The internet is a strange phenomenon. Amongst all the perversion, scattered thoughts and Illuminati conspiracy theories, comes moments of real togetherness. By that I mean pop culture unifies, the online equivalent of a Mexican wave. Some bizarre things have captured the public’s imagination in the past, “Leave Britney Alone”, “Coppercab” and Charlie Sheen’s “Winning” to name but a few. Yet the latest eye catcher will be remembered for being unique in it’s own right. I’m talking of course about “Kony”. A Ugandan guerrilla leader who’s taken twitter (and therefore the World) by storm. If you are wondering why I am speaking so flippantly about a serious political issue, it’s because the momentum here is being driven not by activists, but the Jersey Shore generation. Mainstream artists like Taylor Swift and Rihanna are tweeting about Kony and the response has been something to behold.
Just a couple days ago, few if any of us knew his name. Go online right now however, and you can find Facebook statuses from all over the globe discussing this mysterious figure, some in a mocking tone whilst others speak with genuine concern. He has long been a target of the International Criminal Court for his recruitment of children into an illegal military organisation called the LRA. Attempts to apprehend him stalled. And yet years later we are about to see if Youtube views can do what the ICC couldn’t: capture him. He is of course one of many tyrants that exist in this World. A brutal man guilty of unspeakable crimes. It is no doubt the will of everybody that he is brought to justice.
He is not however, the President of Uganda. Despite many attempts to portray him as some sort of all powerful dictator, he really is weaker than ever. The Ugandan government itself has a rather questionable human rights record but this is not being addressed at all by “Kony 2012”. The question begs, is this cause really about helping the Ugandan people? It is quite bewildering to watch usually passive PC junkies suddenly whip up into a frenzy over a war criminal who has been around longer than twitter itself. Why no out cry about the long range of tragedies which have occurred in Africa in the past few years?
Delve deeper into the story though and you will find multiple previous attempts at going viral with this agenda. In actual fact Invisible Children commissioned 11 films about Kony. This sudden rise to fame is not so much an accident, but the fruits of a successful marketing campaign. A lot of the issues outlined in the films are indeed outdated as they were produced in the early 2000’s and violent situations tend to move much quicker than the time it takes to get the message out. The events conducted by the charity stay focused on issues to do with the original feature film and not current events.
To fill you in on the very start of the story, 3 American college students created the movement in 2003 with a dramatic film on the subject. 2 years later Invisible Children became a charity organisation. Their main objectives are not with sending actual aid but with “building awareness”. The latest video “Kony 2012” has the sole mission of tracking Kony down before the end of 2012. Of course an admirable objective, yet it feels very hollow as an isolated message. Now instead of focusing on Uganda as a whole we have a Hollywood epic which feels like the plot of “The Terminator”. We must find the bad guy before the end 2012 or all hope is lost seems to be the general message.
So what else have they done? Besides their latest endeavor, Invisible Children have successfully conducted three large scale events with the endorsement of celebrities like Oprah and Kirsten Dunst. In 2006, 80, 000 youths from all over America participated in a sleep out to show solidarity with African children who live in fear of abduction and thus remain homeless and on the run. Two similar events followed in 07 and 09. Touching as this may sound, it does make you wonder if solidarity and drum beating achieves any real objectives with regards to actual child safety in Uganda.
Still, defendants of the charity will point to it’s success in lobbying the American government into action. Last year America sent 100 troops to combat the LRA (although given instructions not to actually shoot him themselves). American attempts in solving Ugandan issues revolve around stopping Kony. And herein lyes the problem. This fixation with catching the single bad guy is similar to trying to fix the Middle East by killing Osama Bin Laden, it isn’t going to work. One would have to wonder if having a villainous figure like Kony at the center of the charities objectives has helped simplify and galvanise those of us ignorant to the complex situation in Uganda. America does not have a good track record of liberating anybody nor does it score particularly well with installing new governments (as those in Haiti could testify).
Invisible Children made a revenue of over 13.5 million dollars in 2011, a figure which is set to rise dramatically if they can turn this recent surge of interest into money. In the past, Charity Navigator criticised the charity for it’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to submit financial documents which would give full accounts of their expenditure. According to the Better Business Bureau, Invisible Children failed to comply with there standards of accountability, refusing to respond to any requests or letters. And yet Invisible Children’s own financial statements are perhaps the most damning of all, they show that of the 9 million spent in 2011 only 3 million actual went to helping victims in Uganda. The rest was spent on relatively big Hollywood budgets to produce films which tug at the heart strings.
So where does Hip-Hop fit into this? Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool” was released in 2007 and strangely enough we can find Lupe rapping about issues relating to Kony back then, on the song “Little Weapon” Lupe compares the ‘child shooter’ culture in America with that of Uganda:
“Little Terry got a gun, he got from the store,
He bought it with the money he got from his chores,
He robbed candy shop told her lay down on the floor,
Put the cookies in his bag took the pennies out the drawer.
Little Kalil got a gun he got from the rebels,
To kill the infidels and American devils,
A bomb on his waist,
A mask on his face,
Prays five times a day,
And listens to Heavy Metal.
Little Alex got a gun he took from his dad,
That he snuck into school in his black book bag,
His black nail polish, black boots and black hair,
He’s gonna blow away the bully that just pushed his ass.”
Further in the song, featured guest “Bishop G” criticizes the C.I.A. who he depicts as a terrorist organisation itself. Unlike Lady Gaga, U.K. rapper Lowkey has delivered a damning verdict on Invisible Children. Taking to his Facebook page he wrote: “Stop Kony is a manipulative propaganda piece to propel foreign intervention. Another humanitarian aid mission that will no doubt result in mass killings of innocents and pillaging of the countries resources by elitist scum.” Strong words but he is not the only one to voice an opposing view. Talented underground emcee Poetic Death even created his own video on youtube sharing his feelings on the matter:
So as this strange chapter of internet history unfolds, it is yet to be seen if online “activism” will help the people of Uganda. Many of those in the know however, point to our own need for education when it comes to social issues. Kony 2012 will end this year, but the wider problems may continue, perhaps unnoticed by the vast majority of twitter users.