My Thoughts on KONY 2012

This is a commentary on a video KONY 2012 by Invisible Children, Inc and its campaign behind. If you have not seen the video yet, it is highly recommended to first spend 30 minutes watching it before reading further.

The (apparent) purpose of the video is very simple. It is to let as many people in the world as possible to aware that Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army founded in Uganda, is an internationally wanted criminal who abducts children to become child-sex slaves and child soldiers, and to pursue US government to deploy army in Uganda in order to capture him.

But why does this video become particularly viral?

It does everything right in cinematography. It signifies the story of Jason Russell, the narrator of the video and also one of the founders of Invisible Children. Jason met a Ugandan Jacob who once was under the threat of Joseph Kony, which Jacob later became Jason’s motivation to capture Kony. It motivates audience with Gavin, Jason’s son, a kid who deserves to live in a better world without Kony. It simplifies a very sophisticated issue happening in central Africa to a simple message. A message simple enough that even a kid like Gavin will understand, and will support. Not to mention the visual graphics and effects that is superior than most of the average YouTube videos you watch everyday.

Yes, these are the reasons why you and other 75 millions people spent 30 minutes watching the video, while average internet user has an attention span of less in a minute. You watched it because it is cinematographically appealing (or because someone “shares” it on Facebook. We will come back to this point). Texts are boring. Visuals and sounds are interesting. When I tell you that, in over twenty countries around the world there are more than 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces, it is not appealing. But when the video tells you that Kony has more than 30,000 child soldiers, with an visual effect depicting that many children standing behind Kony, then that is very appealing. Even it is far, far away from the fact (he is currently reported to have an army of several hundreds only).

Actually most of you will not even read this sentence before you turn to another page of the internet, because it passes the one minute attention span. I will go on anyway.

So you spent 30 minutes watching the video, maybe another few minutes sharing on Facebook. And that was it. I, on the other hand, did a few more hours of research. It is not hard to believe that the facts are more complicated than what the video has presented. But it is very hard to believe that Jason and Invisible Children, who has been working on the same issue for the last 10 years, do not present the video in a better way that makes it less prone to skeptics. Why would they not show more figures and options, instead of (or addition to) just showing emotions and slogans, to convince an average guy like me who can Google the facts which easily go against them in a few hours?

Here are some of the questions I have (starting from the most concerned):

  • Where is Joseph Kony now? He was once in Uganda ten years ago, when Jason met Jacob. He and most of his army has not been reported to be in Uganda since six or seven years ago. He can be in anywhere in central Africa. South Sudan, Central African Republic, Congo. The video spends less than a slice of second mentioning that fact.
  • Why are we asking US government to deploy army to Uganda, if Kony is not even in that country?And it is known to be very difficult to operate cross-border warfare, even for US army.
  • Why are we aiding Ugandan government army, when they are reported to recruit child soldiers as well? Is this not what we fight against?
  • Why does deploying army to Uganda the only option to capture Kony (or in bigger picture, to set children free from warfare)? The video makes it visually a very simple cause-and-effect. But to me, it makes a perfect motivation for Kony to abduct more children as soldiers. Is that any non-warfare way to end this?
  • If we have to deploy army to stop child soldiers, why do we prioritize Kony over other organizations who have much larger forces of child soldiers? For example, are we going to send an army to Burma next, where an estimated 70,000 of the country’s 400,000 soldiers are children?

I have more questions, but I do not have perfect answers in my mind. Jason and Invisible Children should have the answers, because they should have been thinking of these questions for almost ten years. Between over simplifying the facts for better cinematography and manipulating the facts for a hidden agenda, I give Jason and Invisible Children all benefits of doubt. I do not even want to comment on the questionable sources of their funding or on the coincidental discovery of large amount of crude oil in Uganda. I will leave these to your own judgement.

One sure thing is, the reality is much more complex than a video can present. By viewing and liking and sharing the video, you think you show your cares and concerns to a remote country in central Africa while you are sitting in front of your internet-connected computer in your cozy bedroom at a first world country. By viewing and liking and sharing the video, you think you show your humanity side to your friends and colleagues, although rest of the time you may never care about warfare and poverty and slavery and starvation in other countries, and most likely you will forget about Kony by July this year. By viewing and liking and sharing the video, you think you are helping the people in Uganda.

No, the reality is much more complex. People in Uganda are reported to wonder why the world is suddenly interested in Kony, after all these years. People in Uganda are afraid of such a huge media exposure of Kony may actually bring him back to Uganda, from whichever country he now resides. People in Uganda want the rest of the world leave them alone.

In religion, it is called preach. In finance, it is called sale pitch. In politics, it is called propaganda. In the internet, it is called meme (sorry Richard Dawkins). In advertising, it is called viral marketing. In layman’s terms, it is called brainwashing. By viewing and liking and sharing the video and blindly supporting what the video presents, you are spreading an idea. An unaltered, unrefined idea, passing from one to another. An idea which may lead to unpredictable consequences to the people in Uganda. It is particularly sad to me because whoever in my social circle viewing and liking and sharing the video are all smart, nice, decent people who are very willing to do anything for the betterment of human beings. I hope they have the time to step back and think about it again like I do.

Do not get me wrong. I hope very much that Kony will be arrested just like everyone of you does. But at the very least, let us hope that the campaign will not go to a horribly wrong direction.