Wow, this week we witnessed Africa return centre-stage as Uganda and Joseph Kony became the embodiment of what we are supposed to think of the continent; black people in need, black people in conflict, black people are primitive, and black people sure are poor – morally and financially. If that isn’t clear enough for you just say “damn those niggers be at it again”. But where there is black there needs to be white, right? Because white is the colour of our saviour, white is powerful, white is justice, and white tastes like sugar. If that isn’t as clear as a black shit on fresh white snow just think of some Pope holding out his hand to some snotty-faced rag-tag, diseased-riddled nameless black child from that dark continent. But the professionalism with which this racist myth continues to permeate is not the polarisation I want to address here. To concentrate on this is to allow the debate to stagnate from fifty years ago and not to bring it to where it needs to be in the contemporary world.
The crudeness that I have just used is therefore meant to reflect that utilised not just by the Kony2012 campaign but also that of the many who saw through that viral video enough to actively criticise it. Many came across as knee-jerk reactions that while valid in terms of immediacy perhaps might also have lacked consistency and concentration at the same time. These reactions often didn’t seek to engage Invisible Children on their terms, and where the video was weakest, what are Ugandans and those affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army saying. Take Marcel Cartier for example, to those who are new to the issue and rarely tread here he might come off as a rambling fool; providing valid but all-encompassing international commentary which is not restricted to the specific topic, with few suggestions, if anything, on what should be done about the case at hand. Likewise, David Leon’s excellent piece is somewhat overcooked and therefore feeds into the dichotomy of ‘help us get Kony or fuck you’. If the Kony2012 campaign is creating wristbands of arrogance we must steer away from demonstrating the same trait with our responses. Elizabeth Flock’s interview with the photographer who captured Invisible Children holding guns was a thoroughly more grounded affair; it stood out because it knew what it wanted to accomplish and had the means to do so. An equally grounded piece comes from establishment favourite John Pilger but was published last year, way before this debacle of popularism and polarisation.
As some have highlighted the Kony2012 campaign has displayed profoundly the power the Internet has in connecting people and ideas but this has been at the expense of relating accurate and relative information. The campaign also displays the weaknesses of well-placed counter perspectives from within Western countries; overwhelmingly they react to the mainstream and have no dreams of doing anything else. Getting too worked up about the system and clearly valuing their own opinion on the world at the expense of those concerned. The Guardian’s datablog is a poignant condemnation of Invisible Children’s finances, and should definitely throw doubts into support that particular charity, but that’s not my primary focus. Of course I won’t bother too much with conspiracy theorists that provide a jumble of information in much the same way as the viral video; yes the USA has growing interest throughout Africa, yes the CIA, FBI and government have expanded their influence on university campuses but correlation is not causation. Although at least some of some of the grand theorising remained grounded with a sense of humour. Still nobody stated the obvious; that the Advertising Standards Agency would, in all likeliness, never have accepted the promotional stunt on numerous grounds.
Luckily enough we do have the Internet and are not restricted to dominant views of left or right persuasions. The best pieces that responded to Invisible Children’s campaign came out of Uganda, and came from people on that continent. Their focused voices took a variety of positions on a range of issues, from inaccuracies in the campaign to how it might affect tourism in Uganda. They included younger and older people as well as those in diasporic communities and at least one from a man who was formerly a child soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army. Let’s not forgot the man’s own voice. There are plenty more out there that deserve more attention than they are currently getting. One Ugandan pointed out that such a weak campaign, followed by ambivalent discussion, would never have occurred in regards to the Middle East but because this is Africa we can all speak down to it. But as Kambale Musavuli demonstrates real dialogue must be made possible and highlighted – is this about imperialism? It is as if a single, Lion King-like, narrative informs every void of our mind. As Adam Branch points out this campaign and reaction to it isn’t about Uganda, this is about the USA and Americans.
So let us return to Simba, it is not Joseph Kony who killed him, though displace him as the popular vision of Africa perhaps. It is not even Invisible Children with their evangelical advert who can take credit for this. Nor is it the rhetorical reactions of those opposing the campaign. Those of us with access to the Internet but rely too heavily upon being told how to use it, and therefore click too quickly on that share button all have a hand to play. Because these children are not invisible and many have surely grown up, and some can relay there own opinions on Uganda, Africa and what peace means. All we have to do is search, listen, and share… As has been proven.
The story was jump-started with the violence of Tony Kony, with ‘invisible’ children. Wouldn’t the conclusions be so very different if we had bothered to start the story with the powerful Betty Bigombe, with visible children, with artists not the campaigners of politricks?