Rarely do you see a room full of people on a busy college campus in a collective state of attention. Not one person was checking their phones, texting, checking Facebook or tweeting. All were transfixed by a video that brought striking images of children in Uganda being torn from their loved ones and forced to fight for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The video, “Kony 2012” was made by Invisible Children co-founder, Jason Russell and seeks to tell of the atrocities made by Kony and the LRA, turning young boys into child soldiers and making sex slaves of the young girls. The video went viral two weeks ago and has now been seen by 80 million people worldwide.
So what’s the purpose of a discussion of a straightforward video that depicts atrocities occurring halfway around the world?
The controversy exists in the way in which Invisible Children, an organization headquartered in San Diego, uses “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRS-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity” to portray the plight of the people of Uganda.
In Russell’s film, the children of Uganda are being kidnapped, murdered and used and the future of the country is at risk because of these atrocities. University of San Diego faculty, however, believe there is much more to this story, and that the struggles of the Uganda people are much more than Kony and the LRA.
At Tuesday’s panel discussion, Dustin Sharp, an assistant professor in the Kroc School of Peace Studies, stated that Invisible Children is practicing what he calls “badvocacy.” Badvocacy is a term Sharp uses to explain that sometimes advocacy has a negative effect and that simple narratives, although easy to understand and market, aren’t always a way to solve the suffering involved in cases of human rights.
Sharp urges people who watch the video to remember that “mastery of the issue is key” and although a “simple narrative is key to human rights awareness,” answers to the world’s complex problems can’t be simplified as easily as Invisible Children would like its supporters to think.
According to Invisible Children, there are three steps viewers can take to make 2012 the year that Joseph Kony is captured and brought to justice. First, they urge viewers to sign a pledge; secondly, viewers to buy a bracelet and an action kit to spread the word for the day of action on April 20, 2012; and third, they ask for monthly donations.
Freshman student Nathan Phillips, who rode his bike from Seattle to San Diego on behalf of Invisible Children last August, provided a different take on the film and its importance.
“I have never watched a documentary that speaks so simplistically … I’d rather see some change, than none at all.”
Phillips argued that the visibility the film provided is what Invisible Children sought, and although its perspective and suggested solutions may be simplistic, the awareness garnered makes the effort worthwhile.
Audience members were eager to ask questions of the panel, which also consisted of Nathaniel Dunigan, a SOLES doctoral student and founder of AidChild in Uganda; Jennifer Freeman, program officer at IPJ and Ugandan expert; and via Skype from Los Angeles, Ugandan Florence Karungi, who is currently a member of the Africa Dialogue Groups and Young Leadership in Peace Building.
Many members of the audience were from Uganda originally and argued that the simplistic approach taken by the film and Invisible Children were doing more harm than good, and that Invisible Children is merely a vehicle for the Ugandan government’s attempts at distracting the global community from the atrocities they themselves commit against its people including the stealing and burning of land.
Although the situation in Uganda is unlikely to change even if Joseph Kony is captured and convicted, the Kony 2012 video is likely to continue the discussion and debate about the role social media plays in the global world.
— Melissa Wagoner