The following presentation was delivered by ANSWER organizer Adrienne Garcia at a public class on “KONY 2012.”
On the morning of March 5, many of us woke up to a Facebook feed filled with new “experts” on issues facing the people of Africa--their pitchforks were out as they called for US intervention in Uganda to capture the infamous Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. It was a few hours before I had the time to watch the 30 minute video from Invisible Children, an organization whose aim is to “bring awareness” about the activities of the LRA, but when I did, I was shocked by the narrative constructed in the video.
The problems with the Kony 2012 campaign are numerous, but I want to focus on three of them. First, Kony 2012 promotes US imperialist intervention under the guise of humanitarianism. Second, the means by which Kony 2012 wants to enact “change” is inherently capitalistic and feeds into an innacurate notion of what activism and protest is. Finally, the campaign relies heavily on the racist narrative of white saviors rescuing dark people because they cannot help themselves.
Promotion of US imperialism
The aim of the Kony 2012 campaign is clear: put pressure on the US government to send military intervention to Uganda. Let us remember that the US government never intervenes for anything other than its own interest. In a July 2011 meeting of AFRICOM, which is the Pentagon’s agency for coordinating military operations in Africa, AFRICOM commander Carter Ham called Uganda a “major partner” in achieving US objectives in the region. The Kony 2012 video would have you believe that these US objectives revolve around saving the people of Uganda from the violence inflicted by Kony’s army. Again, the US government doesn’t get involved in anything out of the goodness of its heart. The US objective in the region is to have easy access to resources that they can pillage from the people of Africa, as has been its practice for centuries.
As stated by Eugene Puryear in an article in Liberation newspaper, “the Kony 2012 campaign perpetuates the myth that the US military can act as an agent for human rights.” Invisible Children might seem like an independent non-profit, but all they are doing is acting in the US government’s interest, not the people of Uganda. We have seen the US government masquerade its occupations as humanitarian efforts time and time again. US military intervention is not the answer.
When Kony 2012 perpetuates this myth of US military intervention healing the world’s wounds instead of creating them, they are simply working off the dominant narrative. The US propaganda machine has been working overtime in the recent years, as efforts by activist groups such as the ANSWER Coalition have exposed the contradictions imbedded in the US imperial narrative. The most important thing to remember is that the US intervenes to advance its own agenda, not to aid oppressed people abroad. How can the US aid any of them when they are more often than not directly implicated in their oppression?
Capitalist strategies for capitalist ends
Another issue I’d like to address is the method through with Kony 2012 tries to sell its message.
What better ways for Kony 2012 to promote US imperialism than by enacting a capitalist strategy? Kony 2012 is not a progressive, activist struggle; it is a product being sold. The organization itself, Invisible Children, spends more money on paying CEO salaries and viral videos than it does on actual aid to the children of Uganda. If you decide to sign up for the Kony 2012 campaign, you get an “action kit” that includes bracelets and posters. The uncritical commodification of activism has many, many issues on its own. The focus becomes the product of Kony 2012- you can recognize other “activists” by the bracelets they wear. activism isn’t and should not be a product to sell to privileged college students. It requires more than watching a 30 minute video, wearing a bracelet and putting up posters. Kony 2012 promotes image, not education. They do not ask their viewers to get informed about the complicated issues in Uganda. They just ask them to sign a petition and wear a bracelet.
White man’s Burden
Another major problem with the Kony 2012 video is its narrative of white saviors coming to help the helpless people of Africa. The film itself tells its story mostly through the filmmaker and his son, a cute white child who is featured prominently in the film. The children of Uganda are rendered invisible when their story is told mostly through the white narrator and his child.
Not a single African is member of Invisible Children’s board of directors. Where are their voices in their own story? The Kony 2012 video makes the African people side actors in their own struggle, and makes Africa a playground on which to enact white savior fantasies, as has been done for centuries.
If there is one thing I can applaud about the Kony 2012 campaign, it is that towards the end of the video, there are Kony 2012 lawn signs placed side by side with lawn signs for US presidential candidates. This positioning, although clearly not what the makers intended, highlights the relationship between war lords in Uganda and war lords sitting in the Oval Office.
Kony 2012 attempted to paint a very black and white picture, literally, of good versus evil. Let us hope that the discussion we have here today, even though the Kony 2012 has (expectantly) died down, can fight against the damage the video does to the goals of revolutionary and anti-imperialistic activists.