A lot has been said and written about the recent ‘Kony 2012’ video which highlighted the issue of child soldiers in Africa. Now the dust has settled, I have been able to gather my own thoughts about this phenomenon.
The Kony film was made by the charity ‘Invisible Children’, and some have claimed it to be one of the most successful viral campaigns in the history of the web – rapidly spreading as people shared it through social media. It is estimated that the film has been viewed over 85 million times.
If you have not yet seen the film, it is well worth a half hour of your time. Search for it on ‘You Tube’, or click on the link below:
The campaign was of particular interest to my students, who actually requested that we watch it in class and discuss the contents. They already had some awareness and understanding of this subject as the Geography Department run a trip to Uganda each year, also the topic of child soldiers was used as a focus for a recent collapsed timetable day.
I was particularly fascinated by the role of social media in promoting this film to such a wide audience. The sphere of influence of the film has been clearly demonstrated by the geo tagging of social media to world maps – click on the link below to see for yourself:
So who is Joseph Kony? In 1987, he took over leadership of an existing rebel group and renamed it the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ or LRA. The LRA earned a reputation for cruel and brutal tactics, and when Kony ran out of adults to fight for his cause, he started to abduct children to serve as soldiers in his army or sex slave ‘wives’ for his officers. The LRA was encouraged to rape, mutilate and kill civilians in a campaign of terror that has existed to this day. It is estimated that the LRA has abducted more than 30,000 children and displaced at least 2 million people through its campaign. The LRA originated in northern Uganda, but is actually no longer active in this country. It fled to continue its rampage in southern Sudan and Central African Republic , and currently continues to terrorise rural areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What was the purpose of the film? It intended to identify Joseph Kony as the world’s worst war criminal and bring him to the attention of the world. By making him ‘famous’, the film was not celebrating him, but trying to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice. The creators of the film believe that one of the reasons nothing has been done about Kony and the LRA is because nobody knows who he is. The idea was that if people were aware of Kony’s crimes, they would unite to stop him.
Did the film do justice to the issue? I think the film is very well made, and is an excellent resource for the classroom. I used it as a stimulus for a Philosophy For Children exercise, which produced some deep and thoughtful responses from the students. It has certainly succeeded in bringing wider attention to one of the most horrendous criminals at large, but might be criticised for being a little over simplistic. It could be said that it presents a complex situation as a simple problem with a simple solution, and reinforcing the stereotype that Africa is full of helpless victims waiting to be ‘saved’ by the west. The film fails to really make clear exactly who Kony and the LRA are, and gives little credit to the efforts of Uganda and other African nations in trying to counter this dangerous threat. The Uganda Army has relentlessly pursued Kony since 2008, establishing agreements with neighbouring countries and launching ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ which aimed to swiftly eliminate the LRA. However, even this aspect of the story is open to different interpretation – and some would criticise the current leader President Musaveni for using the situation to bludgeon any domestic opposition to his own political party. Sadly, the film also makes no mention of the large number of former child soldiers who have been rescued and successfully reintegrated into society.
The geographical message of the film is a little shaky – it clearly focuses on Uganda, despite the fact that the LRA has not been active in this country since 2005. People may gain the impression that Uganda is unsafe and unstable, whereas the reality is very different. Indeed, it has been an increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years.
Although a clear message has been spread across the (developed) world, I have been rather disturbed by the effect the film has had on local people. When it was shown to villagers in rural northern Uganda, it was not well-received. People there did not welcome the reminder of tragic events in their recent history. I look forward to revisiting Uganda in July, and talking to local people about this issue. Kony 2012 has certainly achieved world-wide coverage, but was this really the wrong audience? Kony is very well-known in Africa, and to make a real impact, perhaps the film could have focused more on getting Africans to influence their own policy makers? One of the main criticisms of the film has come from people who see it as propaganda to support an increase in American military intervention in Africa, and the film fails to consider the possible effects of such western intervention on future African initiatives.
All of these issues need to be explored and discussed if the film is to be used in the classroom, but handled with sensitivity, it can act as a great stimulus for some deep thinking and some meaningful current geography. I approached the film using a Philosophy For Children approach, and am happy to provide further details on request. Alternatively, Action Aid has produced a number of excellent resources for use in schools, and these are available from:
Kony 2012 Part Two has been planned for a while, but its release was delayed. This may have been because of the criticism that the not-for-profit charity has received with regard to its accounting, or perhaps due to the recent psychological meltdown of the co-founder? However, the sequel actually hit the world wide web today – and is said to give further depth to the Ugandan conflict, in answer to some of the criticisms of how the issues surrounding Kony had been distorted and simplified.
Kony 2012 Part two: bit.ly/HgTlG7