Celebrated for Giving Hope but Criticised for Simplifying the Scope

Those who celebrate Invisible Children’s work argue the Kony2012 campaign has done an excellent job of showcasing awareness and educating masses about the violence in Uganda. However there is an overwhelming amount of critics who assert the films oversimplification of the Ugandan context is not purely in the interest of public accessibility.

The gripping cinematography of the Kony2012 short film has allowed many youth who have never studied or been previously interested in East African history and politics, to now retain an introductory understanding of the LRA insurgence and associated human rights abuses. Cavanagh argues that Invisible Children Inc. have mastered a skill-set that eludes many academics, educators, and advocacy professionals through the effective production of a humanitarian narrative that most young children could easily decipher.

The simple narrative of the film has no doubt caught the attention of millions around the globe. However, Schomerus states in his article “Kony2012: How not to change the world,” that the film has:  “manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers … [while] rarely referring to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians … or the complicated regional politics fuelling the conflict.”

Cavanagh comments on arguments criticising the films oversimplification, stressing that in order to create an advocacy initiative and successfully raise awareness of a cause, particularly when attempting to mobilize people with little or no previous exposure to East/Central African history and politics, a degree of simplification is arguably necessary. Invisible Children activist Sarah Cooper states: “In my experience, the people who tend to latch onto viral campaigns are often younger people that maybe don’t have the education behind them to understand the political context or to realise that they are being used for marketing purposes.”

Fitzsimmons suggests that care needs to be taken when oversimplification is applied to external environments such as Uganda, not just in this instance, but also when attempting to simplify context for other areas of study, like genocide, for example.

During an interview by BBC Panorama, Ugandan born co-founder of social networking initiative Project Diaspora commented on the Kony2012 film stating: “I think the oversimplification of the complexity of the situation was one of the reasons that I was critical. Not just me but a majority of Ugandans within the diaspora as well as in Uganda, were very critical of how Uganda itself was positioned and how the situation was positioned […] It says to me in order for something to actually really matter we have to dumb it down for you and make it slick enough for you to even care to press a button on Facebook… It was a little embarrassing that it took that for the world to actually care. So what will it really take in the internet generation for us to actually care about something when it’s genuine without it being manipulated?”

It is impossible to ignore the video’s misrepresentation and manipulation of the Ugandan context. The video may resonate more with Western viewers, but if/when action ensues, the wrong factors may be targeted. Cooper states: “[Kony2012 supporters] don’t understand that creating further conflict and invading countries destroys there sovereignty [and] undermines the abilities of people who are from those countries… the greater awareness should be about what causes conflicts like this in the first place. Investing in policing, reducing corruption and helping to create sustainable and effective governments, only when things like healthcare and education improve, will the kind of society develop where things like child soldiers doesn’t occur.”

Coopers words mirror many individuals thoughts on the Kony2012 campaign. Although one doesn’t want to be too critical of those trying to promote social justice causes, it is imperitive we understand that stopping Kony will not bring Uganda into the light, yet battling government corruption, ethnic conflict, and economic disparity might.

Resisting Oversimplification: Thoughts on Kony2012 – http://www.fbesp.org/synapse/?p=383

Cavanagh, J 2012, “Kony 2012 and the Political Economy of Conflict Representation,” Nordic Africa Institute Department of International Environment and Development Studies Norwegian University of Life Sciences, March 9, accessed 26.3.2012, http://www.nai.uu.se/press/articles/2012/03/09/145947/Kony-2012_LongVersion_ConnorCavanagh.pdf

Fitzsimmons, B “MDST 2,” Google Scholar, accessed 23.5.2012, http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:8UV2061ArksJ:scholar.google.com/+%22Social+Media%22+AND+%22Activism%22+AND+%22Kony+2012%22&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5

OBrien, C. 2012, OBrien: Kony 2012 campaigns tests impact of online activism, Oakland, Calif., United States, Oakland, Calif.

Saunders, D 2012, “The Horror and the Hashtag” The Globe and Mail, 10 March 2012,


Schomerus, M, 2012, “Kony 2012: How not to change the world”. CNN International. 10 March 2012.



One thought on “Celebrated for Giving Hope but Criticised for Simplifying the Scope

  1. […] the film is not without its critics. Many feel the video has simplified a very complex issue.  Others feel this is a lazy way of engaging with activism suggesting the movement is an example […]

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