“Kony 2012” (2012) is a 30-minute video by film-maker Jason Russell of Invisible Children, a White American charity. It went viral on YouTube in March 2012 with tens of millions of views in a matter of days. It is part of their campaign to make Joseph Kony, a Ugandan guerrilla leader, famous to the American public in order to maintain support for the current American policy of helping Uganda find him and bring him to justice.
Most Americans had no idea who Joseph Kony is. They knew about the child soldiers in Africa – it has become a stereotype of how “Africa” is – but not who might be doing it. The Economist and PBS have certainly talked about Kony at length, but it is unclear whether, say, ABC News or most American newspapers have.
As the video informs us, Kony and his guerrilla force, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), takes children from their homes in the middle of the night. If you are a boy he puts a gun in your hands and makes you into a killing machine, making you kill even your own parents. If you are a girl he makes you into a sex slave. He has done this to 30,000 children.
What the video leaves out or fails to make all that clear:
- The war in Uganda ended six years ago – all those pictures are from 2003.
- Kony is no longer a huge issue in Uganda – he left in 2006.
- Kony is a shadow of his former self with only 250 soldiers spread out over a region the size of Britain. He might even be dead.
- The 30,000 is a 30-year career total.
- The armies of four African countries are out to get him and have asked America for help.
- America did little about Kony till oil was discovered in the region, making him into a threat to “American interests” (the safe flow of oil).
- President Bush helped Uganda to try to get Kony – before Invisible Children (and 20 other NGOs) began heavily lobbying Congress.
Russell positions himself as the hero of the piece when in fact he does not even have a Wikipedia article.
But to his great credit, instead of wringing his hands about child soldiers he points out someone who is to blame and what action ordinary Americans can take to help stop him.
The video is very White American:
- Storytelling: bad guy/good guy
- Tropes: White Saviour/Helpless Darkies:
- White Americans as selfless do-gooders
- Black Ugandans as helpless – or evil
- Stereotypes: Broken Africa
- Product placement: Facebook, YouTube
- Consumerism: this stuff in a box that will make life better!
- The hard sell: Act now! This is a limited-time offer!
The video sells an Action Kit. You get a booklet, buttons, posters, stickers, a T-shirt and a bracelet.
But wait, there’s more:
White Americans, at no extra cost, get to help black people overseas to show how good and selfless they are – while maintaining their own caste position at home!
- kony2012.com – the website. It has a very good copy of the video
- The Broken Africa stereotype
- Mighty Whitey– the White Saviour trope
- darkies – people of colour viewed through the lens of white power
- well-meaning whites and the white man’s burden
- dichotomous thinking
- The Business of Saving Africa
- guerrilla warfare
- American Empire