Later today, we can all look forward to the Kony 2012 sequel. The first video, calling attention to child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, was viewed over 100 million times with a week of its release by Invisible Children. Invisible Children soon came under criticism for its dubious finances and its strategy. It is believed that the sequel will try to address some of the concerns raised by the films critics. While I would like to see how the organizers of Invisible Children plan to explain their interesting financial model, I am more concerned with the policy that they are advocating.
One of the most disturbing parts of the first Kony 2012 film was its focus on the son of the director, Jason Russell. The film illustrates eerily how easy foreign intervention is to sell to the young and naive. Using his son as some sort of lens, Russell explains the suffering of those who have lived through Kony’s atrocities and how morally urgent actions is in the region. Invisible Children is advocating for more foreign intervention in a country that Kony fled years ago and for the U.S. government to provide military assistance to Ugandan troops, whose record is hardly spotless when it comes to human rights abuses.
What should be the most telling to Invisible Children, and perhaps more importantly, the U.S. government, is that when the film was screened in Uganda the reaction from Ugandans was hardly encouraging. Many Ugandans (as can be seen at the Al-Jazeera project “Uganda Speaks“) are frustrated and sometimes angered that the film focused so heavily on white Americans in California
I do have some sympathy with the staff of Invisible Children, especially Russell, who is now in hospital after suffering something of a mental breakdown due to the criticisms leveled at his film. To want an undeniably evil man to be brought to justice is something worthy of admiration. However, the strategy is misguided. I remember in High School when the Save Darfur campaign kicked off, with celebrity endorsements, t-shirts, and wristbands. Yet the slaughter in Darfur continued unaffected. Domestic activism spearheaded by energetic young people is good at relieving middle class guilt, but not very good at preventing atrocities.
Amy Willis at The Telegraph, who has spoken to staff at Invisible Children, says that the sequel will likely feature the Lord Resistance Army’s activities in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. If there was anything that could have made me more skeptical of Invisible Children’s approach it is the idea that all the U.S. government need do is get involved in two central African countries, not just one.
The fact that a sequel has even been made is bad news for the Kony 2012 campaign. I do not think Invisible Children anticipated the amount of criticism they received. The first film certainly looked felt like a stand-alone piece. Come April 20th, the day when we will all supposedly be exposed to Kony on every billboard and skyscraper, we will see how successful Invisible Children has been in handling the fallout that has resulted from the first film. I will watch the sequel with interest, but not with any sense of optimism.