Is ‘Kony 2012’ Helpful or Harmful to Africans?
I’ve been reading criticisms by Africans on the viral video “Kony 2012” and I’m sympathetic to some of their points.
The civil wars in Africa have existed in various parts of the continent for decades, oftentimes financed by “blood diamonds.” From Idi Amin to Charles Taylor to Mugabe to Kony and beyond. This is not a new story. What is new is social networking. And more than that, when the West reaches into the far corners of the world, the far corners reach back and they don’t need a slick documentary behind them to do it. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, blogging. A connection and/or a cell phone camera is all you need.
However, the Kony 2012 video bothered me and looking on the net, I found many folks where also bothered with Invisible Children (IC). Many are Africans themselves. The problem isn’t with the intention. I think everyone appreciates the intentions. It’s the approach and strategies on finding solutions which is bringing criticisms.
I’ve been reading through a number of people’s blogs and tweets and first I’ll start with Solome Lemma. She makes the following points which I’ll very briefly summarize, but you should read the whole thing:
1. Lack of context and nuance. Kony is not the only problem. Even if they were to kill him, it would just be the end of one of many problems. There are other context problems, like Kony hasn’t been in Northern Uganda for years so the film shows outdated footage. And why subtitles when people are talking plain English?
2. Invisible to whom? African dictators and the people they’ve harmed have existed for over 25 years. We know and they know.
3. The dis-empowering and reductive narrative. This one is the most troubling. Africans, while they can use help, should never be reduced to hapless, helpless victims at the mercy of the white world. They don’t take kindly to the thought of us starting wars in their countries either. Which takes us to #4.
4. Revival of the White savior. See #3 above. There’s a religious narrative in the video that is offensive. That is the idea that Africans need to be saved and civilized.
5. Privilege of giving. The wealthy have money to make movies from their point of view which may or may not necessarily express reality, but which have a farther reach than a local, African production (done more accurately) would.
6. Lack of Africans in leadership. I think the ills of 3, 4 and 5 could be largely cured if this would change. Oftentimes the very people who are being helped appear no where in the management or creation of these charities.
Next is a project called “Hope North”.
More media here.
Here is a Twitter Group list called “Kony 2012 - African Writers”. I encourage you to look through this lists at what these folks are posting.
Find more at Boing Boing. Check often. That link is being updated.
I’ll close with a story about Jill Rich, a Tucson woman (and a friend of my mom) whose dream was to help others. She and her husband have spent over 20 years helping African refugees and managed to bring 54 “Lost Boys of the Sudan” from Ethiopia to Tucson. She gave them a home, comfort and love. Her foundation “Sudanese Promise Fund” raised money to send them to college. She also helped them return to Africa to find and help their surviving families and friends.
Jill was also presented with a Point of Light by President Bush in 1991 for her dedication to humanity.
Here is Jill and her husband with some of her extended family. Yes, one person can unselfishly make a difference in the lives of others.