You might have heard the buzz: An American NGO, “Invisible Children”, wants to make Joseph Kony famous is order to arrest him. Joseph Kony is an Ugandan war criminal charged in particular for kidnapping children and abusing them as child soldiers in his “Lord’s Resistance Army”. The young activists get George Cloney, George W. Bush and other celebrities on board, they make this highly emotional viral video, watched by millions on youtube, they mobilise young people to demonstrate, wear bracelets, talk to friends and family and write to politicians. Millions of young people in US and elsewhere get interested in an issue far away, and they feel they have a responsibility and power to act. Impressive.
From a development education point of view, this should be rejoicing. Is this finally an approach to have real impact, to link values, awareness, knowledge and skills to actually empower people to change something? Unfortunately, not really. There is something very weird about the movie, the campaign and the people behind it – the NGO “Invisible Children”.
Look at the picture of the three brave justice fighters, and you’ll know what I mean. The movie, using the directors infant son as main character, is highly “emotionally manipulative”, as puts it Glenna Gordon, who took the gun picture. And there’s growing criticism about the film in Uganda, where screenings inflame the audiences, tells the Wall Street Journal, because of its black and white narrative, portraying Kony as the ultimate evil, neglecting the complexity and causes of the conflict as well as its victims, and calling for an American military intervention. An isolated issue, the detention of a war criminal, is elevated to a paradigm shift: “If we succeed, we change the course of human history.” Unfortunately, this won’t be the case: While it would be certainly a good thing that Kony faces justice, this won’t change the underlying causes of conflict, and numerous other wars would continue, including the ones conducted by the US. But millions of supporters would have the impression that they have done their share, and the substantial systemic causes of exploitation, conflict and growing global injustice and inequalities will persist.
Development education is something else: Confronting complexity, empower people to ask questions, to question assumptions, to take action and responsibility in their own societies, conscious about global interdependencies, and aware that there are no simple solutions. The feeling to contribute to hunting down a presumed devil far away in Africa will not change the course of human history.
See also a great article on rabble.ca on how to use the Kony2012 buzz “to teach our youth about real global solidarity”:
“There is no doubt that Kony and people like him are war criminals and deserve to be captured. But it is wrong to mislead our kids who sincerely desire global justice to believe that this campaign to capture Joseph Kony is doing the right thing.”