice happening thousands of miles away instead of on the horrifying events taking place just around the corner. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently reported that in our nation’s capital three out of every 10 children live at or below the poverty line. Perhaps, it is easier to try to fix a problem with which we will never tangibly deal rather than take a look at the own harsh realities that our country faces.
It is my hope that these Ugandan children no longer remain invisible, but the horrors and tragedies that Kony has committed come to light and the truth spread to all. I just hope that as American college students search for something greater in which to involve themselves, to maybe try to make to sense of the overwhelming crises we face today as a generation, to create change in the world they do so with their eyes open and their naivete blinders removed .