Kony2012: “A white savior film with social media added in”

Critics of the Kony2012 campaign stress that the movement deprives Ugandan people of a voice while simultaneously playing on entrenched racial stereotypes. Many accuse Invisible Children Inc. of perpetuating a narrative of white do-gooders trying to save Africans from themselves. The campaign makes white activists feel good, but excludes (or sidelines) African people from the process and thus fails to make the world a better place.

Politics and sociology graduate Sarah Cooper states: “it destroys there sovereignty, it shows that that country themselves is not capable of taking care of their own business, it undermines the abilities of people who are from those countries, it makes them look useless, when really that’s not true. So much has been done by brilliant activists, scholars and researches people who are dedicated to reform and they are of various African decants.”

The Westernized representation of the Ugandan story has stirred controversy and upset many Ugandans, as they feel voiceless while others are telling their story. Sarah Wanenack identifies the central, symbolic moment in the video: “What is perhaps the film’s most revealing moment occurs quite early, when the director shows his five-year-old son a picture of Kony and the survivor Jacob and explains the situation – in a child’s terms. The child responds, ‘Stop him.’ Which is really the entire film in two words, on essentially the level of complexity at which it is delivered.”This moment is captured in the image below.

Still Image from KONY2012

Still Image from KONY2012

Jessie describes Kony2012 as: “a white savior film with social media added in.” The film forces the audience to view the malicious ‘black man’, Kony, through the eyes of a winsome, white-skinned, blonde-haired child. O’Neil says: “Kony2012 was rightly ridiculed for its borderline racist and certainly paternalistic undertones.” Kenyan-American cultural critic and historian Tavia Nyong’o says: “The film expects its audience to identify with the little blonde boy… Africans however, must identify with those flat images on the table. With Jacob Acaye the former child soldier, yes, but with Joseph Kony too. We know that these are two side of a single coin, and that when we are seen as the one, the face of the other is always lurking beneath.”

During an Interview by BBC Panorama, Teddy Ruge, a Ugandan born co-founder of social networking initiative Project Diaspora stated: “One of the main issues that I really had with this video was the very blatant and visible nature in which it said ‘we are here and we are the ones that can actually do something about this’. I mean it eroded the efforts [of people like] Betty Bigombe in Uganda who had been working on this issue for years.”

During the same interview Michael Poffenberger, co-founder and executive director of a Washington-based grassroots advocacy group called Resolve defended the racist accusations: “We know the area where Kony is operating, we’ve known this for a very long time, but the governments in the region don’t actually have the capacity to do this themselves, and to move our leaders… To move our leaders we can’t just target communities in Africa, we have to target people in America, [and young people around the world], who actually have the capacity to move those leaders to act and respond to this.”

Nyong’o goes as far as to coin the film: “propaganda for western viewers.” He believes: “any African watching it feels very strongly like [they’re] not in the picture – there’s no African complexity and there’s certainly no African agency.”

A Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire illustrates how many Ugandan’s perceive the video as another instance where an outsider is trying to be a hero rescuing African children, as seen previously in cases in Ethiopia and Somalia. Nyong’o agrees that when an individual knows little about a situation, it is easy to project and understand a similar scenario, alas the idea of rescuing the helpless African goes back to the 19th century missionary complex, and it is this stereotype that has been employed by Invisible Children. Kagumire declares, “If you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story.”

The argued deprivation of a Ugandan voice and incorporation of entrenched racial stereotypes are both factors that demote the credibility of the Kony2012 movement.

Below is a video by Rosebell Kagumire depicting her view on a conflict that she has covered as a journalist and a people she has worked among for many years. Kagumire describes the “danger of portraying people with one single story and using old footage to cause hysteria when it could have been possible to get to DRC and other affected countries get a fresh perspective and also include other actors.”


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