The KONY 2012 video generated immense hype around the world. The response to the abuses by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the plight of the Ugandan children led to millions of people purchasing “action kits” from Invisible Children in their fight to capture Joseph Kony and save the people of Uganda. Each action kit contained a poster and the plan was to have these posted all around your local area on April 20th so that on April 21st “the rest of the world will go to bed Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice on every corner”. Yes that’s a direct quote from the video (watch it here if you want a reminder). Now let’s look into what happened, what will happen next and what can we learn?
April 20th: Cover The Night
This was the night where Invisible Children supporters were to go out and “blanket the streets” in a guerrilla campaign to bring even more attention to the KONY 2012 campaign and make it an issue we can’t ignore. Various event pages on Facebook were created in order to organise groups to cover particular areas. For Sydney this included the following places: Martin Place, Central and Circular Quay.
I did not participate in any campaigning myself and did not personally know anyone who was going to “cover the night”. I thought I might be able to tag along by following the Facebook event but the general disorganisation regarding meeting times and appropriate meeting places put me off this prospect. I did see one lone individual in my suburb putting up a KONY 2012 poster at a bus stop but this was the most I saw of the guerilla campaign.
The results weren’t exactly hundreds of thousands of posters blanketing the streets. I saw posters in many shop windows in my local area and a few dotting random walls and poles. There was a big KONY 2012 banner in front of my local council but this was taken down by mid to late afternoon.
Was this what the KONY 2012 video expected?
In my opinion I think the results were quite underwhelming especially after the high expectations generated from the initial response to the KONY 2012 video.
And it seems Sydney wasn’t the only city to experience this non-event. The Guardian, the Herald Sun, the Asia Times and various other news organisations reported the lack of enthusiastic support outside of the internet and on the streets. One activist in the Guardian article argued that the point of ‘Cover the Night’ was to give back to the community, but even then there was a general lack of commitment from the millions of people who showed their support online.
So what went wrong?
The initial response to the KONY 2012 was based on emotions and immediate reactions. However emotions leave us as quickly as they come and affect us. So give people one month and the sympathy and sadness supporters felt from seeing images of tortured and trapped Ugandan children left as other factors came into play.
The KONY 2012 video generated as much opposition as it did support. People questioned its approach to the complex issue of the LRA, the focus on military intervention and the nature of Invisible Children. (The tumblr page ‘Visible Children’ provides a good summary of this).
Others highlighted how the video did not address real issues occurring in Uganda and that campaign provides the U.S. government an opportunity to get access to abundant supplies of oil in Uganda (and we know how much Americans love oil).
Questions over whether Joseph Kony is still in Uganda also make military intervention in Uganda an ineffective approach.
The public breakdown and subsequent ridicule of Invisible Children founder Jason Russell also drew attention away from Ugandan children.
Over one month people educated themselves and decided whether this was worth supporting. Others were simply too lazy or too busy. If Cover the Night was held one week after the video was released or 1 day after it was released then maybe the response would have been greater, but then we wouldn’t have been able to get those cool action kits on time right?
After April 20th, Invisibile Children posted a short video on the next steps in the Invisible Children campaign which is a year long campaign.
So the next dates to look forward to are June 20th, when Invisible Children will deliver the pledges to the U.N. in hopes of swaying the world’s leaders. And then November 3rd we will expect “something big”. Judging from the footage in the video people are going to participate in the biggest dance movement ever. I’m not sure how that will help the Ugandan people but I guess time will tell.
In the mean time we shouldn’t forget there are alternative ways we can help the Ugandan children:
This is far from over and I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the U.N. responds to Invisible Children’s demands (and seeing how many people actually dance on November 3rd)
What Can We Learn?
One issue that I wish I could have covered in more depth was the perspective of the Ugandan citizens.
The Ugandan people have indicated that the Invisible Children campaign has made some errors in its campaign focus, the Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, even released a nine minute video in response to KONY 2012.
A new campaign has emerged called Uganda Speaks that is a direct response to the KONY 2012 campaign and aims to have focus on local responses to helping the people of Uganda. This campaign has two goals:
- Focusing on the Ugandan peoples’ stories through a number of videos and outlining the Kony issue clearly.
- Highlighting the efforts by the Ugandan people in achieving social change.
I am not dismissing Invisible Children’s campaign as completely useless or irrelevant.
One month ago hardly anyone knew about Joseph Kony, the LRA and the problems faced by Ugandan citizens. Invisible Children have been successful in generating awareness over previously undiscussed human rights abuses.
However it is clear that there are a number of problems with the campaign which need to be dealt with if Invisible Children want to gain more or even just sustain their current levels of support.
There needs to be a shift from just creating awareness to actually participating in social change within Uganda.