On April 20, citizens from across the country (including many JCU students) are hitting the streets to show their concern for the most recent social issue trend that has taken Twitter and Facebook by storm – Kony 2012.
In addition to a resounding cry for action on the social networks from millions of people, many are also skeptical of the motivations of this movement and are just as actively voicing their criticism.
The story goes back several decades, but social media has only recently exploded with the issue.
Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord, is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army–a paramilitary group that opposes the Ugandan government. He has been accused of grave practices and a reliance on kidnapping and brainwashing children to fill the ranks of his resistance movement. However, while these alleged acts have occurred for several decades, it was not until the group Invisible Children released a 30-minute YouTube video early in March that he became infamous on an international scale. Since the video was posted two weeks ago, it has received over 83 million hits.
Sara Stashower, an instructor in the Tim Russert Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, said, “[This is] a great example of a grassroots effort that has, well, spread like wildfire.”
However, Stashower also questioned the goal and timing.
She said, “There are questions as to why now with this film, and whether a video can bring the end to Kony. I did read that the Kony kits (at $30 each) are sold out.”
The kits that Stashower refers to are designed to allow everyday citizens to advocate for the cause by wearing Kony 2012 T-shirts and posting posters and other information around their schools or workplace. While to many this is a worthy expenditure, others censure Invisible Children for directing their efforts towards social media users who may not fully comprehend the situation or what their donations are actually funding.
Further reproach of this video surrounds the implication of the theory of the White Man’s Burden, a concept in which Westerners feel that they are the only people capable of solving problems in Africa. Others suggest that the simplified message conveyed in “Kony 2012” obscures the truth of the situation. Critics explain that the reign of Joseph Kony in Uganda has greatly diminished from what it was years ago and that the plight described in the video is a misrepresentation of his current role in Uganda. Also, this video fails to identify Uganda as the largely peaceful country that it is, as much of the violence has moved into other countries.
In fact, the country of Uganda itself has responded to the launch of this video with a push for more tourism. This landlocked nation has released its own YouTube video highlighting the benefits and acclaims to its tourism sector in an attempt to control its international image. In this video, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi encourages people to visit Uganda and see the country and the situation firsthand. Various Ugandans express frustrations over their voices not being heard through “Kony 2012.” However, even with numerous Ugandan citizens and officials expressing dissatisfaction with the movement, others within the country have come out in favor of this YouTube sensation.
Despite the criticisms of the video message and of Invisible Children’s funding message as a whole, what still remains is a situation that highlights the plight of children and draws at the heartstrings of many distant observers. It also calls in the question how this man, who has become an instant villain on a world scale, has remained free to continue his alleged brutalities for over 30 years without being captured. Furthermore, many believe this video served as a catalyst in the U.S. decision to send 100 advisors to Africa to work towards catching Kony.
Still others on a more local level wonder how they can do more now that they are aware of this situation. Students on JCU’s campus have decided to take action. Under the direction of sophomore Alex Cavasini, a group of students have begun gathering in an attempt to raise awareness for the cause while also taking into account many of the criticisms levied against the “Kony 2012” video.
Cavasini said, “[I] understand there is an incredible amount of criticism behind the campaign as to where the money goes, if the U.S. should be at all involved, and if our work is actually helping the cause to find Joseph Kony. Regardless, I am a big believer that every small step makes a big difference, and it’s better to do something than nothing at all.”
To achieve this, Cavasini and others who share her passion, seek to make a difference on campus as a recognized student organization titled V.O.I.C.E. (Vocalizing for the Outcasts of Invisible Citizens Everywhere). The Rev. Jim Collins, S.J. has offered to serve as their advisor.
He said, “[I’m] impressed that Alex and [junior] Jillian Dunn were so motivated to connect John Carroll students to this global issue. They don’t want JCU to be indifferent, or passive on this, or any issue of violence toward children.”