African voices respond to hyper-popular Kony 2012 viral campaign

(Updated with additions, March 10, 2012. Here's a Twitter list, so you can follow all of the African writers mentioned in this post who are on Twitter.)

The internets are all a-flutter with reactions to Kony 2012, a high-velocity viral fundraising campaign created by the "rebel soul dream evangelists" at Invisible Children to "raise awareness" about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and child soldiers. As noted in my previous post here on Boing Boing, the project has many critics. There is a drinking game, there are epic lolpictorials, and a chorus of idiots on Facebook.

There are indications the project may be about stealth-evangelizing Christianity. The Invisible Children filmmakers have responded to some of the criticism. Media personalities and celebrities are duking it out as the campaign (and now, backlash) spreads.

But in that flood of attention, one set of voices has gone largely ignored: Africans themselves. Writers, journalists, activists; people of African descent who live and work and think about life on the continent. In this post, we'll round up some of their replies to #Kony2012.

Above, a video by Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan multimedia journalist who works on "media, women, peace and conflict issues." She writes, "This is me talking about 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."

Ethiopian writer and activist Solome Lemma writes that she is disturbed by the "dis-empowering and reductive narrative" evidenced in Invisible Children's promotional videos: "[It] paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of child and youth advocates who have been fighting to address the very issues at the heart of IC’s work." Update: Here's another from Lemma on "Seven steps for critical reflection." She urges those concerned about human rights in Africa to "think before you give."

Musa Okwonga, a " football writer, poet and musician of Ugandan descent," writes in an Independent op-ed: “I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism. I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots... Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken."

Award-winning Nigerian-American novelist and photographer Teju Cole published an inspired set of tweets today on sentimentality toward Africa by Americans. Ethan Zuckerman gathered them here, and Alexis Madrigal did the same here. "From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex," Cole writes. "The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening." He is brilliant and you should be following him on Twitter, anyway.

Angelo Opi-aiya Izama, a journalist and researcher based in Kampala, Uganda, writes: "The simplicity of the 'good versus evil,' where good is inevitably white/western and bad is black or African, is also reminiscent of some of the worst excesses of the colonial era interventions. These campaigns don’t just lack scholarship or nuance. They are not bothered to seek it."

Benin-born "Author and Africa Enthusiast" Mafoya Dossoumon focuses less on the shortcomings of "Invisible Children," and more on the power elite within Africa. "I urge you my African brothers and sisters, and friends of Africa to direct more energy towards holding our leaders accountable. Our leaders have failed us! "

TMS Ruge, the Ugandan-born co-founder of Project Diaspora is pissed. He says he wants to "bang my head against my desk" to "make the dumb-assery stop." writes, "It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected." Update: Ruge has a commentary in the New York Times: "‘Kony 2012’ Is Not a Revolution."

Semhar Araia, founder of the Diaspora African Women's Network (DAWN), is based in Minneapolis and is of Eritrean descent. DAWN "develops and supports talented women and girls of the African diaspora," and is focused on African affairs. In an opinion piece at the Christian Science Monitor titled "Learn to Respect Africans," Araia writes of Invisible Children: "They must be willing to use their media to amplify African voices, not simply their own. This isn’t about them."

At National Geographic, a guest essay by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and director of the northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans. Richard writes of perceptions of Invisible Children in northern Uganda, where the group has had a presence for some years, "They are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict."

Dayo Olopade, a Nigerian-American journalist who is writing a book on the connection between disruptive technology and African development, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times: "The mundane march of progress in poor countries is what 'awareness' campaigns often miss. And when, as in this case, success is determined by action from outside the region, cries of a new imperialism should be taken seriously. Few international NGOs working in Africa define success properly — as putting themselves out of business. Invisible Children seems no better."

London-based Ida Horner "grew up in Idi Amin’s Uganda," and says the first 20 years of her life were "marked by civil wars." She now consults to companies that want to ethically source products from East Africa, and writes and speaks about sustainable development and issues affecting African women in poverty. Among her concerns: how will Kony 2012 fever affect tourism income, and investment, which she sees as a better solution than aid? "Uganda was voted by Lonely Planet amongst the top destinations for 2012 but has this NGO just undone the potential for Uganda’s tourism? After all the tourism industry provides a real opportunity for Ugandans to work their way out of poverty through providing services that tourists want to consume."

Kampala-based "Poet, Artist, and Computer Engineer" Frank Odongka published a poem about Invisible Children, titled " Mocking a Mocking Bird." In an intro, he writes about how he felt immediately after seeing the video: "I was only filled with emptiness. I felt our past was being used by some external figure to attract attention to their cause; which cause is obviously not a better life for my relatives. In 2000, travelling to Kampala from the West Nile was suicide and Invisible Children didn't realize we were invisible and holed up there. Today, more than ever, we are visible but someone suddenly feels the need to exploit our past and paint it as our present! I wrote this poem, short as it is, to reflect how I feel about it."

"Let’s call Joseph Kony what he is: a narcissist, a pedophile and a terrorist," writes Ghanaian-American blogger Malaka Gyekye Grant in a post titled Joseph Kony Is Still At Large and It’s all My Fault. "Why are we not speaking out until our voices are impossible to ignore? Here’s a better question: Why did an AFRICAN not start the Kony2012 campaign?"

Ethiopian-American writer Dinaw Mengestu, at the conflict journal Warscapes: "If there is one thing Invisible Children is right about, it’s that ignorance is blinding. Change has never come with a click, or a tweet; lives are not saved by bracelets. We all want solutions, but why should we think or expect an easy one exists for a twenty-year-old conflict in Uganda when we have none for the wars we’re engaged in now. "

Former LRA abductee turned peacekeeper Victor Ochen is a social entrepreneur and peace builder in Uganda who founded The African Youth Initiative Network. They work to physically and psychologically rehabilitate youth affected by war. He writes at AYINET's blog: "I agree that Kony must be stopped as soon as possible. However, it must be done in a way that avoids further civilian casualties and the loss of the lives of innocent children. Raising potentially false expectation such as arresting Kony in 2012 will not rebuild the lives of the people in northern Uganda. Rebuilding communities and rehabilitating victims is what we need. The stronger survivors become, the less Kony remains an issue. Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or even killing him."

The Guardian has published an interview with Jacob Acaye, the Ugandan former child abductee featured in the "Kony 2012" video. Acaye is now a 21-year-old law student in Kampala. He says the filmmakers wandered into a village where he and other children sought refuge; the Invisible Children representatives were looking for a child who spoke English, to feature in their film. "They could not understand what was happening. They wanted a kid who was sleeping there and who spoke English," Acaye said. "I could understand English and I could say what was happening, so that is how I was in their film."

Bonus Round:

Ethan Zuckerman is not African, but the Global Voices co-founder has done much work over the years to create platforms and networks that amplify voices from the continent, and promote thoughtful, informed dialogue on complicated issues like this one. Ethan has a great roundup of links from various African voices. And Global Voices contributor Rebekah Heacock has an extensive post here, which gathers opinions from the African blog-o-/twitter-o-sphere.

Link to full, multi-panel LOLpic.

(Thanks for the links: Afripop, Kalaya'an Mendoza, Texas In Africa, ToriaURU, dgtlubun2 somebadideas, nothingsmonstrd, Oxblood Ruffin, Rosebell K., TMS Ruge, Emeka Okafor.)


  1. So at some point should I just not care? Cause I can do that. 
    Actually scratch that. We ought to be complaining. If this isn’t working right, we all ought to be pointing that out. We look that gift horse in the mouth, and give it back if we don’t like it. Or more importantly still use it with caveats.

    The internet lets you have your cake and eat it too.

    1. You’re right. Those are the only two options when presented with criticism! It’s only “uninformed condescension” or apathy. There is absolutely nothing in between. 

    2. In cases like this it may actually be better for a segment of Americans to not care. But who knows, maybe this will be the time that sending U.S. troops into a poor foreign land does some good……..

      1. Well in a world where we’re already bothering each other one way or another, its kinda pointless to try and stay out of anything anymore.

          1.  Luis,
            Then maybe you can tell us about how it’s usually such a success at just about anything but causing more death and flooding countries with more weapons.

    3.  There is caring because the Internet says you’re supposed to care, then there is caring because you truly understand and empathize with the plight of others. The problem here is simple: you have a group of mainly white Westerners who are barrelling into the middle of something they understand only peripherally, applying their personal concepts of “good v. evil” in a blanket fashion as Westerners have always done in every part of Africa, and trying to drive a narrative based on a dearth of hard or relevant facts.

      Uganda does not need white Western culture dictating to the rest of the world on their behalf, what is going on and what is wrong in the nation. Ugandans need our support, and that support can be obtained through dozens of agencies extant in Uganda now that do not have overriding agendas.

      I, myself, am more concerned with Uganda’s spate of attempts to criminalize homosexuality, but even there, I recognize that as a white Westerner, I can’t necessarily be lecturing the Ugandan people on what is proper and what isn’t; I can only come at this as an outsider should, with deference. This is just another area where the influence of white Western outsiders (Christian missionaries) has done more harm than good.

  2. In bringing the topic into the public sphere (or twitter sphere, or discussion space, or whathaveyou) it seems that the #stopkony campaign has done something of value. Perhaps too much attention is being paid to Invisible Children and how they depicted the issue. I hate to see an opportunity for dialog become quagmired in media critique. 

  3. I’m confused why “Africans” have any special insight into the issue. Ugandans, absolutely. But “Africans” in general? Isn’t that like asking the Danes to weigh in on child trafficking in Romania? They might have an opinion, but it has no special validity because they are both “European.” Am I missing something?

    1. Obvious troll is obvious. You’ll also note that 4 out of 7 of the writers listed are of Ugandan descent, or were born there, or have lived there.

      1. Wait, that was not trolling. I allowed that Ugandans have special insight, but I don’t know why an Ethiopian would. I don’t think that question is off base. 

        1. seemed like a legitimate question to me, if many of the authors were ugandan, or have lived in the area, it wasn’t particularly apparent as i read through the piece.

        2. I’ll assume you’re not trolling. I’m no expect on Africa by any means, but they (I’m generalizing here) share a tighter bond culturally than the divide between Europeans do. Of course, an expert on would probably point out that among the tens of thousands of cultures present, they all are very unique.

          From a broader perspective, though – Africans have typically shared many of the same political and economic experiences. They also tend to share linguistic roots (depending on where they are).

          They can present their views through a much similar worldview. Europeans on contrast, are very divided in their outlooks, culture and norms. Yet again, I’m generalizing – but I hope my response explains a bit.

          1. OK. Thanks. I actually disagree with a bunch of your premises, but as Xeni pointed out, there are a substantial number of Ugandan writers above, and that’s a more important point.

          2. “they share a tighter bond culturally than the divide between Europeans do.”…They do?
            Granted, with the different languages and cultures, it does look as though there are huge differences, cosmetically speaking at least. But mostly? They’re all first-world countries. They all have the same basic culture (consumer/Western/capitalistic culture). Their linguistic roots are very close, especially compared to African linguistic roots (European languages: One VERY dominating language family – Indo-European – plus Finno-Ugric and whatever the hell Euskara is. African languages: six language families.) There’s even something called the European Union (as well as the Council of Europe), which you may be aware of. I thought that, of all things, would indicate that we’re, um, you know, united. Relatively speaking.

            But back to our original subject, which would be Africa, which is a huge continent with, I am sure, huge cultural differences. (I’m saying “I am sure” because I’m not very well-versed in the subject, but that’s what I’ve managed to gather through what little I know of it, and also what would seem more reasonable given the sheer size of the place.) There is one common point, however. The reason those writers are qualified is because, as African people or people of African descent, they have a (relatively) first-hand experience of colonization. This is the common experience and the common point. Sure, Uganda and Ethiopia don’t have the came cultural background or history, but in both cases, at one point Europeans arrived, said “Well hello what’s this, oh, how uncivilised those people are, Let’s Show Them How It’s Done” and proceeded to fuck up those countries for the next five hundred years. (Yay, Europe.) Which is exactly what this campaign, however well-intentioned it may be, is doing.

          3. Clara Koenig :
            “There is one common point, however. The reason those writers are qualified is because, as African people or people of African descent, they have a (relatively) first-hand experience of colonization. This is the common experience and the common point.”
            – Yes. Also the point about the different language families in Africa, which are far more varied than in Europe.

            Also see the “R2P” doctrine :
            which presents similar qualities to this rather paternalistic and well-funded project (even though many who support it may have good intentions). There is almost invariably a second agenda on the part of those proposing aid or military intervention, and they will always feel justified in wanting to shape and control policy after the intervention as a sort of “repayment”. Caveat Emptor.

          4. to chicagod–

            Clara Koenig wrote (below, I guess), 

             The reason those writers are qualified is because, as African people or people of African descent, they have a (relatively) first-hand experience of colonization. This is the common experience and the common point. 


            There. Was that so hard?

            The subjugated have a similar perspective on, and insight into the common ways of, those who subjugate them.

          5. A few things:

            a) Africans do not necessarily have a more homogenous or shared culture than other continents. 

            b) having shared “culture” would not necessarily better arm you to understand the conflict.

            c) The conflict spreads across east and central Africa (Sudan, Congo, Uganda mostly).. but affects neighbouring countries nontehless

            d) Most of these voices are responding to the paternalistic attitude of global north (“western countries” for lack of better language), toward Africa generally. 
            That the conflict is happening in Northern Uganda specifically, does not weigh in on the larger problematic relationship between the west and Africa. WHich is the point most of these personalities are making

            But I agree, A ugandan is not equal to an Ethiopian, and its a shame that Africans are just lumped together.

        3. Legitimate question but they still share more of a common understanding and empathy because they have been through the history of the western world trying to do good and help while ignoring native voices. So their voices come from more experience than the voices of Americans who lived in one spot their entire life trying to make the world better by trying to solve problems the American way. To all the Americans who don’t want to listen to criticism from more experienced people, what makes you believe that your point is more valid? When I don’t know something and aware of my ignorance, I STFU and do research or care about the things I need to take care of.

      2. 4 out of 7? Let me count them for you, 

        1. Ugandan multimedia journalist 
        2. poet and musician of Ugandan descent 
        3. a journalist and researcher based in Kampala, Uganda 
        4. Ugandan-born co-founder of Project Diaspora 
        5. former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and director of the northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans 
        6. London-based Ida Horner “grew up in Idi Amin’s Uganda” 
        7. Kampala-based “Poet, Artist, and Computer Engineer” 
        8. Ugandan former child abductee 

        8 out of 13. Certainly, some of them aren’t professional writers but in spite of that they manage to have their own opinion. 
        And the others? 

        9. Ethiopian 
        10. Nigerian-American 
        11. Benin-born
        12. of Eritrean descent 
        13. Nigerian-American 14. Ghanaian 

        Among them an Ethiopian and an Eritrean, 2 people from neighbor regions that have passed through recent civil wars, guerrillas, intervention of foreign military forces or presence of foreign military advisors, intervention of Western-based humane campaigns. Too many points in common with the situation in Uganda to consider that their opinion doesn’t have any special validity.

      1. I just have to say that I’m on the fence about this ^^^.  I’m not denying the history of it all, but it wasn’t just white people reacting to this video and who want to help for the goodness of helping and not for any ulterior motives, which is the problem that I have with some of the reactions. I’d be lying if I said that I never rolled my eyes at “white people from the west intervening” BUT as an African American from the west, am I really in any position to be picking a side? I will be honest, though I have no way of tracing my roots for obvious reasons, there IS a part of me that feels connected to Africa (sadly the whole continent, regardless of the obvious cultural differences, because again, I cannot trace back that far). So hearing all of this makes me a little…well, sad.

        Second, seeing the campaign video for me was about remembering how important it is as global citizens to take care of each other, as “hippie dippy” as that may sound. And we can go back and forth about the politics of it all, and call me a delicate flower, but in its essence we really do need to remember to help each other, regardless of what “race” or background we are. I know that things are a lot more complicated than that, but sometimes I really do wish JUST FOR ONCE we really could see each other for who we are. Just once, without the divide. Maybe my “not having a connection to any side” has made me feel like I actually have a connection to EVERY side. If I knew my baby would have to deal with what Jacob went through, I would want my story shared with anyone who would listen. Not really sure what to make of all this, but I just wanted to bring that up.

        1. Thank you.  I’m not sure what to do with the feeling that I care about people, yes – especially children – in other parts of the world, when suddenly I’m getting the message that I am only allowed to care about people who share the same skin color that I have.  Otherwise I am being racist?  There were many people I know who shared the original Kony2012 video with a VARIETY of different skin colors.  What would the world be like if we could only show compassion to people that looked just like us?   
          My interest in Uganda and it’s history was sparked well before this campaign, and it was unrelated to Invisible Children entirely.  What struck me then, as it still does, is that we DO share a history with them in the US.  We’re just about 200 years ahead.  We were a land of people from a variety of different places and cultures mixed in with native tribes, who fought off British rule in order to establish our own government.  That government didn’t easily and magically come together with an angel chorus singing Hallelujah in the background.  We fought each other like crazy and erupted in Civil War roughly 80 years later.  We did a lot of horrible stuff to each other.  Our north and our south really felt like they had very little in common on many issues.  We had a growing orphan population with almost no system in place to care for them.  The one thing we DID have that Uganda doesn’t – a massive amount of “uncivilized” land to the west that we could expand into and exploit for massive profit.  We even shipped a lot of our orphans westward on trains…I didn’t look at Uganda like a country of helpless voiceless people.  I saw a people in the same place we were, working to rebuild while still working to frame a national identity and national structure beyond what was forced on them during a series of power grabs.  The Brits stepped in to Uganda around the time our Civil War was going on and hung out for about 100 years – Uganda has only been an independent nation since 1962!  And they have a wide array of tribes that were used to functioning in their own domains with their own cultural identities.  The aftermath of their struggle to get past their colonial period has been brutal for many reasons.  Am I really hearing that all of Uganda would be better off if anyone with white skin and a passport just left them alone?  That all foreign NGOs would do better to take a hike at this point?  Is it possible that the current government regime in Uganda would step in to the void, or that there wouldn’t actually even be a void at all?  These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’d like to hear if there is actually a case for this.  
          As for my historical comparisons, please don’t nitpick if possible – I know there are many other things that are NOT the same…  my point is we would do well to find common ground more often in this world.  Shared experience can come in many more forms than we seem to want to admit.

    2. Ethiopans share the experience of having what is typically ineffective (sometimes destructive) “White Man’s Burden” bearing aid sent their way.  They can relate on that level.  That being said, in the general sense I totally agree with your point.

      1. A comment critiquing the general use of the term ‘White Man’s Burden’, but not intending to attack the comment to which I am responding as you use it thoughtfully.

         I understand the premise, but I have to say that I’m not entirely sure that this whole ‘White Man’s Burden’ thing holds any water. Historically, okay, the colonialists were primarily white. And, given that many Europeans and (North) Americans are white, you naturally see a lot of white people taking action if you focus solely on Western interventions. But it seems to me that it is rather more a case of ‘rich peoples’ desire to help’ than ‘white “Men” [men & women] feel guilty, and so try to make it up to other people’. Granted, the ‘help’ is usually ill guided, uninformed and, at times, plain unhelpful.

        I note at this point, and before people come raging at me, that listening to the natives has to be the only way forward – and I don’t mean that the West should patronize other people by presuming that they are incapable of affecting change on their own. I simply mean that if help is to be given it should be in tight collaboration with natives and others who know about the specific situations being dealt with. On that note, I find the KONY 2012 campaign poorly orchestrated. 

        Anyway, before this becomes to tiresome I will return to my point: I see no need to stir up unnecessary animosity, create division, and entrench any division that might somewhere exist between the persevered ‘black’ and ‘white’ groups. As if all white people have one set of views and responsibilities and black people another! The premise is frankly ludicrous.

        A constructive discussion of the issues at hand, followed by informed action (internal or external) is far more important – hence your video and this comment page etc.

        P.S. I’m aware most people are using the term ‘White Man’s Burden’ as a useful label, rather like ‘global warming’, to describe a broad set of issues. It just so happens that this label is rather divisive. It is, therefore, relatively unhelpful; especially when trying to solve, not cause, problems. It is also effectively antiquated (and here I bear no insult to the original poem, but note that it related to full blown Imperialism and Colonialism rather than some fluffy notion that all white Westerners have a deep seated guilt for what some their distant ancestors did).

        Okay, I’ll shut up – I hope readers (if any) take this comment in its true spirit.

        1. I like your politeness, and your concerns about racism in vocabulary/labels/divisiveness! Always nice to see.

          A note – as I have always understood it, “White Man’s Burden” doesn’t apply to white Westerners’ guilt for their ancestors’ injustices. It refers to the idea that civilized white colonists/imperialists have the duty to step in and solve the problems of black/third-world/underdeveloped nations. Same idea as one (racist) argument for slavery back in the 18th/19th century – blacks are inferior to whites and as such it is the whites’ duty and burden to “protect” and dominate them.

          The whole protecting and solving problems thing sounds great, but the idea is crawling with racism, superiority, and white privilege. That’s the problem I and many others have with KONY 2012 – it’s a great goal, to get rid of Joseph Kony, but it’s not as simple as “hey, let’s tell all the Americans about this and then we can tell our government and then we’ll go solve a crisis  like that *snap* because we’re white and therefore super powerful and stuff, and the black Ugandans would never be able to do it alone, they obviously need us to ride in on horses in suits of armor to save them.”

          Also, as activist Solome Lemma writes in the article above, “[It] paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or
          power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate
          them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering.” The idea is that because we’re Americans and they’re Africans, anything we do will be magnificent and work perfectly whereas they are incapable of speaking for themselves.

          No, that’s not the main thrust of the movement, but it is a very powerful subtext. I don’t think it’s intentional racism, and I’m sure Invisible Children really does have Africans’ best interests at heart, but as shown in this article, they are looking from an outsider’s perspective without enough info.

          Ugandans say that the most help they need is with rebuilding, and organizations (including Invisible Children) are helping with that, building schools & such. The video KONY 2012 uses old footage to make it look like Uganda needs help getting rid of Kony – that’s no longer the case. Other areas are now being attacked by Kony – Uganda hasn’t seen his LRA since 2005 (I believe) but KONY 2012 ignores that success, preferring to cast Ugandans as weak, defenseless, and besieged, and in need of immediate white/American/Western/privileged intervention.

          And this post kind of turned into a rant/ramble about racism, privilege, and all those good things, but…yeah. :3

          1. Quick comment on White Man’s Burden: it comes from a poem by Kipling:

             “Take up the White man’s burden, send forth the best ye breed
               Go send your sons to exile to serve your captives’ need”

            It refers to the fact that maintaining an empire is massively costly in human capital terms and rarely pays for itself. Think of all the talented and productive Americans who could be contributing to the US economy but instead are working away to try and mediate between various Afghan tribes. Also, you said in your post that Kony2012 casts Uganda as weak and defenceless; it’s not Kony2012 who have done that but the Ugandan government who use the Kony bogeyman to extract military aid from the West. 

            Just as assuming that Africans need help from the West is patronising, so is assuming that they are incapable of clever diplomacy and might have the capacity for agency and dishonesty

          2. Actually, although Michael (below) is correct about the origin of the expression, his interpretation of it is inaccurate. ‘White man’s burden’ is a reference to the ‘burden’ of civilised (i.e. white) men to ‘help’ the ‘savages’ of the world: to bring civilisation (religion, technology, socioeconomic systems, etc) to the uncivilised parts of the world. According to the historian David Cody: the view, common in Kipling’s formative years, that the rich have a moral duty and obligation to help “the poor” “better” themselves whether the poor want the help or not. It was used in all seriousness back in the day. Although Kipling may have written the poem as a satire, it is widely believed (and his other works suggest) that he supported such ideas. 

          3. It was competitive empire building among the European powers and the scramble for Africa which was a drain on resources and did much to make the British Empire ultimately ungovernable and which has made it so difficult for us to extricate ourselves. We were never so much concerned with Africa than European balance of power politics. The same does not quite seem to be true of India, for instance, where economic and cultural interests were apparent from the beginning.

    3. Yes you are. The rest of the world likes to paint Africa as a Country and not a continent. That’s evident in the quotes above. There are so many variables at hand here on what we can argue about. This article is not saying, don’t help. It’s saying, change your view on Africa, because the poorly made documentary is perpetuating a negative stigma.

    4. I think its been covered but to reiterate it for you: look at the likely historical narrative and economic conditions that African countries have experienced their past and present place in the world through.  The Africans have been divided up in the scramble for Africa by a few European colonial powers, gained independence at roughly the same time and suffered from the consequences of their colonial legacy (lop-sided exploitation/ export development, under development in education, lack of diversity in economics and random borders).  We then saw their fates being chopped and changed through different development strategies from the West.  

      Education on the -wider than local- world was introduced by Europeans, it then went through the difficult transition of  adopting home grown postcolonial ideas and departing with the European narratives.  These writers have shared such experiences and are now writing to world audiences about a movie that deals with the consequences of this background, all with a shared experience coming from such background.  

      Look at the similarities between Denmark and Romania’s history in the last 100 years, very little.  A better comparison would be Bulgarians commenting on a movie dealing with issues which are a consequence of  post-soviet power structures in Romania (perhaps human trafficking).  Although there are many historical differences, and one speaks a Slavic language whilst the other speaks Latin,  I would consider a Bulgarian writer to be better qualified to understand the nuances in a transition from Soviet satellite state to EU member state, than somebody from say Thailand or Mexico.  Thats a better metaphor of what we have here!

    5. I’m confused why Americans have any special insight into the issue. Ugandans, absolutely. But Americans?  They might have an opinion, but it has no special validity because we’re not even on the same continent. Am I missing something?

  4. The simplicity of the ‘good versus evil,’ where good is inevitably white/western and bad is black or African, is also reminiscent of some of the worst excesses of the colonial era interventions.

    Yes, that’s clearly the point of the campaign — that black people are bad and white people are good. I’m glad we have authentic African voices to provide such piercing insight.


    1.  Very confusing.  I wonder, how do they think Barack Obama fits into this simplistic Narrative?

      1. President Obama is too busy drone murdering dark skinned women and children in Somalia and across all of Asia(from Yemen to The Philippines) to fit into this narrative. We know how well the good intentions of US intervention works out. Mass Murder, Occupation, and Corrupt tyrants protected by US power that torture and destroy the wealth and rights of the people(eg. Haiti, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan). I can understand Africans not wanting a Gov’t(The United States) that practices aggressive war, torture, and extra-judicial drone strike executions(all War Crimes according to International Law) to intervene.

        These well meaning activists would better serve the world and stop the death of civilians(especially children) by starting a #STOPDRONEY2012 movement. 

        No offense to anyone, just a thought. Nobody kills like the US war machine—And its economic sanctions create famine. Torture blocks in Somalia, etc.

        Kony is a Minnow of menace compared to the Leviathan of Mass Murder and War Crime the US practices across a few continents.

        1.  So you think everyone should stop advocating  for humanitarian missions until have effectively stopped all imperial missions?  Why can’t we do both?

          1. Humanitarian Missions pushed by US NGO’s have always been corrupt. “Humanitarian Missions” are the good cop version of “Imperial Missions”. To separate them is foolish. The right hand serves the left. Most US imperial missions in the past half century began as “humanitarian missions”. All of them have led to an escalation of death and violence. (SE Asia, Indonesia, Iraq, Serbia-Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Haiti, etc)

            The West is not capable of intervening without violence and corruption(exploitation).

            Presently NGO’s support GMO seeds(fronting for Monsanto) and ineffective Malaria vaccines(fronting for Glaxo Smith Kline) in Africa and Asia. 

            Neither have done the world any good. Monsanto’s drive to end hunger in India with GMO seeds created an epidemic of suicides among farmers, political corruption, and scarcity leading to higher food prices.
            The Malaria Vaccine pushed by Glaxo Smith Kline(under Gates’ Organization) has been disastrously ineffective in Sub Saharan Africa.

            This is nothing new. US NGO’s led a movement in South America to push powdered milk for a US corp in an effort “to liberate women from breast feeding” in the 50’s and 60’s. Thousands of infants died of dysentery. There’s often very little humanity in pushing causes called “humanitarian”. 

            There are many books out about how US NGO’s and USAID humanitarian missions are disastrously ineffective by design. Look ’em up.

            Yes, the world would be better off if the US did neither. 

            Perhaps if bien pensant activists looked at their own nation, the US, and its record incarceration rate, poverty rate among children, wealth inequality, and growing malnutrition, they’d find humanitarian causes at home. Put down the telescope(yes, alluding to Dickens’ parody of activists ignoring plight at home to solve it afar) and help those you trip over or drive past daily.

          2. crooked crooked “Funny how western “humanitarian” always involves some sort of violence.”The war criminals start parking illegally I suppose we can issue tickets.  How do you recomend we stop genocide, rape, and slaughter?  A strongly worded blog comment?

          3. @boingboing-515e54370d38b4af21bf08cff544d25e:disqus 
            No, you don’t solve conflicts with blog postings. Sarcasm is really not necessary for such a serious issue.

            You solve conflict by asking the local experts, military professionals, academics, community members, NGO workers etc etc etc.., Because they are in the best place to know. 

            You don’t elect yourself to decide for them and then force a military intervention on your terms.

            There are solutions between blogging and deciding to invade.

  5. He really should have considered that privileged people might completely get defensive and huffy about some pretty glaringly obvious narratives.  Very inconsiderate of him.

  6. I was just driving down the highway and saw a fellow with a giant “” thing painted on his entire back window.  Having just heard about this meme this morning, it was a little strange.

  7. I think I will be trusting  Jacob on this one.   This filmmaker is trying a model of advocacy similar to the Stop SOPA campaign  to move attention and political forces to address a complicated issue.  The approach requires  a focused agenda and a clear call to action. These critique that he presents too narrow a view is crap.  Its like asking  him not to help.  Sure the guy is not from Uganda  but he is from the USA.  And US Citizens were his primary audience.

    1.  All of that would be fine if he’d used this ‘model of advocacy’ to get people thinking, researching and generally investing time in understanding the corruption and ongoing trouble in Uganda, instead of working people into a bloodthirsty forth in order to help sustain his £90k salary.

      1.  If the ask on SOPA would have been “thinking, researching and generally investing time in understanding the corruption and ongoing trouble”… in IP policy.  SOPA would now be law.   And there are a ton of people making 90k+ salaries fighting that issue.

  8. I have to admit all the young white kids in the video made me a little embarrassed. I mean, why is it always a bunch of white middle-class college kids that become outraged by injustices in the world? Do they only recruit at UC San Diego? Are they afraid to go into “sketchy” neighborhoods to recruit working-class people of color?

    I’m just saying.Then, remembering the Three Cups of Tea scandal… well, call me skeptical. Still, it’s an awful thing, I donated some money.Whatever the video and Invisible Children’s flaws, it’s impossible to be against the cause itself.

  9. most of the african writers’ comments and hate of IC seems to stem from the fact that its an american corporation. i find that a bit weird. who cares where people are from if they want to help?

    1.  Because whites have tried to “help” people in Africa centuries now, first by colonizing them, then carving up the continent based on arbitrary lines that the colonialists drew up themselves, and lastly imposing the liberal nation state on ethnic and social groups that have never developed any concept of political liberalism on their own. Today the white man’s burden has shifted towards keeping Africa a dependent economy (underdeveloped, mainly exporter of raw materials) rather than leaving African nations alone and letting them set tariffs and economic policies for themselves.

  10. Red flags go up all around this campaign when you realize the potential wealth of oil that exists in Uganda. When the Americans establish a significant military presence in Uganda, the bleeding hearts will say, “Stop! We don’t belong there! This isn’t about liberation anymore, this is about oil!” And all the government will say is, “you asked for this!” And sadly, they will be right.

    1. Yeah, like ALL that CHEAP oil we got from Iraq, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying $0.99/gallon gas where I live. *eyeroll*

      Seriously, I cannot believe people are still thinking we went to war with Iraq for oil. Why aren’t these hipsters talking about how we could actually be in Afghanistan because we want dibs on the rich lithium resources THEY have, which we could be using to lower the price of iPads and electric cars? We should be so lucky to have even gotten a few drops for our troubles in rebuilding that hellhole called Iraq and introducing them to the novelty of actually overthrowing a murderous dictator and replacing him with an elected government. 

      No, instead, we set up a free market auction for the oil rights and billionaire Russian oligarchs (or is that OILigarchs?) bought them right out from under everyone else. Brilliant!

      1. “Yeah, like ALL that CHEAP oil we got from Iraq, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying $0.99/gallon gas where I live. *eyeroll*”

        A bit off-topic, but I find these complaints about gas prices hilarious. I live in an european country where gas costs about $8.25/gallon. Admittedly it’s quite heavily taxed, but even without taxes it’s several dollars/gallon.

        1. But we’re American. Don’t you understand that we’re entitled to have literally no understanding of how the global market works, especially with regards to oil, and blame our President for the oil prices regardless of what is happening in the rest of the world to effect the market?

          Gah, why are you being such a socialist hippie liberal pig?

      2. It’s well documented that Britain and the US gas been exploiting the middle east for oil for over a century. Spend some time on BPs wikipedia entry, it may enlighten you.

        Also, it wasn’t for cheap oil, but simply oil. It’s about control and managing the supply – and any savings wouldn’t be going to you, FYI.

      3. Also $.99 per gallon is VERY cheap. In the uk you’re looking at around $2 p/g. If that makes you feel any better about the war machine.

        Get a global perspective.

        1. Global perspective, got that. If you had a global perspective of your own, it would be painfully obvious that I was being sarcastic. Gas here is over $4.00/gal and rising. In California it’s over $5/gal and rising.

  11. Joseph Kony is a murderer and the narrative can be discussed at his trial. He targets children, people who can be described as “lacking agency, voice, will, or power”. It is right and just for uninvolved parties to speak up and interfere when the victims are children. You might not like the invisible children but just remember that time you were at the Laundromat and you saw that parent telling their kid to shut up or hitting them. Did you get involved? Were you ashamed if you didn’t? Find the pictures of the people who have been mutilated by the LRA. Re-watch the video of the girl who was mutilated by the LRA and responded to Rush Limbaugh’s support of them. Standing up for children is a no brainer. Critics can show how clever they are by a proper demonstration of how to arrest Joseph Kony.

    1. Gavin, just for clarification, Evelyn Apoko (who did such a beautiful job standing up to Limbaugh) was actually wounded by the Ugandan Army during military attacks on the LRA. Yes, she was there because she was abducted by the LRA – but the shrapnel that caught her in the face was provided by the Ugandan military budget (which I believe at the time was funded in part by US foreign aid). Evelyn does want to see Kony brought to justice but she is extremely concerned that the approach is too broad -rather than surgical – and will result in many more abducted children dying or being wounded in the zeal to “get Kony.” There ismoney in the N Uganda Act for the military advisors – but the actual military action is being carried out by the Ugandan and regional forces – not known for their skills of discernment between an abducted child and a rebel fighter. It’s complicated – and granted, just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted. We’re happy there’s dialogue on it.

      1. I am not sure what you mean. Am I not thinking? Did I do the math wrong? Where did my mentality go wrong? What can I do to help my thinking? Should I feed it a different food? Is it not getting enough contrarianism in it’s diet?

      2. Clearly, “Screw the children!!!” could potentially have a similar end result.  Is there perhaps something related to children that IS worth thinking?  Or are we really doing the human race a disservice considering children at all?

  12. I find it amusing how people get so offended that a lot of these writers are saying they don’t want the west’s help. “I’m offended because I think that because I care I should be able to help, and you shouldn’t begrudge MY unselfish and completely altruistic intentions.” Yeah, great way to prove their point that you’re trying to make it all about you.

    If we in the west really want to help we need to start telling our governments to stop funding dictators and keep our hands out of Africa’s business when they don’t want us there. It is not our responsibility to fix their problems. 

    Africa is still feeling the sting of colonialism and the subsequent withdrawal of colonial countries leaving a complete mess in the wake. It’s time that they get the chance to stand on their own without colonial guilt (or superiority) stomping all over and getting in the way. It is quite possible that people may die in the process, but that is not your burden to carry, it is theirs. The deaths that happened in their country are their burden. It’s up to them to right the wrongs. 

    This does not mean you shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on or that you shouldn’t care. Be aware, be knowledgeable, but think twice before jumping on bandwagons painted in rainbows.
    Don’t force your help onto people if they don’t want it. If you absolutely must donate search the internet thoroughly or ask an African blogger or writer what programs are actually helping. If they scoff at you, be gracious and go donate to a charity that helps an issue in your own country. 

    1. I dunno. I feel like the massacres in Rwanda rose to a level of humanity’s problem. It seems bizarre to me to say that because the Brits, French, Portuguese, and Belgians colonized Africa it’s better to let people massacre each other than not. It just seems as if this would be treating Africa different from anywhere else on the Earth. It’s as if there’s a double penalty for being former colonies.

      1. I am not against stopping massacres. I suppose my sentences about the deaths in their country being their responsibility was too harsh. However I didn’t mean to imply that just because they were colonies we should ignore what’s going on and leave them to it.  My explanation about them being former colonies should have been clarified that because of that history they have every right to be cautious and wary when western countries suddenly have an interest in helping them. (Really how many countries on earth HAVEN’T been invaded or colonized at some point or another by European empires?)

        The U.S. didn’t get directly involved during the Rwanda massacre, and we were nowhere to be found when Kony was really at his worst. Where were we when the Kurds were being massacred by Saddam? What about Darfur, Sri-Lanka, Cambodia? The U.S. didn’t really step into WWII when the holocaust was going on until after Japan attacked (then we did our own massacre with the bomb). I’d say we’ve done a good job at ignoring the world’s genocides until it’s convenient for us. I think it’s great there is more awareness about this, but we have to proceed with respect to the people actually affected. 

        Right now Uganda is rebuilding. The LRA has not been active there for years. Yes, they are still active elsewhere but as Angelo says in his article above, Uganda has 4000 soldiers out looking for Kony with relative success. (It took the U.S. how many years and how much money to find bin Laden?) They are not the only ones in the area looking either. However looking for Kony is dangerous. An estimated 900 died during the 2008 Christmas Massacre when he retaliated. It is not an issue to be taken lightly, and the video made by Invisible Children doesn’t mention it. 

        U.S. soldiers have been in Uganda advising for a while now. How much their advice has helped, hindered, or been heeded I don’t know.  However the U.S. doesn’t have a great track record of helping other countries. Civilian casualties are considered unfortunate but part of the deal, and we’ve backed some really shady characters (Iran’s Shah, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan vs. the Russians, Mubarak, etc.)
        My point remains that if they don’t want us to help, we should not force our help onto them. I’d say they would have perfectly legitimate reasons and concerns for turning us down.

        1.  See, problem is the kid who saw his  brother murdered wants help, the writers, professors, and artists many of whom seem to live elsewhere don’t.

          I think this narrative of altruism being the product of arrogance and self absorption is pretty fucking arrogant.

          Begs the question, no?

          1. ” How many days have you and Abigale been involved and how many years have the Ugandans you so quickly dismiss?”

            I am not involved, don’t know Abby, and wasn’t trying to dismiss “Ugandans” just trying to weigh differing opinions from  Ugandans

        2. Rwanda was because of Belgium’s racial policies. The meddling began in the colonial era by making the Tutsis out to be superior to the Hutus, claiming they migrated from the North and training them as their colonial gendarme. To the Hutus, this meant that the Tutsis were invaders. Didn’t take much else to light a match once the divide and rule tactics became culturally embedded.

    2. Yeah, great way to prove their point that you’re trying to make it all about you.

      There’s a bit of a foofaraw in the UK right now about financial aid to India.  India has said that they don’t need it, thank you.  But it was part of the PR/platform of some UK parties and politicians, so they won’t stop sending it because it would make them look bad to admit that they put a fat, unnecessary item in an already strained budget.  When you’re proven wrong, defend your position with increased vigor!

      1. Paul Ryan said old people don’t need medicare, but them idiots at the federal government keep on sending it. In fact some stupid Democrats keep defending their position with increased Vigor!

          1.  Yeah, Just showing you can make the exact same argument for the most successful programs in the history of the US federal government.  And the fact that Paul Ryan is an American doesn’t make him right.

        1. Except that’s America Helping themselves and defending their position to help themselves INTERNALLY, instead of doing ridiculous things that have no affect on themselves whatsoever.

      2. A lot of it is a subsidy for British companies. It gets them contracts when aid is thrown in the mix to grease the wheels. Basically, most Western aid is used as leverage to get projects from Southern countries.

  13. I guess I’m one of those “Facebook idiots” that happens to care about this cause—and no, I’m not from African-descent—does it matter??  If people want to help in whatever way they can, whatever their socio-economic status is, or their skin color, or where they’re from….really?  Who cares??  I hate when people complain for the simple purpose of complaining….and because they can.  *shaking my head*

    1. and no, I’m not from African-descent—does it matter?? 

      Yes. Yes, it does. 

      Now, go back up-post, read some things about people like you from various experienced, informed African perspectives, and in the process, learn about yourself–learn about what being of non-African descent does to your perspective on such things.

      1. I don’t buy it. People making a political point about Africans helping Africans are making that point on the backs of the people being murdered and terrorized. It’s all well and good for experienced and informed Africans to give their perspectives, but what good does that do the kid who gets mutilated after the West could have stopped it.

        Africa is such a basket case that there is plenty Africans can do to help Africa while someone else intervenes on an issue like this.

        1. Informed, responsible Westerners who are prepared to listen to and cooperate with local organisations, and have developed a good sense of judgment about when to push a priority – yeah, they can help.

          Kids running over their with notions of fighting evil villains and saving mutilated children are far more likely to screw things up further.

          1. “Kids running over their with notions of fighting evil villains and saving mutilated children are far more likely to screw things up further.” 
             While this may be true, those at the helm of Invisible Children are far from “kids”. The young gentleman whose idea it was to try to help stop Kony (key words ‘try’ and ‘help’) got the idea while on a trip to Uganda.
             He experienced firsthand how children’s lives were being ruined. He has said that he understands that the issue is complicated, but that the idea is to get the word out, so whoever has the authority CAN get to Kony to oust him. So trivializing the efforts of the IC  is, while unabashedly honest criticism, does little for the issue at hand. It may be helpful to view both sides of this argument (which may include viewing IC’s videos) before condemning the group as  renewed colonialism. At the end of the day, they’re trying to raise awareness regarding what has happened. and the fact that we’re talking about it now is proof that that goal has come to (somewhat) fruition. 
            And if they aren’t the right people for the job, then inform those around you where they can go to help instead of wasting energy condemning one group. Not you personally, but those heavy critics of IC.

    2. It’s not complaining for complaining’s sake. It’s complaining because a lot of people are jumping on a bandwagon which they’ll forget about in two weeks, pumping money into a conceited organisation (until yesterday, their website proclaimed: “We are storytellers. We are visionaries, humanitarians, artists, and entrepreneurs”) that fails to give the full and frank picture, and perpetuates a harmful myth.

      Some forms of ‘helping’ are not helping. They’re doing the opposite. If you really, really care, you should have a serious think and do a lot of reading before advocating a simplistic ‘get this guy’ campaign.
      And no, click on the link – the Facebook idiots really are idiots. Unless you called Joseph Kony a n****r, they’re not talking about you.

    3. If people want to help in whatever way they can…

      Not all forms of help are necessarily helpful.

  14. Children that are kidnapped in the middle of the night and then forced into violence don’t have much of a voice….so how are they supposed to ask for help?  And it isn’t as though Kony just started doing this a year ago….he’s been at it for two freakin’ decades!!  I would say that yes, the Ugandan people do need help in getting rid of this guy.  

    1. Did you not listen to the woman in the video or read what the other Africans said? They already got rid of him. They don’t want our training wheels forced on them. I know a lot of people want to be heroes. How about cleaning up our own messes here  in America first?

      1. Did you read the comment from Lana Idris, who is also from Africa, where she disagreed with the woman in the video? You can’t base your entire cynical viewpoint on one person’s stance…from Africa or elsewhere. If you took the government out of it…would you be against human beings getting involved. Human beings reaching out to help another human being???? Because that’s what I got from the Kony video…that we need to shed ourselves of labels…and be decent, caring HUMAN BEINGS and do something to stop cruelty. Anywhere. Everywhere. How can you say you don’t want anyone to get involved with this? That is cynicism at it’s worst…

        1. I heard you call my point of view cynical and at first I was surprised. So looking at it from your point of view: I see how you could assume all foreign interference is helpful, thus making me cynical about people helping people. From your perspective, people with good intentions always do good or at least in this case did more good than harm?

          So I’ll be more clear. Sometimes, yes, it is better to help. Sometimes it is not. When I see and hear the words of all the Africans speaking here, in this article, I see more of them asking to be left alone. I want the person in trouble to have more choice in the matter. I want them to be the judge of whether to accept help or not.

          I see it like a parent watching his daughter struggling with a puzzle and as a caring parent I’m eager to help but I stop myself and think, “She is learning a valuable lesson so I shall not interfere.” But yes, this is bigger. This is people murdering and kidnapping (or was because apparently, that was many years ago and the guy is gone now). Yet the same principle (for me) applies. “Hey do you guys want our help?” “No. We are afraid you will ‘help’ us like you ‘helped’ SE Asia, Indoneisa, Iraq, Serbia-Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Haiti.” and a bonus is people get to stand on their own. Please acknowledge there is at least some value in respecting the wishes of those you wish to help before helping. IMHO, unless you are dealing with an infant, the helpee’s desire should trump that of the helper as a general rule. Otherwise, any person can, under the guise of ‘help’, do anything they want to anyone else. So no, I’m not cynical; I’m standing up for the freedom of a people to say no to invaders.

  15. I’m from Africa and I inherently disagree with what she just said. You have to simplify the video to facilitate the efforts monetarily or you would never get the problem advocacy. Invisible Children is not trying to create agency, it’s trying to help Africans to combat the problem…What I have a problem with is the Africans who think that any western actions is an action of supremacy. We in Africa do not have all the resources to put us on our feet, we do not ask for direction we ask for facilitation…..that’s what Invisible Inc is all about …they had to sensationalize the video to get the message out. What she fails to realize and failed to do is to look at the real objectives…..unfortunately if you want people to get a glimpse or get them hooked you have to sensationalize it or it will never be heard
    Laslty, I don’t understand how someone from Ethiopia who has never experienced or dealt with the LRA is more equipped than a westerner to speak or create agency for someone in Uganda?
    It is time for Africans to realize that yes there was a time of white supremacy and yes it still exists but not every action take by the west is one of patronization.

    1. “it’s trying to help Africans to combat the problem”

      No, it’s not. That’s not what “raising awareness” does.

  16. Whats the real cause, is America starting another conflict,disguised in some form,? Is it about drugs,minerals,oil,or whatever?…already too many questions  !!

  17. It’s an over-simplistic campaign, but look at the cause and effect. The film asks Americans (young, not all white and guilt-ridden either) to pressure Congress for more funding for advisors to help Ugandan military personnel find Kony. These kids aren’t saying “Fix Africa”, their responding viscerally to a horrible crime that frankly should have been in the news more ten years ago and pressuring the US Congress and leadership to help solve the issue (and other people in other countries as part of a global effort). And, they’re doing it through social media and turning up the heat. Now, many more people knows who Kony is.

    And the campaign itself is brilliant, look at us all — people from around the world –talking about it and Kony. Beyond the policy, this is amazing: a very focused message and clear goal, sense of urgency, simple action, well-planned desired result, visceral, emotional… I’ll stop here.

    1. Yeah it’s beautiful. I love the huge affect people can have. I also fear America’s government will go in and “fix” Uganda like we fixed so many other countries :-( I’m sad that people are either not watching the video at the beginning of this article or choosing to tune out the young African woman pleading for people to let them solve their own problems. I’m *not* against people freely giving nor people drumming up interest. I’m against our government getting involved.

        1. I don’t think there is a “should” applying to anyone not living there. I believe there are some “should not’s” such as “interfere only if and when expressly asked and if you can afford to.” I don’t know what country you live in but mine is past broke. So it’s not so pragmatic for Americans to focus on “problems” so far away when we have so many right here in our own yard that we are struggling to deal with. Again, my “should not” does not prevent any person or organization from voluntarily *offering* their help and hopefully, withdrawing if the help is not desired.

    2. By the logic of “look at the cause and effect”, 9/11 was awesome, seeing as it brought everyone together to support carpetbombing Iraqistan back into the primordial soup.

  18. I can tell you what I saw when I watched the video….children being hurt horribly. That makes me mad no matter where or who they are. I want to do something to help!!!

  19. How do folks feel about Museveni and the Kill the Gays bills in the Ugandan Parliament? Is it OK to work with them to get Kony? What about the gay activists who have given their lives opposing the Kill the Gays bills?

  20. Not missing the major point of this post, but I’m just interested in the mention that ‘there are indications Invisible Children may be stealth-evangelising Christianity’ – I followed the links and read all I could but couldn’t see any evidence to support this whatsoever. Frankly I’d be surprised if I did because many Christians I know (myself included) would not support this charity because of their support of military intervention. The issue is complex enough as it is, do we really need to throw in unfounded comments like this to the mix as well, or is it easy to do so with an anti-Christian bias already?

    1. right. and not all Christians think the same. Unfortunately, there are some of us who would love nothing more than to go to Uganda, just to “act” as the hero, and get something out of it.  One cannot blame religion for what is human nature.

  21. Easy for academics to be naysayers from the comfort and security of their cushy offices. Its been so many years and obviously the local forces lack the capability to end the war – and the longer it drags on, the more atrocities are committed . True, they may eventually end it, but how long and at what cost? What is the point of putting down an initiative that has a potential to speed up the end? Is doing nothing better? 

    About the message being simplistic – I do not think that the founders are so naive. They are simply being savvy. If a campaign is going to catch on internationally with the fickle attention span of viewers these days, a message has to be direct, impactful, dramatic. Its just like advertising – people need to remember it and share it. It doesn’t matter if the majority has that simplistic understanding – their voices will clamor for recognition and be recognised – and this recognition, funds, whatever,  will be channeled by those who know what they are doing and understand the bigger picture. 

    1. It has been suggested by more than one Africa expert that Museveni has deliberately not wiped out the LRA because he needs a boogeyman to keep the North in line and to continue the arms flow to his government. This has been said by none other than Stephen Lewis, much respected UN special envoy on AIDS in Africa. 

  22. I mean, I might be way wrong, but I think I’m glad that people are having some kind of conversation and I’m happy about how much of what I hear is very pointed and critical.
    I do wish that the author of that article didn’t so manipulate de-contextualize the words of the people it was quoting. I don’t see how that’s any different from the KONY2012 video.

  23. Kony is an excuse to put American military at the disposal of Odinga and company while Obama tries to execute the EU model in Africa.  Qadafi is gone, as are most of the other African leaders that could have done anything about it.  Once they can pipe in enough facebook, twitter and youtube…everything else will take care of itself!

  24. I don’t get why I am not allowed to care or have a voice on the matter because I’m white. I think people need to stop looking at this as though it were a race issue and get down to what’s really the issue here. Kony is a bastard, it doesn’t matter where or what he’s doing now. Also no one, and I mean NO ONE, brought it up in this light when Japan got hit with disaster. I think the real issue with racism is seeing a situation involving black and white people, and on the basis of skin tone alone is calling it racist. That’s discriminating the situation as a whole, as well as avoiding the actual center of discussion. Get over yourselves people, you only perpetuate racism by pretending it’s just an issue of black and white. Do what you can, say what you can. It shouldn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. Being human and caring about fellow humans is not a bad thing. 

    1. I think you’re mixing two things up here. No one says you’re not allowed to care, but unless you are African you are not the major stake holder here. And “caring” only goes so far. To accuse Africans of racism because they are scrutinizing the Invisible Children org and finding it very problematic, is nonsensical. Why? Because it’s THEIR continent, and they know better than we do what’s going on there, whether this campaign is credible, whether it is helpful or not, and most importantly, what their priorities are in their communities. And listening to African voices is crucially important. It’s far more important than western voices on this specific IC issue. Not because of racism, but because it is not our country being highlighted in a viral video. It’s NOT about everyone getting an equal say about justice in Uganda, That’s not the issue here at all! African critics say the American NGO is spreading misinformation, simplifying the complexity of the local situation, then arrogantly prescribing the cure in a neo-colonial manner and spreading their now viral video campaign to an ignorant global audience. That criticism is completely reasonable.

      But the main reason their voices are more important to be heard than ours on this particular campaign – is because it’s not about you, and your feelings (aren’t I allowed to care?) it’s about the complexity of issues facing Africans in their own countries and the fact that the west has a history of colonialism and intervention and westerners apparently knowing what’s best for them. Don’t complain as if you are some kind of victim here! And neither do African people wish to be cast as victims! And if you want to help, listen to African voices, network, research and find credible UGANDAN NGOs working on the ground. And definitely use discernment before swallowing the message coming from a highly suspicious American NGO advocating armed intervention into Uganda to grab one guy who’s not there anyway, neither is he the only one. A big issue in African countries like Uganda is CONFLICT PREVENTION.

      Lastly, do you think that asserting you ‘right’ to care whilst not taking action is meaningful to African peoples?

  25. I read that #KONY2012 is just a ploy for the US to get into Uganda, so they can control the newly found and massive oil reserve.

    I’m not saying I believe this, as it is more then likely a coincidence

    1. As far as I have seen, the US government only ever does something for another country if it benefits them…so I wouldn’t really be surprised…

  26. source: 
    Re: Perpetuating the “White Man’s Burden” and the Savior Complex”Invisible Children’s programs in Uganda, DR Congo, and Central African Republic are implemented with continuous input from, and in respect of the knowledge and experience of, local communities and their leaders. In Uganda, we learned very quickly that a top-down, Western approach was not the answer, and that local solutions were needed to fill critical humanitarian gaps. It is for this reason that over 95% of IC’s leadership and staff on the ground are Ugandans on the forefront of program design and implementation. In DR Congo, Invisible Children works with the Commission diocesaine justice et paix (CDJP), supporting projects that have been identified as priorities by local partners and that are responsive to local realities and needs. Invisible Children staff members in project areas consistently strive to ensure that they build the capacity of local partners and do not take on duties where local partners can more responsibly and effectively carry these out; the organization meticulously monitors and evaluates the impact of its work on the ground, partnering with Princeton in Africa and employing qualified Monitoring & Evaluation professionals.”

  27. Please watch the video. It’s obvious that many people who have written comments, have not. And yes, I made the stupid mistake of READING the comments. The intelligent young woman, at the heart of her message states clearly that yes, Koni is a horrible person that needs to be brought to justice and there are measures doing so. She also states that there are organisations in Uganda that are doing what Invisible Children are claiming to do (and probably without the accusations of corrupt fundraising). She also talks about the “celebritisation” of African issues; from Oprah to Angelina to Madonna- open up a school, adopt a child and your problems are solved.
    And those asking, what if I care and I am a privileged white American? Let’s bring it closer to home. What would happen if Paris Hilton did the same in an East LA gang neighborhood?  Personally, I would love to see these “NGO’s” and I use the term loosely, to raise awareness of problems in the US. Particularly, the war on drugs. Did you know many Mexican families are affected by the war on drugs? Many of those families risk their lives to cross the border? Where’s the help for them? No, I’m not American. How do you feel about that? Do you like outsiders who read a few articles on a subject and then act like an expert on the subject.

  28. I appreciate this blog post, it gave me another perspective. It’s true that in the west we can have this whole ‘we shall save the poor Africans who can do nothing for themselves’. We can think of ourselves as the superheroes ‘saving the day’, and many should be given a slap across the head and be shown that the way they portray all African countries as helpless and powerless is really another form of racism. You’re right, we should not be underestimating the ability to know how they should deal with their own problems. But regardless of how the ‘InvisableChildren’ video was, if you take away the heroism thing there is still the fact that  there is an evil man abducting and forcing children to take guns and kill people for no good reason.  Despite all the efforts of the local authorities and all the peace talks (which can only have been broken by Kony himself as I assume the authorities didn’t stop them) this man hasn’t been stopped. So what are you suggesting, that we back off and decide that it’s ok to know that children are living in fear and are being raped and beaten while we do absolutely nothing? For me this has nothing to do with the geography of where it’s happening, it’s that it’s happening at all. It is wrong and It is ok for me to want to do something about it, maybe the west are going about this the wrong way, but this is when the counties affected by Kony need to speak up themselves and tell us how to help and how it is more complicated , I don’t see anyone doing that. If they do I will listen to them and I will work off that.  Until then, I will raise awareness and talk about it and raise money for people who are willing to help regardless of the way they decide to advertise it, if I think that they are actually trying to do something against Kony. Take away the criticism and the drama and the heroism and you still have hurting damaged kids, they are the ones we should be focusing on, not each other, if you truly want to help these kids, then stop complaining about other movements and do something about it yourself! 

  29. Baby steps!  The Konig 2012 video has done more in 3 days than any Ugandan organization has done in 26 years!  The issue is about capturing a bad guy like we caught Noriega!  This young woman wants to tell the World every minutia of her issue which we don’t have time for PLUS where’s her sound bite that makes the world come to action?  If you can’t stand the news, GO OUT AND MAKE YOUR OWN!

    1. The Konig 2012 video has done more in 3 days than any Ugandan organization has done in 26 years!

      Yeah! Those backward Ugandans! Why can’t they get up to white folk speed?

      Seriously, it’s done more in 3 days if your goal is to get a bunch of Americans waving flags. What’s ever gone wrong with that?

  30. It’s good this issue is bringing up all the negatives about Western “do-gooder” aid, much of which is also tied aid  that directly subsidizes Western corporations.

    NGOs also don’t have a great reputation in Africa or Asia where they are often seen as huge money laundering operations for half-assed projects funded by wealthy donors with weird and unworkable ideas about development. 

    People want to be empowered. They don’t want hand outs and certainly don’t want to be patronized as little children. If Westerners can enter into a relationship of respect and dignity with Southern partners, that’s all well and good, otherwise, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

    It is worth remembering that the age of high colonialism was also the age of evangelical campaigns to civilize natives around the world. We can see all too well how that turned out even in our own backyard. Visit any reserve or reservation.

  31. Perhaps the greatest atrocity is teaching these children that they spread this carnage by the power of the Holy Spirit to purify the “unrepentant,” twisting Christianity into a religion of horror to their victims. It is spiritual warfare at its very worst, and it could not be more satanic. . .
    Under threat of death, LRA child soldiers attack villages, shooting and cutting off people’s lips, ears, hands, feet, or breasts, at times force-feeding the severed body parts to victims’ families. Some cut open the bellies of pregnant women and tear their babies out. Men and women are gang-raped. As a warning to those who might report them to Ugandan authorities, they bore holes in the lips of victims and padlock them shut. Victims are burned alive or beaten to death with machetes and clubs. The murderous task is considered properly executed only when the victim is mutilated beyond recognition and his or her blood spatters the killer’s clothing.
    In 2008, Michael Gerson shared this horror story in The Washington Post:
    A friend, the head of a major aid organization, tells how his workers in eastern Congo a few years ago chanced upon a group of shell-shocked women and children in the bush. A militia had kidnapped a number of families and forced the women to kill their husbands with machetes, under the threat that their sons and daughters would be murdered if they refused. Afterward the women were raped by more than 100 soldiers; the children were spectators at their own private genocide.
    This is ultimately the work and trademark of a single man: Joseph Kony, the most carnivorous killer since Idi Amin.

  32. 1)Invisible Children shows that Joseph Kony is out of Uganda (terrain).
    2)The purpose for the video is mostly to bring awareness of things that are happening around the world . . . Issues that have been happening for many years without getting resolve . . . and yet as citizens of the world we still do not know about it.
    3)Most American (at least in my experience) see April 20th as a statement, not as an act to end war. We didn’t end our war by killing Bin Laden. We understand that it is not a one man issue, but different issues at different levels, so killing a man will not stop the war because another follower can raise to be a “bad man.”
    4)The main purpose of the video is for the U.S. government to know that Americans would like to provide support in any way. . . We have done it respectfully. We are not fighting a war for someone else. We are just providing services. If any government is opposed to it, then they have the choice to refuse it. Believe me the U.S. would be gladly not spending their money and not put their citizens in any danger . . . especially with the kind of conscience President we have now.
    5)The video is an “experiment.” Can Americans come together through a youtube video and take a stand? Can Americans voice their opinion on an issue and be heard? If it is successful, then it will be a great medium for Americans. 
    6) The video doesn’t ask us to protest a war or to fight or to give a voice to someone other than ourselves. The video is asking for American citizen to ask their local & federal government to keep funding services to capture Kony (not to be confused with directly funding an army to end a war). We have resources and sometimes we like to share them. It’s usually a social responsibility that a privilege country or person has. 
    7)  Remember the “help”/ “resources” can always be turned down if that’s what the people want to do. The video’s purpose is to make those resources available if needed. 
    8) Without the video and without Americans being heard then those resources will not be offer next year from the U.S. since they are now in the process of being cut off. The video was made to keep those resources available from the U.S. to any country trying to capture Kony by making Americans demand their government not to cut funding. That’s all.

  33. I found it sad that only  Malaka Gyekye Grant mentioned the need for local action. The others never mentioned the issue of a crazy man abusing children.

  34. While many of the criticisms have merit, when taken as a whole, they take on the appearance of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

  35. Xeni, thanks for taking the time to compile these critical voices (in more ways then one).  I was away from the internet over the past few days as this has taken off and a friend mentioned that his adolescent son was really into the Kony 2012 video. Strong summary and synthesis pieces like this are what keep me coming back to BoingBoing. It’s a service to the whole interwebs community.

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