Have you seen it? What did you think? This 30-minute film has sparked vigorous discussion in the short time since it was posted on YouTube by the nonprofit Invisible Children on March 5. The subject of the film, in case you’ve been living in a broom closet, is Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the militia that calls itself the Lord’s Resistance Army and has terrorized villages from northern Uganda through north central DR Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Aimed especially at young people, the purpose of the film is to raise a wide public awareness that will pressure governments to arrest Kony on charges before the International Criminal Court, where he is global enemy number one. That, of course, is easier said than done, but it is no less an urgent task for its difficulty.
The reactions fill pages on Google. Foreign Affairs accused the film of being too simplistic in that it failed to talk about all the other groups that have committed atrocities in the region. TMS Ruge, on CNN.com, saw the project as primarily a fund-raising campaign by Invisible Children, and argued that they should have been supporting the Africans in solving their own problems rather than pushing for Western intervention. The Huffington Post published an overview of the reactions in other publications.
I found several articles particularly helpful. The U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict posted on her website a very helpful FAQ about the LRA and the responses of the international community to its activities.
Human Rights Watch has an article posted, “How to Catch Joseph Kony, calling for a “concerted international response to assist regional efforts to arrest Kony and other LRA leaders.” That also “requires stepped-up protection for civilians in the regions,” and attention to the “dire need to rescue children and adults captured by the LRA . . . and to help those who manage to escape.”
The Enough Project earlier published a report outlining a “comprehensive strategy to end the LRA” that called for the work of the 100 American special forces advisers (who were sent to central Africa to assist the local governments pursuing Kony) to be “supplemented by four additional ingredients from the United States and other supportive countries: troops, transport, intelligence, and a defections strategy.”
And finally, an article on the Christian Science Monitor website provided two interesting pieces of info: first, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Louis Moreno Ocampo, supports “Kony 2012,” declaring with obvious enthusiasm that the film, with the social media campaign in which it’s embedded, has “mobilized the world.” And second, the film’s director, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, actually agrees with critics who say it oversimplifies. “It definitely oversimplifies the issue,” he says. “This video is not the answer, it’s just the gateway into the conversation. And we made it quick and oversimplified on purpose. . . . We want you to keep investigating, we want you to read the history.”
And right there, I think, is the heart of the matter. I found “Kony 2012″ to be well made for its purpose. It’s a work of advocacy. Invisible Children is a respectable organization doing some substantial programs on the ground in Uganda, the DR Congo, and the Central African Republic. Along with those they do advocacy, which means raising public awareness in order to put public pressure on persons in power to take certain actions. Doing effective advocacy often means simplifying to make the point easy to remember, with a focus on a single person or event to represent a larger, more complex problem.
And “Kony 2012″ is doing exactly that. I could use George M. Cohan’s quote about not caring what you say about me as long as you spell my name right, but Jason Russell says it just fine on his own: “It’s just the gateway into the conversation. . . . We want you to keep investigating.” The conversation is underway, and it is lively.
We invite you to join in the public discourse. Use the comment form below to say what you think.
SAJ 14 Mar 2012
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