Kony2012: A Humanitarian Fad

Who are we really helping with Kony2012?

Kony2012 UCL Buzz

I tried to save Africa once. I was sixteen and helped start a charity called Youth Against Genocide In Darfur (YAGID). We put on rallies in Sydney and raised $6,000 dollars for charities working in Darfur (and unlike Invisible Children, we actually donated the money to the cause).

Unfortunately it didn’t work. Darfur was not saved, nor was it ever properly addressed on an international scale.  Granted we didn’t have an emotionally manipulative video backing us up, with lots of people yelling in unison about ‘change/war/justice’. Not a YouTube sensation, just a bunch of teenagers attempting to create some good in the world.

I, like many others, have a few problems with the Kony 2012 campaign. This does not mean I like child soldiers, nor does it mean I don’t think we should be spreading awareness. It’s definitely a flaw in modern society that it takes a YouTube video for people to become aware of atrocities occurring in the world.

But what I don’t like, are humanitarian fads. Because this is what the Invisible Children campaign is going to become. They create bandaid solutions to fix incredibly complex problems. And when they fail, (because it turns out, removing one man won’t actually ‘fix’ Uganda – who knew?), everyone who desperately wanted to believe that this was going to work gets disheartened. It permeates a conception that places like Uganda, Darfur or Somalia are too far gone to save:

“That’s what Africa is like.”

The problem with campaigns like Kony2012 or Live8 are that they don’t tend to have long term sustainable visions. They just promote hasty solutions – ‘Catch Kony, Fix Africa’ – which aren’t particularly useful or realistic.

It allows the public to feel warm and fuzzy inside with lazy activism. Repost a video because we care about the world. Then we get back to more important things. Like Temple Run. I’m not saying this is how everyone reacts and granted there have been plenty of people questioning the legitimacy of the Kony2012 video and campaign. But awareness is nothing without action behind it and the danger of campaigns like these is that as soon as they lose momentum, they will lose the focus of the public eye.

I think enough has been said about ‘the white man’s burden’ so I won’t go into it here. What I will say is that it’s campaigns like these that, instead of focusing on the people on the ground who are creating change for themselves, who are bettering their lives and the lives around them, it creates an image of people who need saving, who are helpless and are simply waiting for the kind man with the camera crew to come knocking and make them a Facebook sensation. Not to mention the way in which they portray the Ugandan people in the video. With almost no mention of individuals who have attempted to combat problems like child soldiers in their own society, Jason Russell chooses to only show Ugandans who are almost pleading for someone else to come rescue them from their situation. Not one mention of the efforts by the Ugandan government and how they’ve been dealing with the problem since Kony left Uganda in 2006. Nope, the problem only be solved if America decides to step in and take control.

There is also the questionable act of sending trained, military forces after what is essentially an army of children. If Invisible Children’s aim is to rescue child soldiers it seems slightly contradictory to engage them in a conflict that will inevitably result in plenty of casualties. They are, after all, the real victims in this situation. They may be brutalized, trained, killing machines, but they are still children. Sending grown men and women to fight against them definitely creates ethical questions that haven’t been addressed in Kony2012.

So what happens when December 31st comes round and the problem isn’t solved? When Kony is still abducting and abusing children and the quick fix solution for the West has failed? Where are the camera crews then?