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Medical aid worker on Kony 2012: "The aid industry has just been Biebered."


(Photo: Joseph Kony, via Reuters)

On his personal blog, Marc DuBois of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) writes about the impact of the viral Kony 2012 campaign on the work of long-established humanitarian efforts in Africa.

"Most madmen love the idea of fame, so Joseph Kony’s wet dream just came true," writes DuBois.

Many aid workers are simultaneously offended by the project and jealous of its unprecedented reach. At the time of this blog post, the promotional video for Invisible Children's fundraising/"awareness" campaign about the fugitive African rebel leader has exceeded 70 million views, making it the fastest-growing viral video in internet history.

Snip from DuBois' blog post:

So why, really, are we aid insiders so bothered? It’s the big green monster. Is there another charity whose message has captivated so many so fast? About six months ago, my niece “Lisa” in Chicago excitedly asked me to contribute to Invisible Children. At the time, I’d never heard of it. I poked around. I can’t say I was taken by the cause, but I couldn’t help feeling envious of IC’s having so effectively reached Lisa, usually more interested in dance and boys. These young upstarts at IC are the next big thing. And we aren’t.

Why? Well, for one, they have a simple message that people grasp. For another, good looks. More importantly, Invisible Children has discovered what the entertainment industry figured out a decade ago. It’s not about us old timers. It’s not people who read the Philip Roth or contribute conscientiously to their pension fund. It’s about the under 25s, maybe even the under 15s. It’s about the kids. That’s why there are a couple dozen TV shows about teenage vampires. That’s why we have Jedward.

The aid industry has just been Biebered. IC’s hundreds of thousands of donor / activist – they were invisible to us. Kids. That’s the target and that’s the message. If you think the aid world depends on gray haired HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals, aka rich folk), wait and see what IC does with its pubescent legions. My advice to the aid industry? First, get over it. Then, get on the boat.

Read the rest here.

DuBois isn't speaking for MSF, but I spoke to another MSFer via Twitter today: Avril Benoît, the group's Director of Communications, who pointed me to DuBois' blog post. I asked her if MSF had released an official statement in reaction to the Kony campaign: No. But, she said, "MSF teams in LRA-affected regions of DR Congo, Central African Republic & South Sudan are likely wary of retaliation risks."

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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."

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Kony 2012: a viral mess


(Photo: The Kony 2012/Invisible Children guys posing with SPLA soldiers on the Sudan-Congo border in April 2008. Photograph by Glenna Gordon.)


UPDATE: African voices respond.


Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes about the Kony 2012/Invisible Children video everyone's going crazy over today:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor.

Harder still when the documentary Godwins itself just minutes in with a Hitler namecheck. There's another good post at Foreign Policy which attempts to parse why this dubious fundraising/attention-getting campaign has spread so wide so quickly, and the many things it seems to get wrong:

[L]et's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

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Survivor of LRA atrocities replies to Rush Limbaugh: "My Heart Breaks"

Following up on yesterday's BB post: here's a Video Link to a testimony by 22-year-old Evelyn Apoko. A post with more on her story at Media Matters. Here is her statement. From the website for Ms. Apoko's group, which works to help other survivors:

When she was just a little girl, Evelyn Apoko was abducted in the middle of the night by a brutal rebel group in Uganda that calls themselves The Lord's Resistance Army. Left unchecked by the world community for decades, the group - which is also known as the LRA - has abducted thousands of children to serve as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. After years in captivity, Evelyn was badly wounded and faced the terrible choice of attempting a near-impossible escape or certain death at the hands of the rebels who were repelled by her horrific injuries. Miraculously, Evelyn escaped and made it to a rehab center and hospital, where she came to the attention of Strongheart.

Here is an article in Hill Times with background on her personal story.

(thanks @owillis)