A Note on Defection Messaging

Most of my blogging from this trip will be more about research than traditional travel-blogging, but I’m doing a short e-mail newsletter for friends and family. If you’d like to be included on that list, feel free to comment or e-mail me at scootles7 [at] gmail [dot] com.

So, I’ve been in Uganda for a week now. My research has been slowly progressing, which already puts this trip as wildly more successful than my last sojourn to this country, which I deemed “a failed attempt” at an internship. I’m nervous about the Congo portion of the trip not least because it’s the Congo and all of the associations, realistic and overblown, that come with that, but also because I don’t speak a bit of French, Lingala, or Zande and because the schedule is very, very up in the air. But, for now, it’s nice to be back in Uganda and be (somewhat) active in my work.

So far, I’ve interviewed the head of radio for Invisible Children and the program director for Mega FM, one of the biggest stations in the north. These interviews have all been about defection messaging, also called come-home messaging (dwog paco in Acholi). The messages include former rebels telling other rebels that it is safe to come home, encouraging them to take advantage of the amnesty law. You can find out more about these messages here and even hear some samples clips in different languages at The Voice Project.

It is widely agreed that the radio messages are extremely effective. This isn’t just coming from the people who work in radio, it has been labeled by aid workers and peace advocates as an effective means of encouraging LRA escapes and surrenders for some time now. Mega FM was started with a large amount of funding from DFID with come-home messaging in mind, USAID’s policy on the LRA includes capacity-building on radio defection efforts, and this programming has recently been a primary thrust of Invisible Children, which states that 89% of returnees cite the messaging as one of the reasons they returned.

But not everyone agrees. I met with Tim Allen, professor of development anthropology at the London School of Economics and long-time (like, long-time) follower of the LRA, a month ago and he said that he thought that the role that radio played was vastly overstated. Indeed, in his and Mareike Schomerus’s report on reception centers [pdf] in 2005, their team found that:

Hardly anybody from the sample heard about the amnesty while still in the barracks and reception center staff have confirmed that most who arrive in the center do not know about it.


Of those who had heard about the amnesty, many had a negative impression of what it actually meant. In the bush, LRA commanders tell combatants that the amnesty is actually a government ploy to lure people out of the bush and kill them. Commanders deny their soldiers access to radios and make every attempt to suppress information.

Many reception centers say that, anecdotally, returnees say that they try to sneak around and listen to radios when they can to hear news from home, and that is how they find out about the amnesty.  This report was written in 2005, so perhaps things have changed between then and now, or perhaps some center staff had different experiences. Allen and his team raise some concerns about the reliability of returnee anecdotes, citing that one of the jobs of reception center staff is to teach returnees how to talk about their experiences in constructive ways. Some returnees may be picking up that they should cite radio regardless of their personal experience, either as an unintentional side-effect of the rehabilitation process or as part of the belief that it will get them better aid packages.The point remains that there is some ambiguity over how much access to radio the lower-level members of the LRA have.

My research is predominantly on how the messaging works, which may or may not assume that it works. I’ve been an ardent supporter of messaging, but Allen and Schomerus provide some important arguments to keep in mind. The biggest spike in returns occurred during a time of both heightened radio programming and a major military attack in the early- to mid-2000s, so it’s hard to figure out which event had a bigger impact. No doubt both played a role, and I’d much rather advocate for radio messages than military action. And so that’s what I’ll be studying, and we’ll see how it goes as I move forwards. See update below.

With two interviews down, I’ve traveled back to my old stomping grounds in Lira today. Tomorrow morning I’ll be visiting Radio Wa, a Catholic radio station here that also did come-home messaging, called karibuni programming, which is inexplicably a Swahili word in a region where few speak it. I might ask about that. I’ll be back in Gulu tomorrow to round out my radio-in-northern-Uganda interviews, and then be moving onto other things. Besides that, I’ve been doing a lot of things most expats do: using the internet, eating street food (although there’s a disappointingly small amount to offer in Gulu), avoiding eye contact with other expats, while also making friends with some expats. Same old, same old, here in Uganda.

Update: Friend of the blog and Director of Civic Engagement at Invisible Children Lisa Dougan had this to say on Facebook:

Question for you: Tim and Mareika’s points (at least the ones you’ve mentioned in your blog) were specifically about whether or not AMNESTY messaging was encouraging defections. That can be differentiated from come-home/defection messaging more broadly. We’ve found that several recent LRA defectors have referenced defection messaging as having a role to play in their surrender/escape, while they might not necessarily specifically mention Uganda’s amnesty policy. Some LRA seem to just need assurances that if they surrender, they will have a safe place at which to defect, where they will not be hurt by the FARDC, FACA, or local community, and they want to know that they will be able to go home. We’ve also been the degree to which reintegration programs/packages are actually more important to LRA defectors than an amnesty certificate itself. The distinction between amnesty (as legal protection from prosecution) and a more comprehensive reintegration program might be something you’ll want to look into. Thanks again for your work.

To which I responded:

I think you’re right to differentiate between amnesty messaging and general come-home messaging, and the first portion of Tim & Mareike’s report that I quoted was specific to amnesty and how the UPDF treated it… but the latter section questioned how often lower-level rebels actually listened to the radio at all. I know a lot of people have told me that rebels sneakily listen in when they can, but the report gives a few reasons to be wary about returnee anecdotes.

I do want to restate that, broadly, I’m on team radio on this topic. I really do think it’s done a lot of good, and I think it’s a positive way to bring about more escapes and surrenders. Looking at some of the data, I just wonder if it’s playing as big a role as we think it is. I think flier drops and aerial loud-speakers are a great addition to this that may indeed improve upon the radio method.


Shameless Self-Promotion: At Guernica

Short note to urge you all to go check out my article at Guernica Magazine‘s blog, Guernica Daily. I wrote a piece on the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program and legislation that passed in January regarding the LRA and the ICC. In the piece, I continue to stake out my middle-of-the-road stance, looking at both the success of Invisible Children and Resolve in getting more support for the ICC indictments and the drawbacks of the U.S.-ICC relationships as it stands now. If you’re interested, go take a look, and feel free to comment if you’ve got any thoughts.

Other developments on this topic include the recent split in Congolese rebel group M23 over turning in Bosco Ntaganda, whom Rewards for Justice offers a bounty for. As Michael Poffenberger at Resolve told me, even rebels might be persuaded to take advantage of the bounty, and it may already be playing out in the DRC. In addition  Colum Lynch recently penned a piece on the relationship between American conservatives and the ICC, although he doesn’t make the Invisible Children connection that I hint at and that Mark Kersten has also written about. If you find my piece at Guernica interesting, take a look at those links as well.

Lastly, huge high fives to the editors at Guernica. I wrote this piece right after the bill was passed, and it’s changed shape a lot over the ensuing weeks – and for the better.

Putting Kony 2012 in Context

In the last issue of Journal of Human Rights Practice, there was a debate about the Kony 2012 film and campaign by Invisible Children, four authors contributed analyses of the phenomena that captured the world’s attention last March.  Now that we’ve passed the campaign’s self-imposed “expiration date,” it’s worth revisiting it to explore some of what these authors critiqued, to offer yet more criticisms on the campaign, and also to defend some of the campaign’s accomplishments.

All four essays are worth reading. Sam Gregory explores the important pitfalls of centering a film around its audience the way that IC chose to, especially in regards to how the film was interpreted outside of that context.  David Hickman rightly points out that the film lacks an observational mode, rendering any exploration of the war’s history impossible.  Meanwhile, Lars Waldorf correctly observes that the campaign has raised the alarm, and that online attention must transition into real action. Mark A. Drumbl offers a strong analysis of the depiction of child soldiers. These are all important aspects of the film from which IC and others seeking to replicate their success can learn. But there are a few moments when the essays address the pitfalls of the film without considering the context in which it is set and the other activities of Invisible Children.

When he questions IC’s failure to garner offline support, Waldorf cites the poor showing in April’s Cover the Night activities.  However, I think it is important to situate Kony 2012, both the film and the campaign, within the organization’s almost decade-long campaign to raise awareness about the LRA conflict.  The fact is that IC has translated its surface appeal into real action on numerous occasions, with tens of thousands of American youth committing to day-long actions to draw attention to various aspects of the conflict.  In addition, IC and its partners were able to mobilize over a thousand supporters, myself included, to descend on Washington, DC, in 2009, helping usher the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into passage.  It was hailed as the largest lobbying initiative for any Africa-related bill, garnering record-breaking bipartisan support. This law would later be the foundation for President Obama’s decision to deploy 100 military advisers to the region and the stepping stone for the post-Kony 2012 lobbying push to gain more funding for civilian protection programs in LRA-affected regions and to expand the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program to include LRA leaders, both of which have passed.  In November, long after the luster of the viral video had worn off, IC was able to host a massive summit in DC that included political and civil society leaders from LRA-affected countries as well as representatives from the AU, UN, and ICC, with an audience in the thousands. Whether you support the goals or not, this is a record that overshadows the piecemeal results of Cover the Night, and the number of victories IC can claim is a testament to the depth and breadth of the organization’s grassroots support.

When Drumbl criticizes IC, he argues that the organization fails to provide other needs that victims may require beyond the capture of Joseph Kony.  Here he makes the same mistake, failing to look beyond the film itself while criticizing the organization as a whole.  IC’s programs in Uganda have included scholarships for children to return to school, employment in a number of agricultural and craft-making programs, teacher exchange programs, and efforts to rebuild schools and provide better sanitation in villages. In an effort to criticize IC’s humanitarian proposals, Drumbl also states that child soldiers are often not rescued at all; most former abductees actually defect.  But IC understands that, and while they may urge their donors to “help bring them home,” their efforts to make that happen are actually through leafleting and radio broadcasts specifically targeting conscripts, encouraging them to defect.

One critique that Waldorf levels, however, is very important to expand upon.  In this video, as in their other videos, IC has taken clear sides in the conflict between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, depicting Kony as pure evil.  While Kony has committed egregious acts of violence, often on innocent civilians, it is imperative that an organization with the platform that IC holds turn some attention to the Ugandan government, which has allowed Kony’s terror campaign to continue to benefit its own agenda, which has employed devastating tactics on civilians under the auspices of anti-LRA missions, and which has forced millions of civilians into displacement camps with such deplorable conditions that they have been described as torture and genocide.  Anything less is a misrepresentation of the situation and a disservice to the mission of ending the conflict.

Another problem that IC has chosen to ignore was highlighted by Drumbl, and that is that the organization fails to depict the complexities of opting for prosecuting Joseph Kony over other alternatives, such as Uganda’s recently-ended amnesty program.  While Invisible Children’s programs fund radio come-home messaging aiming to encourage defections by promoting amnesty, the organization’s video made no mention of how the amnesty complicates the ICC’s indictments for Kony.  And worse, when the Ugandan government chose to end the amnesty program in May, Invisible Children failed to use its platform to adequately condemn the decision, choosing to sign a joint statement [pdf] with other organizations, but without broadcasting very much information to its massive support base.  When coupled with its support for the ICC indictments and Uganda’s military solution to the conflict, Invisible Children is involved in what is an increasingly militarized, judicial agenda that is replacing amnesty and negotiations.

What we have seen in the last year is that IC’s support base has grown, but its policies have remained the same.  The group is still using a simplified narrative to gather massive amounts of support, pushing a military solution as the only way forwards.  On this, their critics and I agree.  However, it is important to also consider the places where IC has succeeded, in its ability to raise awareness, in its efforts to support the local population, and in its work to protect civilians.  It seems that we are past debating whether Invisible Children has had an influence or whether they are doing any good at all; the debate should be about whether the net influence is positive, and whether the good work comes at a cost. As we move forward in 2013, it is critical that Invisible Children do three things: give a more nuanced and balanced depiction of the conflict, including naming and shaming the government where it is desperately needed; take a step back from its pro-military agenda, allowing room for amnesty and protection of soldiers forcibly conscripted into rebel ranks in their messaging; and stop dismissing critics, engaging them in a healthy dialog about how best to resolve the conflict.

Kony 2012 Panel – A Response

Over the weekend I penned a lengthy recap of Friday’s panel on Kony 2012 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture that was hosted by Congo in Harlem. If you’re interested in the LRA, central Africa, or Invisible Children, it’s worth perusing. I promised to contribute something to the conversation, and this is what I ended up with:

Today I wanted to take a brief look at a particular moment of last week’s panel, when Kate Cronin-Furman gave her opening remarks. She chose to talk about the decision for Invisible Children to concentrate on the International Criminal Court, and to look at what that meant for the campaign specifically as well as the narrative of the conflict as portrayed in the video. She began by looking at the circumstances that resulted in the ICC referral and compared it to Uganda’s justice system today. She also argued that a campaign that only addressed the ICC was either “not thoughtful advocacy” or was “window dressing for an all-military approach.” She ended with the question, why are we treating a complex political situation like a law enforcement problem?

There’s lots to talk about in this discussion. We could hold a whole other panel on the ICC in Uganda (and I’d love to go to that, if any panel organizers are reading this), and there are plenty of papers and several books on just this subject. Kate touched on a number of contentious points about the ICC’s involvement in the conflict and how that involvement has been executed. I want to expand on and respond to a few of these discussion points, because a lot of what Kate said is the stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Continue reading

Kony 2012 Panel – A Recap

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion of the Invisible Children film, Kony 2012. The panel was convened at the New York Society for Ethical Culture as a part of Congo in Harlem, a week-long series of film screenings and other events related to the DRC. It was the best way I could have spent my birthday (I know, right?) and I would like to recap everything covered at the event for all of you who couldn’t be there. (In addition, the Congo in Harlem website should have a full audio podcast up in the near future). Early next week I will also (attempt to) write up my own response to what was said. Below is a run-down of what was said by whom, in a very not-verbatim transcript rendered from my notes.

Continue reading

Invisible Children, Moving Around the Problem


This week, Invisible Children released Move, they’re most recent film. The film’s goal is to shed some light on the aftermath of the Kony 2012 video, looking at how IC dealt with the rapid growth of the movement and how co-founder Jason Russell coped with the stress of being at the helm. The film also explained the immediate future of the Kony 2012 movement: a large-scale lobbying initiative to take place in November. If Kony is to be captured by the end of the year, a lot of pressure needs to be put on a number of governments to buckle down and really commit to the cause. The push, called Move:DC, aims to concentrate IC’s grassroots support all in one place – the nation’s capitol.

Three years ago, I went to the last big lobby day held by IC, Resolve, and Enough Project. The event was informative and effective, with educational workshops and lobby-training. There were multiple instances where I felt specifically that I was making a difference, that I was where I was supposed to be. And it wasn’t false: almost 2000 constituents made it one of the biggest lobbying initiatives, and over the following year I led a dozen local meetings with congressional staff – the bill ended up passing with more co-sponsors than any Africa-related legislation in modern history. With that in mind, Move:DC will be huge – and I think it will be effective. And while I don’t have the specifics for what the policy asks will be in November, there is a glimpse into what will be going on at the IC blog:

We ask that:

Governments in central Africa provide better protection for their people, while also denying Kony and his top commanders any safe haven. This includes the territory controlled by Sudan where Kony is thought to be hiding, and the Congo, which continues to downplay the impact of LRA violence.

The United States provide increased resources to help train and assist regional forces that are pursuing Kony and other top LRA commanders and contribute resources to overcome the critical gaps in air mobility needed to facilitate rapid movement above the difficult terrain of the region.

All donor governments expand funding for programs that directly benefit affected communities, including initiatives to develop basic infrastructure such as roads and communications systems and help rescue and rehabilitate LRA abductees.

Outside of beefing up military support, there are arguably relatively few drawbacks in these asks. Building up infrastructure in the rural LRA-affected areas could go a long way, and IC is already involved in rehabilitation centers, early warning radio networks, and dwog paco “come-home” messaging to encourage defections from the LRA. Moving our lawmakers to help add to these programs through development agencies could go a long way. The election will have already happened, so hopefully a lame duck Congress can be urged to move forwads on the issue. Lasting peace and the end to the LRA might not be in our grasps, but it could be on the horizon.

But Move fails to help IC truly recover from the Kony 2012 fallout. The film is right that a lot of the attention that was initially drawn to Kony and the LRA ended up turning on IC, detracting from the goal of the video. But they’re wrong to say that is a bad thing that resulted solely from a lack of communication. The video concentrates on the naysayers that called IC a scam, ignoring important critiques that looked at IC’s actual work and narrative and had problems with it. Firmly stuck in the middle of the two, I was disheartened to not see pushback from IC. Self-refelction is hugely important, and this was a chance for IC to better explain what it is they’re doing and why we should continue suppoting them. The video had a chance to respond to legitimate critiques about its model, about its goals, and about its programs. And instead it circumvented the whole conversation. It concentrated instead on its curent campaign, which has potential and is important – but the film easily could have (and should have) done both. I like to think that IC learned some good lessons from this spring, but the video suggests otherwise. Now, the narrative about Kony 2012 is as simplified as the narrative of Kony 2012.

Throughout the Move video, and through a lot of IC’s older films, is a motif of the millenials standing up and sticking it to the olds. It’s true that we get a lot of flak for being radically different from our forebears. With such a rapid change in technology, that’s a given. IC is absolutely right to call on America’s youth to prove them wrong, and I think a nationwide push to fund development in central Africa and encourage involvement in holding government accountable is laudable. But let’s also teach the millenials that when shit gets hard, you don’t just move on. We can simultaneously address critics, create a better and stronger movement, and help stop the LRA. Let’s do that.

KONY2012: Six Months Later

It has been six months since Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, hit the internet.  From getting over 800,000 views in its first 24 hours, the video went on to 100 million views in a week, becoming the internet’s most viral of viral videos and launching Invisible Children and its cause into the spotlight.  Six months later, the attention on the Lord’s Resistance Army has died down, but the campaign continues to plod along.  Where is Kony? Where is Invisible Children? And what has the world’s biggest humanitarian viral video campaign achieved so far? This post aims to look at Invisible Children’s history to explain Kony 2012’s impact, and to look at what exactly that impact has been.

Kony 2012 was the fastest-growing online video in history.

Some are rightfully skeptical that Kony will be captured by the 2012 deadline in the film.  The more pessimistic will say that Kony is no closer to being captured than he was six months ago, and that things haven’t really changed. The LRA’s disparate brigades continue wandering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, with rumors that some troops, including Kony himself, have sought haven in Sudan, an old ally.  Rebounding from a piecemeal turnout for Kony 2012’s subsequent “Cover the Night” campaign, Invisible Children has moved on to other campaigns.  The San Diego-based non-profit is sending out its fifteenth tour of roadies, interns tasked with showing IC films to audiences at high schools, churches, and community centers across the country.  Their programs on the ground in Uganda and the DRC continue to serve war-affected communities.  But the fact is, things have changed, and to truly see how things have moved in the past six months you have to look back a few years. Continue reading

Thoughts on Invisible Children and WikiLeaks

Earlier this month, Black Star News sifted through the WikiLeaks cable database and uncovered some evidence that Invisible Children may have handed information over to the Ugandan government that led to the arrest of a member of the opposition. I have been refraining from writing about this until more information comes to light, but it seems that everyone is remaining silent, so now’s as good a time as any to reflect.

According to the cable, Invisible Children gave information to the Ugandan government concerning a Patrick Komakech, a former LRA abductee whom the government alleged was a part of a plot to create a new rebel group, the People’s Patriotic Front. Komakech was a recipient of IC’s aid at one time, and was arrested by the police and charged with treason.

According to an article in The Monitor, both the Ugandan military and Invisible Children deny that the exchange of information ever occurred. In an e-mail to Foreign Policy, a representative for IC stated that they were “cooperative in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech [after the US Embassy contacted IC about him]. In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech.” But the statement emphasizes that there was no IC involvement in his eventual arrest, nor does it acknowledge any involvement with the Ugandan government, only the US embassy.

Since virtually everyone involved in Uganda knows the government tends to unjustly crack down on opposition figures, it’s curious how quickly IC separated themselves from an LRA survivor that was a beneficiary of their programs and services. But what actually transpired still seems pretty murky, and a number of questions still need to be answered. If Komakech was indeed involved in planning any sort of violent actions, it would be understandable why IC would want to wash their hands of him. They would be getting as much criticism for aiding a rebel-in-the-making as they are now for indirectly supporting the Ugandan military. If we take this cable to be true, and IC did give information to the government of Uganda, we need to ask more questions. Who approached whom about Komakech? And whose decision was it to pass information to the government (or not)? Did anyone confirm or at least investigate the government’s allegations?

Without getting some answers, I would still refrain from joining critics saying that IC pledges blind support to the Ugandan government. While the efforts of IC and their partners have directly led to increased US funding, training, and arms to the UPDF, it’s worth noting that IC isn’t unaware of government abuses, even if it wasn’t prominent in Kony 2012. When I saw IC co-founder Laren Poole speak in San Diego in 2007, he came incredibly close to calling the IDP camps in northern Uganda a genocide, and the Sunday bracelet video is almost exclusively about the poor conditions in the government-mandated displacement camps (you can find out more about the camps at Justice in Conflict, where Patrick Wegner looked specifically at the genocide question). More recent videos have been specifically about the effects of the contemporary LRA attacks in eastern DRC and CAR, events that so far haven’t been host to UPDF abuses (for the most part).

While the verdict is still out on the Komakech controversy, and it will be important to continue watching how current operations go in the region, I don’t think I would call this a fatal blow to the movement. With a rogue rebel group in survival mode and a growing force looking for it (now with the AU label), the situation will definitely continue to be something to monitor as the advocacy-for-peace-and-justice-through-military-means path marches on.

Stop at Nothing, but Read First

Tonight, countless activists will descend on their cities with community service and a ton of posters invoking a campaign to capture Joseph Kony. It will be the answer from the masses to the call to action at the end of the Kony 2012 video that Invisible Children premiered in early March, and I expect – in many cities – it will be pretty big. I know of dozens of friends across the Phoenix area that will be doing something to mark the occasion. I personally won’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I think that passing a widely cosponsored bill and getting advisers sent abroad means you’ve got awareness on your side already.

I’m taking action in a different way. Earlier this week I joined a number of students and adults in meeting with the district director of my Congressman. We talked for almost an hour about Joseph Kony and the role the U.S. can play in the region. We discussed support for a House resolution confirming support for President Obama’s deployment and a resolution to expand the Rewards for Justice program. After 6 years of learning about this conflict, it’s the best way for me to take action.

The absolute best way to get involved in any cause, though, is to learn about it. Once you do your homework, you can choose how best to insert yourself into the movement. There is tons of reading to do on this particular campaign, thanks in part to the vast expanses of the internet. More recently, an informed volume of essays has been collected by Amanda Taub of Wronging Rights fame, and its available in an e-Book. Go have a look at Beyond Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness, & Activism in the Internet Age. I’ve only just started reading, but it offers brief but in depth history and analysis of the conflict as well as informed critiques about the campaign, and it’s downloadable in all sorts of formats at whatever-price-you-can-afford. If you want to learn about the cause – whether you’re a critic or a supporter – it’s a good place to start.

Weekend Reading: #KONY2012 Edition

A tinge of humor before you read fifty articles about atrocities and development.

Earlier this week, I put together a post on Invisible Children’s new campaign and video, Kony 2012.  It’s gotten a huge amount of readership, which this humble blogger is very proud and thankful for.  Since the whole of the internet joined in what turned out to be a huge debate over both the issue of LRA disarmament specifically and Invisible Children as a whole, I began gathering links to anything I thought was worth reading. The list has gotten a bit bigger than I expected, so I’m re-writing everything here in what I hope to be a more digestible format as an early edition of the weekly reading feature.


  • “Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions,” by Musa Okwonga at The Independent.
  • UN Dispatch has a two-sided post on sensationalist vs. savior.
  • The Wired’s Danger Room gives a quick look of Kony 2012.
  • A blog post at the Washington Post covers the debate.
  • Michael Dreibert gives a succinct history of the conflict.
  • The Guardian has a long live-feed of updates on the debate.
  • NPR asks if the campaign will actually work.
  • The Guardian has an article including an interview with Jacob Acaye, one of the children featured in IC’s original video, as well as criticisms from Victor Ochen, who runs a great youth rehabilitation center in Lira.
  • The Monitor, an independent newspaper in Uganda, has this report that includes support from the UPDF but a criticism from former Gulu Mayor Norbert Mao – who has worked with IC in the past.
  • The New York Times’ Room for Debate features a number of important voices on the Kony 2012 campaign.


There are a number of critical takes on both the Kony 2012 campaign and on IC itself as an organization:

Kings of War has a critique on the military side of the campaign.  African Arguements has a piece up by Angelo Izama about the video’s misrepresentations. A guest post at FP by Michael Wilkerson criticizes the video’s apparent inaccuracies; Wilkerson also wrote about it at The Guardian.  Elizabeth Dickinson writes about the moral conflict of the campaign as well as comparisons to the Darfur advocacy campaign.  Global Voices has a collection of Ugandan criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign. And here’s another look at the backlash of the campaign. Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a good article criticizing the video as well. An FP article explains that the danger of troops being withdrawn might be unfounded. Adam Branch at the Makarere Institute for Social Research thinks IC is a symptom of US actions and doesn’t affect things on the ground. Timothy Burke questions the goal of Kony 2012’s direct action.

TMS Ruge wrote specifically about how the narrative denies agency to Ugandans. Africa is a Country has a post lambasting IC co-founder Jason Russell and Kony 2012’s white savior narrative.  Amanda and Kate from Wronging Rights wrote a piece at The Atlantic – also they made a drinking game.  Teju Cole tweeted a short burst of criticism against American sentimentality. There’s also a fun, satirical interactive map.  This article in the CS Monitor touches on the need to reach out to African groups. Alex de Waal argues that elevating Kony to “make him famous” isn’t the right way forwards. There is also an article on Kony in the real world.

In Defense

Resolve, Invisible Children, and Enough released a letter to President Obama (pdf) that is a blueprint for the way forward.  Invisible Children also released a response to critiques directly responding to many of the critiques. Paul Ronan, Resolve’s Director of Advocacy, posted this from South Sudan, where he has been doing research in the field.  Anneke van Woudenberg wrote a recent piece for Human Rights Watch explaining the need for action. Senator Chris Coons wrote that we should work together to capture Kony. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responds to financial critiques in this new video.

And a critique of the Visible Children blog in defense of Invisible Children was posted on Facebook by an IC staffer working on the Crisis Tracker. Bridgette Bugay offers a response to criticisms at the LSE blog. Sarah Margon, a former staffer for Senator Russ Feingold (who spearheaded the bill that was passed in 2010) has this defense to offer. Jared White, a development worker at IC’s Uganda office, wrote about the benefits of IC’s three track system.  James Pearson criticizes the video, but give his support to the mission of Kony 2012. A former IC roadie wrote a half-defense at Dave Algoso’s blog.

Things to Think About

Daniel Solomon gives some views on the way forward.  Kings of War’s original post on the topic covered the dangers of “crowdsourcing intervention.”  Shanley Knox does some reflecting on interacting in Uganda as a savior versus a partner.    This World We Live In offers a warning against hubris. Dave Algoso touches on the differences between simplification and distortion in advocacy. Think Africa Press has a piece on Uganda’s military and a survivor’s story that’s important to consider. The Washington Post interviewed Glenna Gordon, the photographer who caught the filmmakers posing with soldiers in 2008.

Siena Anstis provides a number of ways to learn more about the crisis. Hayes Brown looks at whether or not the UN could harness the momentum, while Give Well has an argument for concentrating on malaria, which could actually be stopped if more people paid attention. Mafoya Dossoumon argues that we should hold African leaders more accountable, which is a great point. Daniel Solomon also has a piece on seeing advocacy as discursive, and how that changes the approach. Here is a look at the video’s impact on documentaries. And Aaron Bady put together a list on the “Genre of Raising Awareness of Someone Else’s Suffering .

A Week Later: More Links