Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kony 2012 and Wristband Activism

I have previously posted my live reaction to the Kony 2012 video, and as anyone who read it can see, I didn't really like it.  Now, I've had a day or two to think about it critically, and more eloquently explain what I'm thinking.  As I was watching, the whole thing just put me off, but at the time I couldn't quite determine what it was, but now I've put my finger on it.  It's arrogance.  The entire video reeks of arrogance.  Well, that and ignorance.

It starts with "Oh, look how adorable my son is", which has nothing to do with the issue at hand.  What it does do is try to get to the viewer at an emotional level.  He's trying to provoke emotional responses early, that way his following message will hit harder.  Then he transitions to his first videos from Africa.  As is typical of western portrayals of African, it’s all gloom and doom because, you know, nothing is ever good in Africa.  Now, I'm not saying there aren't a multitude of problems that need fixing, but all Americans ever hear is bad stuff.  In these opening shots, you can hear him say something like "if this ever happened in America, it would be on the cover of Newsweek".  My first reaction to that is "Well, no shit idiot".  This is such a typical American response to learning about something that's happening somewhere else in the world.  "OMG WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE WHY DOESN'T ANYONE ELSE KNOW????!!!?!?!?!?!!"  This is so incredibly ignorant and annoying because, surprise people, most of the rest of the world DOES already to know about these sorts of things.  You're the last one to know.  The LRA and Kony have been around for over 15 years.  This isn't new news.  The problem is you live in America, which would rather talk about Kim Kardashian's wedding than any issue going on in another country.

After he "realizes" that this sort of thing is occurring that he makes a promise that leads to this whole campaign.  He promises that he will fix this problem.  Now, activism is good.  Working to fix problems is a good thing.  My issue, and the issue that many people have with this, is not his end goal.  The end goal is good.  The problem is his method.  Instead of working to fix the problems that are creating a situation that allows a warlord like Kony to exist, he wants to get a bunch of teenage girls to like a post on Facebook and watch a Youtube video.  People like Kony can exist because the people of those areas are impoverished and uneducated.  Lacking in development, people in these states do whatever they can to survive, and lack the ability to bring themselves out of poverty.  In a situation such as this, a man like Kony can terrorize people.  The more affluent and developed a region is, the less likely it is that a warlord can gain control.

But this is not what Invisible Children wants to do.  Sure they have built a few schools and actually helpful things, but what they’re mostly doing is what my friend MG referred to as “Wristband Activism”.  This is where Americans learn about some cause, feel guilty, give money, receive some sort of merchandise, feel better.  This is great catharsis for American.  “We feel bad about something but have no idea what to do, so we’re just going to throw money at it and hope it gets fixed.  In the meantime We’ll just wear the shirts and wristbands that we got”.  So please tell me, how does someone wearing a Kony 2012 t-shirt help at all to stop him?  How does sharing a video on Facebook do anything to stop a Ugandan militia leader?

Answer, it doesn’t.

It’s as simple as that.  No matter how many people put “Kony 2012” as their Facebook banner, no matter how many people watch the video, no matter how many posters get put up in the US, it won’t change a damn thing.

This is where I see the arrogance.  This guy actually believes, or wants you to believe, that you giving him money will help catch Kony.  The Ugandan military and many other groups have been fighting the LRA and Kony for over 15 years, and have yet to catch him.  Now this guy wants the US to send over more military advisors to help the Ugandans catch Kony.  Why? Are American soldiers inherently better than Ugandans?  The Ugandans have been doing this for almost two decades, but he thinks American soldiers can get it done in one year.  Another complicating factor is that Kony hasn’t even been in Uganda for at least 6 years.  So you just want to send American and Ugandan soldiers tramping through another state’s sovereign territory?  The arrogance and superiority complex are astounding.

By their own admission, only 31% of money donated to Invisible Children actually goes to helping people.  The rest goes to administrative costs, travel costs, merchandise, and Youtube videos.  I’m sorry, 31% is pretty pathetic if your goal is to actually help someone accomplish something.

This wristband activism is the perfect product of American culture.  I didn’t know there was a problem, but now that I do, I’ll just donate some money and feel better about myself knowing I help. 

If you really want to help someone, donate something a lot more valuable, your time.  Take the time to actually educate yourself on an issue.  Then if you feel the need to do something, I encourage you to find one of the multiple organizations that address the root causes of atrocities, and give them your time, or if you are a typical American, your money.


  1. So we (US) sent advisers to Uganda to get Kony? I thought is was to bolster Uganda's military in the hopes of securing the northern border with S.Sudan, which happens to have resources we (US) enjoy greatly, and to bolster the border with Kenya, longtime ally but hitting some rough spots as of late...just my take. I haven't viewed the Kony video but having been an adviser in Africa (HoA)I have had some knowledge of this fella and his crew (before it was cool, just saying). As for our troops v. their troops who is better, at certain things we are better and overall yeah we are better...but we have resources to train...there you only need a uniform (kinda)and either a FN or AK and you are pretty much set, so yeah we are "better" not a white or western thing but a skill set thing. Wow enough posting back to work. Good job on the blog though...btw check this link pretty interesting and as it has been said 'African solutions for African problems'.

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