17 April 2012
“Protest 2.0—KONY 2012”
In this long season of occupation and in the wake of the fallout of Tahrir Square and the failures of the global community thus far in the ongoing Syrian uprising, there has emerged an unexpectedly potent campaign that takes its cues from the global occupy movements but diverges in a few marked—and potentially instructive—ways.
On the fifth of March, the San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children released a thirty minute video piece, KONY 2012, that rapidly set the record for “most viral video,” racking up some 100 million views as it coursed through the internet, accelerated by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and alternating barrages of fascination and snark on news aggregation blogs such as Gawker. The premise of the video was straightforward: draw attention to Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an Acholi nationalist group formerly based in Uganda that has, over the past two and a half decades, killed tens of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The LRA is noted among central African rebel groups for its consistent use of the most heinous of tactics: rape, sexual slavery, mass murder, mutilations, and the abduction and impressment of at least 30,000 child soldiers. Like the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the ongoing multi-partite conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the LRA’s trans-state crimes against humanity have remained one of those seemingly intractable problems, just beyond the reach of NATO security interests and military capabilities.
Enter Invisible Children, a production company in the guise of a charity, which has organized what is, by all accounts, a truly international community under the premise that an aggregation of young people can give voice to the “invisible” children of northern Uganda. Until late 2011, the group relied on letter writing campaigns, meetings with congressional delegations, and choreographed rallies (all assiduously documented) in order to pressure western governments to send military advisers and materiel to the Ugandan army, in order to rout the LRA forces once and for all. The organization also creates full-on documentary work during their visits to central Africa, interviewing children, community leaders, and sympathetic politicians, and it claims to funnel resources for development projects, such as schools, directly to localities. In effect, Invisible Children aims to pressure conventional state agencies, and also to bypass them.
The 5 March KONY 2012 video was something of a study in narrative tension. It introduces the audience to the LRA and to Invisible Children by way of two real “characters.” One is a young Ugandan boy named Jacob, who escaped the LRA, but whose brother was murdered and who subsequently met Invisible Children founder Jason Russell. The other is Russell’s own son, an angelic toddler who conveniently serves as both a telegenic western youth, and a proxy for the audience itself, which is collectively (but through no fault of its own!) unaware of Kony’s atrocities. In a remarkably telling bit of cinema verité, Russell shows his son a picture of Kony, and explains that not only is he a warlord, but has also hurt Jacob, beloved of the Russell family. The moral imperative laid out here is not complex: to know Kony is to know evil, and now that we know Kony, he must be stopped. Even a child can see that.