Monday, March 19, 2012

Kony 2012: a success even if it fails

Seven out of ten people I spoke to today told me they did not know who Kony was until two weeks ago. The one who knew is an African and two still don’t have a clue. So who is Kony and why has he suddenly gained so much popularity?

Joseph Kony is the leader of a guerrilla outfit called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda who is accused of ordering abduction of children to be sex slaves and child soldiers.  In over two decades tens of thousands of children have been victimised. Although Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in Hague for war crimes, he evades capture. 

International media attention was drawn to Kony several times, from the LRS’s formation in the 80s, to his bizarre interview in 2006 to the Christmas massacre in 2008 in DR Congo and South Sudan or occasionally when an escapee gave account of his torture. But ‘outsiders’ perhaps don’t pay much attention to such news. Not surprising since most of African news is treated as a step child on International television unless there is a political motive to play it up.

So Kony, a monster for many decades, suddenly sprung to limelight now. The reason: a video called Kony 2012 by an NGO Invisible Children. Now most people who didn’t know anything about Kony or even Africa have some idea of the issue. Many have participated in its propagation by liking it on facebook, tweeting about it or watching it on you tube/vimeo. Small deeds like this have got governments in Africa and the West promising to renew a vigorous search for Kony. Amnesty too has started a petition to bring to justice Kony along with Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashar and Libya’s Saif al- Islam Gaddafi.   

I’m not convinced that the Kony 2012 campaign will achieve anything apart from creating awareness about the issue momentarily. Kudos to them for doing what every advocacy groups only dreams of doing. They have no doubt accomplished what no journalist or NGO ever has – 83 million+ views for a 30 minute documentary on Africa!

But the video has also misrepresented some facts in order to gain support. Surely Kony is a war criminal and should be prosecuted, but my journalist colleagues in the region also confirm that Kony is a spent man on a run (outside Uganda) with the LRA diminishing in number. 100 American adviser are working in the region to find Kony & his forces and have attained some success. But Uganda has more inherent problems and any military intervention by US, would throw the region into more chaos.

Solving the problems in Africa is not as easy as Invisible Children's call to action: Do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to donate. It’s a complex region with even more complex issues. Simplifying the problem does not mean the solution will be simple too.
I don’t believe Kony 2012 will solve Africa’s problems and I’m afraid it will fail to achieve what the film director Jason Russell says, “I am going to help end the longest running war in Africa, get Joseph Kony arrested & redefine international justice…’ Unfortunately, I don’t believe Kony 2012 even intended to achieve this. And with Russell’s mental state in question, the campaign is already losing its credibility.

Its success however lies in generating a huge debate on several issues ranging from African politics to 'white' activism in a black region. The fact that it has as many supporters as those sceptical about its claims has catapulted it to one of the most talked about stories. But the most interesting aspect of this video is that it fits in with is what an LSE researcher describes as 'post humanitarian communication'  (where the campaign stresses more on the role of the supporter than the cause).

Social media played a huge part in the Arab Spring no doubt, but let’s not forget the vast resources that media organisations deployed to cover the conflict and the space it got in the media and political debates. And most importantly the native people wanted change and fought hard to get it. This is what made it a huge success. Kony 2012 unfortunately has only garnered support on social media and will sadly fail to bring much change in the region.

But if Kony 2012 has taught us anything it’s the power of the social media to create awareness about deeply buried issues. No country is isolated anymore and no issues are considered too distant to the online community. It showed us people do care and are raring to do something- anything to make this world a better place. It’s this energy and enthusiasm that will be a goldmine for anyone able to mobilise it correctly and channelize it to support a credible cause.

No comments: