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Kony 2012: Oversimplification or Advertising Genius?

Below are two responses to the Kony2012 campaign. The first is from a member of staff, and the second is from one of our first year undergraduate students. Let us know what you think.


Oversimplification (Eddie Tembo)

I was first asked about the Kony2012 campaign during a seminar on Human Rights and Intervention. I confess: I did not know what my students were talking about. But I did go and check it out. I have a number of reservations about inferences made in the video, some of which have also appeared in the press.

Let’s be clear: the campaign is a marketing ploy. Therefore, it is unsurprising to find some factual inaccuracies. For example, when the video refers to a total of 30,000 child soldiers, it is not overly clear that it is referring to an estimated 30,000 child soldiers over the past quarter century. The current number of soldiers (children and adults) is actually approximately 400. Also, while the campaign implies that the LRA is primarily based in Uganda, it actually appears to be operating in neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The video seemingly misses these points.

An additional issue concerns the presence of U.S. military advisors in Uganda. Deployed last year, there is no threat to the presence of U.S. military advisors in Uganda. President Obama has had nothing but support for their presence. But I am a little confused as to why the video is focusing primarily on U.S. officials as opposed to the African Union (AU), or other heads of African states. The AU has much more sway in the region than the U.S. Furthermore, the transnational nature of the LRA (i.e. the fact they operate in multiple countries) means that an AU or UN force would be more appropriate for a pursuit that may end up crossing multiple borders.

I also have serious reservations regarding the charity, Invisible Children, which is running the campaign. Charity Navigator – an independent evaluator of U.S. charities – has not given Invisible Children a very good rating in a number of areas. This is particularly worrisome as they rate badly in areas related to accountability and transparency.

Last but not least, a sense of proportion is needed. The U.S. cannot intervene everywhere and at the same time. Priorities need to be made. Surely, today’s priority should be Syria? That is where the immediate danger to human life lies. If our focus is on Uganda, then let us remember: the LRA never operated across the whole of the country; the situation with the LRA is far more complicated than the video suggests; and we should also note that, today, far more people die in Uganda from viruses and diseases such as HIV.


Advertising Genius (Sam Deaner)

For me, the most interesting aspect of the Kony2012 campaign is not the charity, questions over intervention, but whether the campaign really CAN make a difference. If it can, then the implications are substantial.

I find the manner in which ‘fame’ can be subverted very interesting. It says a lot about our culture. For me, I find the hundreds of articles that are critical of the campaign fascinating but also self-defeating. Whether people rant on blogs, in newspapers or among their peers about how stupid or dangerous the campaign is, they now all know who Joseph Kony is and are helping make him famous. The campaign has beaten them, whether they like it or not. That is the genius aspect: Kony2012 has succeeded in making Kony famous, and no amount of criticism will change that.

Also, it is important that we do not focus only on Kony2012. Cynicism should not stop people from considering the bigger picture. If the campaign gains enough support, will governments across the West begin to see the benefit of intervening in similar issues? Will people more generally be mobilised in greater numbers to make their government take action on topics that lie outside of the core issue agenda? If so, this would not simply be regular lobbying: it would mark the rebirth of ‘power to the people’ politics.

That said, I am not denying that there remain problems with the campaign. I do not like the idea that America is going to ‘save the world’. Nor do I like the way that the campaign oversimplifies the situation in Uganda. But, more than anything, it is the public cynicism that I do not like. I do not think that wearing a bracelet, t-shirt or putting up a fancy poster will stop people like Kony. But I do think that the campaign and its attempt to raise awareness through social media could lead to far broader and positive change. This, in my view, is something that we should be excited about.


Sam Deaner – First Year Politics and International Relations Student

Eddie Tembo – Teaching Fellow in Politics and International Relations

Published inInternational PoliticsInternational Relations


  1. Adam Adam

    Wholeheartedly agree with the second sentiment, it reminds me of something Michael Ignatieff recently wrote about Assad being the “hostis humani generi, enemy of the human race.”

    I really dislike the idea that presentational concerns are raised such as there are ‘only’ about 400 child soldiers. The fact that this man uses child soldiers at all, let alone thousands over the years, should be enough to put him “hostis humani generi” class.

    And so what if there is suffering in Syria we shouldn’t criticise one’s attempts to raise issues that are close to their own heart. Cancer, Malaria and various other things causes untold number of deaths per year, are we to conclude from this, as the first comment seems to suggest, that we should focus more on these than concerns about, for instance, Syria?

    The central point of Kony (the film), as the second commenter suggests, is that war lords and other evil people should be in the thoughts of everyone. I have a conscience and it can only be engaged by things that I know about, the Kony film should be applauded for bringing the matter to public attention and testing our collective conscience as humans.

    Quibbles over style and presentation shouldn’t take away from the fact that this man, Kony, is truly an awful human and deserves to be hounded until he is brought to justice. Real justice, not reconciliation.

  2. Kwaku Kwaku

    I enjoyed reading the blog as I found it both informative and well-argued. All though I do agree with some pointa made by you, I ultimately would side with Sam. Because the fact that a video could engage so many people in a emotional, political and monetary is something that is exciting and as Sam mentioned tells us a lot of our society today. However, the fact that a video can have this impact, also makes me wary that peoples emotions can be easily swayed. All in all an enjoyable read.

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