What Happened to Kony 2012? – By Tiffany Brittingham

1 Jun

Nearly six months before the viral release of the video “Kony 2012” by the non-profit Invisible Children (IC), conservative American pundit Rush Limbaugh was already calling his listeners to attention to the on-goings of Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—with quite a different theme.

This theme was expressed by Limbaugh in a declaration of the LRA’s Christianity. “Now, up until today , most Americans have never heard of the combat Lord’s Resistance Army. And here we are at war with them…Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. It means God.” The ever eloquent Limbaugh furthers this by stating “so that’s a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda.” (New York Times, October 2011) From this his listeners are then to believe that in October of 2011, President Obama started a religious war with the righteous Christians in central Africa. As laughable as it may seem, it is frightening because as of the release of the explosive IC video the radio show host has yet to apologize for this obvious mistake. Granted, Limbaugh’s view is only shared with an extreme right conservative fraction, before the IC’s Kony 2012 campaign Kony and the LRA were hardly household names .

Just eight months after the poorly informed Limbaugh episode and three months after the release of the Kony 2012 campaign, opinions about not only the campaign but also the overall topic, are rampant. In doing a quick Google search for the keywords “Invisible Children” and/or “Kony 2012” one will find  a variety of results.  Results that range in tone from critique and comment and from outrage   skepticism. For those that have been slow to catching on the social media bandwagon, the Kony 2012 video itself will still rise to the top of the Google search.  Whatever the opinions are on Kony 2012 one thing cannot be debated—the overwhelming initial success of the campaign and IC’s rise from near-obscurity to global hot-topic.

Criticism has erupted from every walk of life, thrusting not only Kony but also IC into the spotlight. Journalists and experts have condemned IC, stating that they have oversimplified a complex political issue with the campaign. Others have also shuddered at the implied message of necessary military intervention to capture Kony and take down the LRA. The Ugandan government has issued defensive statements, arguing that the video implies the government cannot care for its own people. Some have even thrown the ‘white savior’ card, theorizing that IC is one of those Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)trying to dictate what   third world countries need. IC’s organizational behavior has also been pulled apart by commentators, culminating with the public mental breakdown of one of the organization’s co-founders. While the opinions are varied they have one thing in common… they have all missed the point.

On ICs official web page, their mission is listed as “[using] film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in east and central Africa to peace and prosperity.” Nowhere does it state that it is going to advocate specifically military intervention. Digging a little deeper, it can be seen that IC works within communities and also employs mostly local people to work for their branches. Still, the main goal is blatantly stated as being an advocacy group. Not a think tank, nor a direct services organization. Early in the Kony 2012 video, the narrator states that the goal of the campaign is to make Kony famous for his crimes. Many commentators have inferred what they will from the video, saying it’s implied this and indirectly stated that. The unfortunate part about fame is that it grants everyone an opinion, whether educated or not. The mission of this advocacy group is not to provide the public with a thorough report on the LRA activities (although they partner with an agency that does). It is to promote awareness of the horrendous crimes of a small but persistent group in central Africa. Originally, IC hoped to obtain only half a million views of their Kony 2012 campaign. Almost overnight they obtained almost 100 million views. In that respect they have been very obviously an initial success.

The question could be asked—should other NGOs and non-profits follow this route of social media campaigning to accomplish their goals? Has the Kony 2012 campaign been successful enough to elicit civil society imitation? IC has certainly been successful in promoting awareness, but will that awareness last? Unfortunately it has not lasted as explosively as it started, and  the IC’s April 2012 youth rally had difficulty in  raising a fraction of the involvement that the initial video release did.  If civil society can now counter the social attention deficit disorder that goes along with pop culture success, the method of explosive social media campaigning might actually be employable. Much of the comment about the Kony 2012 campaign has been either skepticism or criticism, and analysis of the impact of such a revolutionary tactic by a non-profit has generally not been completed.

This is not to dampen the initial success of Kony 2012. Social awareness impacts every part of life, and  this most definitely includes political culture. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh produce enough rabble to distract voters and government workers from thinking for themselves, whereas civil society campaigns inhibit individuals to think and research for their own. Even if it only lasts as long as a time between daily tweets, some civil discourse is better than naught.

Image: Invisible Children 


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