The (in-)visible children of KONY 2012

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The (in-)visible children of KONY 2012

If you have not lived in a digital cave, you most likely came across one – or rather a couple of thousand – tweets, event-invitations, pictures or messages that looked like this: “Make Kony Famous 2012”. The KONY 2012-campaign by the American NGO ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ has since both raised praise and resentment. Share your views!

The KONY 2012-campaign by American film-makers Jason Russel and Lauren Pool aims at making Joseph Kony famous with a 30-minute video on youtube with corresponding facebook and real-life actions. Joseph Koney is a Ugandan guerrilla group leader, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has in 2005 been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. By drawing attention to Joseph Kony, the campaign tries to raise awareness about the ongoing atrocities committed by the LRA and to persuade the US-government to continue its military engagement in the region.

The video has gone viral for about a week now and reached up to 50 million views by now:

If you look a little closer, you will find that the campaign and its organization ‘Invisible Children, Inc.‘ face a lot of criticism on the net: It is argued that support for the Ugandan army, which is facing accusations of rape and looting itself, has a bad aftertaste. Further, KONY 2012 is widely accused of over-simplifying the issue and yielding truth to shocking exaggerations. The critique mainly goes back to a blog-post of Grant Oyston, who today published that in response to the wide media attention he received, ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ offered to fly him to Africa to see the organization and project for himself – an offer he refused, doubting whether the organizations’ money could not be spend more effectively elsewhere. This falls in line with other critizism of the financial practices of ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ Finally, Oyston makes an interesting point when citing Chris Blattman, a Yale-scholar:

“There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

I do not agree with all of the arguments presented above and do believe that after carefully weighing the options you can still easily come to the conclusion that joining KONY 2012 is a great idea. If that is the case, I encourage you to do so! Yesterday, ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ replied to some of the main public concerns, you can read their release [here]. But while you are at it, please also look at some more detailed and neutral info about Joseph Kony and the LRA (e.g. see the following list). And above all: Please always try to remain open to more than one view on an issue.

[Can America make a difference?], The Economist, 21.10.2011

[Joseph Kony (profile)], The New York Times, 14.10.2011

[Obama Takes on the LRA], Foreign Affairs, 15.11.2011

Is it acceptable to simplify matters when you are helping a greater cause? Has the process story drawn attention away from the important issues? Or maybe has the campaign already succeeded, just because we are talking about it right now? Please share your views!

Alexander Pyka

Alexander Pyka

Dr. Alexander Pyka is Co-Founder of IFAIR and programme coordinator for the Impact Group ”Fireside Chats Berlin”. He was a member of the executive Board until 2016. Alexander works at the public international law division at the German Federal Foreign Office. He wrote his doctoral thesis about the international sanctions regime against Iran while working as personal adviser to a former head of government. Alexander studied Law at Bucerius Law School, Germany and Tel Aviv University, Israel, as a scholar of the German National Academic Foundation. In 2013, he was selected “Global Leader of Tomorrow” by the St. Gallen Symposium, “Top 99 under 33 Foreign Policy Leader” by the Diplomatic Courier in Washington D.C. and “Global Shaper” by the World Economic Forum, Davos. Alexander speaks German, English, French and Spanish.


2 Recent Comments

  • Patricia

    For me, the “Kony 2012” campaign is a phenomenon. Last week hardly anyone knew the name “Joseph Kony” and today millions of people are getting involved in the aim of fighting against this man. It is again quite astonishing how social media are able to affect the topics of our everyday life, especially when they are used cleverly, like in this case. Critical voices are saying that the video that popped up overnight is even manipulating its viewers by emotionalizing a political problem so that every single one of us is feeling obliged to join the movement. But to refer to your questions: “Invisible Children, Inc.” put Joseph Kony on its agenda long before this international campaign started. These people who initiated this movement and were determined to improve the horrifying circumstances in Uganda by fighting the obvious abuse of human rights had to grind out every little success and yet never forfeited. This determination to change something and help a greater cause is remarkable, which leads me to the conclusion that the campaign, indeed, already succeeded because we are having this discussion right now. “Kony 2012” may make use of exaggerations or simplify the issue, but if that’s the way to give the world, and especially the youth, an understanding of what it’s like to put oneself out for something and actually be successful in doing that, why counteract this. Of course, Kony is not the only one committing crimes against humanity. Nowadays, in times of terror, war and revolutions it is difficult to stay on top of things, but that’s exactly why you have to start somewhere. So, like the author of this article already said, there is nothing wrong with informing oneself and if you come to the conclusion that “Kony 2012” is worth supporting it then do it, and if not, then at least join the discussion.

  • Susanne Schwarz

    Consider also the discussion that was held in Congress in October 2011 on the deployment of US forces in Central Africa and the implementation of ‘The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act’ (Bill S.1067). The session provided an insight in US American debates on the issue. The House’s Foreign Affairs Committee invited high-ranking officials from the State and Defense Department for the hearing. Especially legal aspects of the deployment were controversially discussed.
    Webcast and transcripts available online:

    See also the bill S.1067 (summary and full text) introduced by Senator Feingold (D-WI) and signed by President Obama in May 2010:

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