Kony 2012: A revolutionary cloak for a deeply reactionary content

21.03.2012 - Uganda - Pressenza IPA


There is a series of interesting elements to be observed:

On the most superficial level, many critiques have focused on “Invisible Children”, the NGO
that produced the clip, and its financial records (only about 30% of the money received through
donations is actually spent for local projects in Uganda). Perhaps more interesting is the Christian
Evangelical background of the NGO and its concept of activism.

As explained in an article published on the website “Africa is a country” [http://africasacountry.com/2012/03/13/the-invisible-christians-of-kony2012](http://africasacountry.com/2012/03/13/the-invisible-christians-of-kony2012/). B.E. Wilson at Alternet
looked at IC’s tax filings and discovered that the group has been funded by a host of hard right
Christian groups, including the National Christian Foundation and the Caster Family Foundation,
one of the biggest backers of the campaign for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California.

Invisible Children come directly out of a missionary tradition of American evangelicalism that
has been growing more and more obsessed with Uganda for years and tried to find new kinds of
missionary work, since converting people no longer makes sense as a primary goal. One option has
been to foment homophobia. Another, to make documentaries and videos (like Kony 2012), urging
young people to campaign for America to have another war.

A second layer of critique is towards the distorted, extremely simplified, representation made in
the video, its almost perverse focus on Joseph Kony as Evil personified (in some posters his face
appears alongside Hitler and Bin Laden) and blurring of the context (the human rights record of
the Ugandan regime itself, etc.) As a matter of fact, the whole video can be summarized in the
message “Let’s go get the bastard!”. In this representation, the actual people of Uganda are forced
completely in the background, an undifferentiated mass of poor Africans needing our help. Help
then takes the very concrete form of military assistance to the Ugandan Army, or perhaps the use
of drones to target and kill Kony.

The overall most interesting thing, however, is to look at this as an indicator of the possible
evolution in the discourse of human rights and development activism. It’s easy to see in this
the powerful influence of the decade long “global war on terror” narrative, its Manichean
representation of reality as a fight between “good” and “evil”. In this sense, the video does not
really talk about Uganda, or a true monster like Kony, but suggests the question “Who are we?”
(we, generally white middle class viewers) framed in terms of an intense moral self-satisfaction.
Not bad a deal, since it only costs the time of a “like” or “share” on facebook, or the purchase of a
cool bracelet and t-shirt.

Anyway, the video has opened a space for discussion that previously didn’t exist on these issues.
Moreover, on a more practical note, there is definitely something important to learn from the
astute use of “viral” marketing and social networking. This video is interesting when viewed as an
example of the modern ideological call for action, apparently transcending politics (see the poster
with the donkey representing the Democrats and the elephant representing the Republicans
merging together) and rather appealing to morality. A revolutionary cloak (the images in the
video of young people writing on walls, or taking part in demonstrations) for a deeply reactionary
content (never calling into question the prevailing social-economic order, but rather reproducing


Categories: Africa, International, Politics


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