The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire?


10:30 am - March 8th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

Twitter was awash with references to Joseph Kony yesterday – the leader of the murderous Lord’s Risistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. It was in fact trending at the top of Twitter for most of the day and many thousands discussed it on Facebook too.

What kicked it off? A very effective video. Now, I’m rather shocked over 20 million people watched a 30 min video online (I get bored after 4 min) but it worked.

Halfway through the day I started seeing lots of links pointing out that the charity behind the video and its content were not all they seemed. But did the campaign really backfire?

There were several problems with the charity.

Invisible Children got criticism for being too ‘clicktivist’, not being transparent enough about its funding, being very late in filing accounts and spending a surprisingly high amount of its income on admin.

These problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow.

And then Foreign Policy blg pointed out that things in Uganda were much more complicated and the video contained a fair few factual errors.

There were also uncomfortable murmurings that their message sounded too colonialist (“we white people can help these poor black people“) and more.

Fair enough – but is this criticism a bit too cynical? No doubt questions should be asked of the charity, and shortcomings pointed out. If I was inclined to donate I would not donate to them.

But Musa Okwonga at the Independent points out:

On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue. Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered. For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion.

Invisible Children are also criticised for having a very ‘simplistic’ message. But so what? When was the last time a complicated message became widely and easily disseminated? It is fundamental to every good campaign that the message should be kept simple (not to the point of gross errors of course), surely?

I’m annoyed that a charity which has questions hanging over it probably managed to get so many people to donate to it.

But I also want to applaud them for managing to get millions around the world to discuss it and post the videos on their Facebook wall [annoys me when activists get sniffy about people even doing small things like that].

That said, I don’t think their way of telling the story sat comfortably with me either.

But the real question is: will Ugandans mind the light being shone on Joseph Kony? I doubt it. Surely that’s a good thing?

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Africa ,Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Media

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


The point is, surely, that this is an organisation that directs charitable funds into the Ugandan army (not exactly angels), while advocating US (or at least US) backed intervention. That is the part most people feel uncomfortable with.

One could draw an analogy with George W. Bush’s War on Terror. Yes Osama Bin Laden was a rotten man, yes Al-Qeada is a threat. But did you vote Republican? Did you fund Bush’s election campaign. Did you back military support and action in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Did you applaud Bush for raising awareness?

To further the Bush case beyond an analogy and into parallels: the LRA was formed in 1987. Uganda joined the ‘War on Terror’ in 2009/10. Oil was found in Uganda in 2011. In 2012 we get #stopkony.

2. So Much For Subtlety

Obama has already sent soldiers to try to do something. That means it looks like it is too late. Besides what is the point of net activism? They will raise some money but nothing much will change – unless US Special Forces find their leaders.

The rest seems dog-in-the-manger stuff. Yes, it is probably pointless but I can say that because I suppose troops being sent. Everyone else can complain about Imperialism but their alternative is for the LRA to continue their rampage.

#1 & #2

Worth pointing out that the 100 US troops are sent in an advisory capacity to a military effort that already existed and was being co-ordinated between the four countries impacted by LRA activities – Uganda, DRC, CAR and South Sudan. I don’t think it’s comparable to Iraq or Afghanistan and I certainly don’t see it as imperialism. There’s also an extent to which sending 100 troops to assist is a favour to Uganda for its willingness to send troops to Somalia. IMO the current military effort to stop Kony is less counter-productive than previous missions.

In response to the article – what’s the point in raising awareness if you are not also kickstarting a discussion on what needs to be done? Genuine question. Unfocussed advocacy on Darfur succeeded in uniting the international community behind a peace agreement which helped the Government of Sudan divide rebel movements. Now the international community at least in public disowns the SRF, which has united all the major rebel movements in Sudan.

4. Matt Wardman

>But did the campaign really backfire?

Excellent question.

It depends on

a) The message.
b) That it matches the reality behind.
c) The attitude of the particular audience.

I can point to campaigns that you will like Sunny, that I don’t, and vice-versa.

It’s just an artefact, surely, of the existence of political marketing?

I largely echo Tim @3, who has recently been in one of the four countries involved here (south Sudan), is a regular visitor there and knows what he’s talking about. As Tim suggests, it’s difficult to tell whether the Invisible Children has backfired (as in, back on them) as it’s not very clear what they’re trying to achieve.

If their objective was that more people should know about the LRA than did yeserday morning, then they have succeeded. If their objective was to raise more money for their organisation, they have probably succeeded in the short term, though the lowered credibility they will gain in some funding quarters may outweigh this in the longer term.

If their objective is that the US should continue its 100 man support for the four country initiative, then it seems like a bizarre waste of time. A quick search and a look at the Uganda Monitor daily paer from last week gives an indication that the US is committed to keeping the troops in there, and that they do so with the full support of the Ugandan and other authorities (http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/ThoughtIdeas/-/689844/1355326/-/c7hafg/-/index.html)

But there is a wider issue here, and that’s the impact on the wider credibility of the NGO movement in the region. That is, the video might possibly be justified as act-utilitarian, but less so as end-utlitarian (to borrow from the theorists on pro/anti liberal/humanitarian intervention).

There is a real risk that such maverick/inaccurate reporting by one NGO will create, if repeated for such short term publicity gain, negative effects for others. While the Ugandan press seem to be ignoring the story for now, for example, as and when they do pick it up I suspect it will be seen for what it is – old news rehashed with a post-imperialist “Uganda is hopeless, we must act for them” tone, smeering at the real efforts of the Ugandan (and other) states to deal with the LRA problem. Yes, of course the Ugandan state’s not perfect (which one is?) but it competence is gradually being established (as is South Sudan’s) by Ugandans, who decided when and where they want US assistance on this specific matter.

Suggesting it backfired implies you think it was significant or substantial in the first place. The video strongly suggests Invisible Children were instrumental to the President’s decision to send troops and advisors into Uganda in Oct 2011. I can now confirm the President does not not deploy US Special Forces under the command of AFRICOM because of NGO public relations campaigns…

In fact, AFRICOM is helping the Ugandan government because Uganda is taking up the slack in the AMISOM mission in Somalia – which is absolutely key to US interests. Its a good quid pro quo – with a bonus being the LRA really is a vile terrorist group.

BUT – the video is good is my opinion.

1. They should be applauded for getting 20 million hits for a video about a real issue, not a dancing monkey or a panda on a skateboard.

2. You are now going to get a lot of critics pretending they know more about the situation on the ground in Uganda than the KONY2012 folk. Most of them will not, they are just being contrarian. Both sides are equally clueless for the most part. The integrated AFRICOM approach to Uganda is good because the US has finally seen the relationship between aid-development-security.

3. I don’t understand why critics object to military action against the LRA? That has been happening for years already. Concerns about escalation and assissinaiton are something else.

Forgot another big reason for US military assistance to Uganda. The LRA threats peace keeping missions in places like Congo, which the US were involved in.

8. Deception Flusher

The East African countries become high interest for the colonial countries to disguise their hunger for resources recently discovered (Somaliland, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania).

Those American kiddos who went for adventure in Uganda for a quick survey of what their previous generation of oppressors created for Africa. Who is the naive person that would accept that the LRA (Lord Resistance Army) are still fighting in the vicinity of Gulu region?

9. So Much For Subtlety

3. tim f

Worth pointing out that the 100 US troops are sent in an advisory capacity to a military effort that already existed and was being co-ordinated between the four countries impacted by LRA activities – Uganda, DRC, CAR and South Sudan.

Presumably their job is to try and locate the LRA’s leadership through their electronic communications and do to them what the Americans did to Savimbi.

I don’t think it’s comparable to Iraq or Afghanistan and I certainly don’t see it as imperialism. There’s also an extent to which sending 100 troops to assist is a favour to Uganda for its willingness to send troops to Somalia. IMO the current military effort to stop Kony is less counter-productive than previous missions.

I don’t think it is either. Nor do I claim it is. The point is that those people who claim it is Imperialism have nothing to offer except more murder and kidnapping. Someone ought to stop Koney. We can. Well, they can. So why shouldn’t they? What previous missions? Remember that Vietnam started out this way. Another worthwhile well meaning effort to stop murderers. But I doubt this one will escalate in quite the same way. A shame for the people of Congo.

In response to the article – what’s the point in raising awareness if you are not also kickstarting a discussion on what needs to be done? Genuine question.

Except it is worse than that – what needs to be done has been done. The US has sent soldiers. They will deal with the problem. Thus the issue seems more like typical couch-potato moral self congratulation. You can feel good about yourself at the price of a click on a website. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to give money. But you ought to thank the US Army.

tory

I can now confirm the President does not not deploy US Special Forces under the command of AFRICOM because of NGO public relations campaigns…

No, but the President often refuses to deploy US Special Forces because of NGO public relations campaigns. They ought to be held responsible.

Deception Flusher

The East African countries become high interest for the colonial countries to disguise their hunger for resources recently discovered (Somaliland, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania).

Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately these countries have no resources worth anyone’s time. Well the Chinese. So of course this paranoid conspiracy theory is just rubbish on every level. It’s the lizard people! How boring.

Those American kiddos who went for adventure in Uganda for a quick survey of what their previous generation of oppressors created for Africa. Who is the naive person that would accept that the LRA (Lord Resistance Army) are still fighting in the vicinity of Gulu region?

Their previous generation created functioning states and societies where previously there was none. The best thing ever to happen to Africa.

“No, but the President often refuses to deploy US Special Forces because of NGO public relations campaigns. They ought to be held responsible.”

Do not get this.

11. Kulvinder

But the real question is: will Ugandans mind the light being shone on Joseph Kony? I doubt it. Surely that’s a good thing?

Thats pretty dangerous thinking Sunny; this isn’t merely a campaign to highlight an issue – its at the very least advocating some form of foreign military interventionism to arrest Kony or if you read between the lines and self aggrandising hyperbole would probably welcome a drone firing a missile at him.

One of the many things i hate about this campaign is they argue their organisation is geared towards a certain campaigning approach – namely highlighting issues – only 37% of their income goes towards ‘central african programs’ (whatever that actually means); but that ‘campaigning’ is a de-facto call for a military intervention.

I’d argue this isn’t a humanitarian NGO in the sense you’re possibly thinking of and is more a lobbying organisation that has specific view of the situation and advocates a particular response.

Merely simplifying a complex ethno-religious conflict into a one dimensional viral video is not highlighting an issue. Its infantilising it. There is no way such an approach would have gained anywhere near as much respect if it had involved the Balkans for example.

You couldn’t solve, and noone on EITHER side claimed you could solve, the war in Bosnia by arresting or killing the likes of Gotovina or Mladi?.

Whats worse is this kind of juxtapositioning of human rights abuses with a simplistic solution is not only what got us into Iraq but is also what will lead to an attack on Iran. The neo-con hawks might as well produce a video ‘highlighting’ just how atrocious the Iranian government can be towards their own people and simultaneously advocate a pre-emptive strike against them.

The road to hell is paved with the conflation of those who highlight issues for the wider global community, so that the global community can unemotionally consult everyone (most importantly those affected) BEFORE setting out a roadmap of action; and those who see the impartial gathering of facts as mere lip service to whatever action they advocate and seek to justify from the outset.

Far be it for me to point out but their ‘war room’ seems to be lacking in the very voices, Ugandan and East African, that would be affected by their military adventurism. http://instagr.am/p/H4Ytf2h7KL/

As for arguments about ‘white mans guilt’; i think Labouchère’s original retort still stands the test of time

Pile on the brown man’s burden,
compel him to be free;
Let all your manifestoes
Reek with philanthropy.
And if with heathen folly
He dares your will dispute,
Then, in the name of freedom,
Don’t hesitate to shoot.

12. So Much For Subtlety

11. Kulvinder

Merely simplifying a complex ethno-religious conflict into a one dimensional viral video is not highlighting an issue. Its infantilising it.

Oddly enough I agree with that.

You couldn’t solve, and noone on EITHER side claimed you could solve, the war in Bosnia by arresting or killing the likes of Gotovina or Mladi?.

You probably could have. Actually. A number of Communist terrorist groups have collapsed after the capture or death of their leaders. Shining Path in Peru. The Khmer Rouge. The PKK declined for a while. A religious group based on the personality of their leader is an even better candidate.

As for arguments about ‘white mans guilt’; i think Labouchère’s original retort still stands the test of time

No they don’t. Because the people who replaced the Europeans were even bigger mass murderers who killed even more people to make them free. To read such asinine and childish comments in the light of Bokassa eating school children or Idi Amin dismembering his wives or the genocide of Biafra just shows how idiotic such views are.

I was intrigued by the video lobbying in the USA for more action by the International Criminal Court when the USA has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court.

So is this “kony 2012″ a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing????? Well thats a good possibility.
read the rest of my blog if you think this is all not what it seems!!!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/XbPsmwD5

  2. Euclides Montes

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/XbPsmwD5

  3. sunny hundal

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  4. ???'???????? Fiddy

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  5. Elly McCormack

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  6. Dennis North

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  7. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/1Kcy8c8Z

  8. Lynda Constable

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  9. Ed Kelly

    RT @sunny_hundal The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/TQ5WeF8G

  10. Peter Stanners

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  11. Aisha

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  12. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/xSV6UKhg

  13. Jason Brickley

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/vKOD7P04

  14. Luc Vanindenbeghinne

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/XbPsmwD5

  15. Robert Wolf

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  16. Raj Chaggar

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? I'm not sure it did http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  17. Sally Marshall

    RT @libcon: The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/AFunit9Q

  18. thedharmablues

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/m6cAqxWs via @libcon

  19. Éoin Clarke

    RT @libcon: The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/lmr4DJyK

  20. Janis Cowan

    RT @DrEoinClarke: RT @libcon: The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/v2vwWvCA

  21. SJ

    The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/XbPsmwD5

  22. I'mJoy99

    #UK : The #stopKony campaign was genius – but did it really backfire? http://t.co/1Kcy8c8Z

  23. sunny hundal

    @fi5drums since I knew you were going to ask, here is what I wrote earlier :) http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  24. sunny hundal

    [Final plug for my blog] The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  25. Janani Paramsothy

    "@sunny_hundal: The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/gC3PpZWf" pretty much sums up how i feel

  26. Mrs Blogs

    [Final plug for my blog] The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  27. Ben Diette

    RT @sunny_hundal [Final plug for my blog] The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/hKcdpRgD

  28. Julia Gilbert

    [Final plug for my blog] The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/KmxrbRe9

  29. Sospechas sobre una campaña masiva por Uganda | GUERRA ETERNA

    [...] fue la última vez que una crisis de África interesó a tanta gente? ¿No sería eso motivo suficiente para pasar por alto errores o [...]

  30. Ben Cadwallader

    [Final plug for my blog] The #stopKony campaign was genius – but was it that counter-productive? http://t.co/KmxrbRe9





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.