Dear Friends and Family,
It has been an interesting week for those of us working and living in Uganda. I assume many of you are among the more than 75 million people who have viewed Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video (Kony 2012 on YouTube). Opinions abound about about whether this video does something for the people of Uganda or to the people of Uganda.
Over the past few days I have participated in conversations with Ugandans, NGO workers, Invisible Children staff, local musicians, journalists, and entrepreneurs, revolving around the organization Invisible Children and their most recent campaign. After receiving multiple emails asking about my opinion of the Kony 2012 video, I have decided to write an open letter expressing my thoughts, and would love if you would write back so I could hear your thoughts as well.
As a study abroad student in 2006 I first met one of the IC filmmakers, Bobby Bailey, and am presently friends with a number of current and former staff who I think are all amazing people. To be honest though in 2006, 2007 and 2008 I didn’t have a very high opinion of Invisible Children or their work.
After an impassioned response to their initial film (Invisible Children: Rough Cut), and a call to action by the directors to “just go to Uganda,” Gulu was flooded with hundreds of ill-prepared American young people who were looking to save the world. During their programmatic beginnings in Uganda IC’s relations with the local community, established NGO’s, and government of Gulu was fraught with tension caused mostly by the cultural offenses and inexperience of their volunteers. Fortunately the volunteer program was ended, and as the organization faced local and international criticism they were receptive and began to develop more thoughtful programs like: Schools for Schools, Legacy Scholarship Program, and MEND (IC Programs).
As a devout critic of the entire development industry I am worried about the potential long-term impacts these big decisions may have on Africa, how this will shape international perceptions of the continent, and also how it will affect the marketing strategies of other NGO’s. However I still have respect for IC. I am impressed by their polite response to the intense criticism they are facing for Kony 2012 (IC response to critiques), and their willingness to learn and grow from past mistakes. I have faith that IC will continue to improve, and am thrilled that this 30 minute video has brought to light shortcomings of the dangers of metonymy (using a single, tangible person or symbol to represent a larger complex concept), self-aggrandizing marketing, and weaknesses in the white savior narrative that many hundreds of NGO’s need to be held accountable to.
As a result of this video young people are engaging with issues beyond their immediate lives and thinking about the lives of other youth thousands of miles away. It seems that one of the best outcomes of Kony 2012 is that it has sparked a national dialogue on hugely important issues. Let’s hope that this translates to millions of people becoming curious, engaged, and digging deep to find out more about taking responsible action in the affairs of the world.
P.S. If you have time I’d be thrilled if you’d watch this TED video by renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie (The Danger of a Single Story. This talk brilliantly describes the danger of a single story.
Other links on Kony 2012:
National Geographic – Kony 2012 a view from Northern Uganda
CNN – Kony 2012: How Not To Change The World