Kony2012 is the most successful video ever, with more than 100 million views in only a week. But after watching it, we still don’t know much about Uganda or warlord Joseph Kony. Instead the video leaves us with the old image of helpless Africans who need to be rescued by powerful people from the West. Kony2012 wants to change something in this world we’re living in. But in the end it helps it to stay the way it is.
Kony2012 is a mass awareness campaign and aims at hunting down Joseph Kony. Now, who wouldn’t argue that Kony should be caught? He is a war criminal and has together with the Lord’s Resistance Army done a lot of aweful things. But through the entire Kony controversy, the big question has become how.
Catching Joseph Kony is only a short term effect. As important as it might be, even more important is the long term impact. What image of Uganda, of Central Africa, do we have in our heads? Strikingly said, mostly that of starving children, desperate women and fighting men. It isn’t everything Africa is about though, starting with the fact that Northern Africa is completely different than Central Africa. But Kony2012 is reproducing this picture of a poor Uganda. It is showing an Uganda that is not able to help itself, an Uganda with a lot of hopeless people waiting for someone to rescue them. Someone from the West. It shows someone trying to represent Africans from a very western and colonial perspective. Shouldn’t it be locals themselves representing their cause? Was it too difficult to let more Ugandans speak? Intellectuals, people from the street, journalists, activists – instad of Jason Russel, the producer of the video, talking himself most of the time.
As the Ugandan journalist Rosebell Idaltu Kagumire in her response to Kony2012 mentions, the campaign leaves us with the impression, that the war is still going on simply because we in the West didn’t know about it. An by that somewhat devaluating all the local initiatives in Uganda.
All of this is reproducing the colonialist view on Africa that was dominant most of the 20th century. It is a view that opens up again the old dichotomy between the developed West and the underdeveloped rest of the world. Looking at it this way, Kony2012 in the long run is actually doing harm to Uganda because it keeps up an asymmetric world order in which African states seem to have a lesser right to self-determination than super powers and the West in general do.
I’m wondering whether Invisible Children, the NGO that initiated Kony2012, is trying to force African governments into action just as much as they try to convince the White House to let the troops they already deployed in Uganda stay there. And what happens once Kony is caught? The video, so many people are talking about these days is not addressing that question. And by that is oversimplifying the whole context Kony is acting in.
I’m actually not doubting that Invisible Children has good intentions and that they are fighting for a good cause. At least the video left me emotional enough to believe they do. But having an end where a war criminal is caught doesn’t justify means where colonial views on the world are being opened up. Ethnocentric views that are rebuilding a hierarchy of power we learned about in history classes. Kony2012 should have left us with the image of strong Ugandans who want to fight for justice their way. Maybe with the support of western people, but not them taking the lead in it.
A good cause doesn’t always justify the means. Especially when hunting down Kony for sure won’t be the end of the story. Of a story Ugandan people should tell.