The KONY 2012 video is spreading like wildfire throughout social networks and is likely to become one of the stories of the year. The video introduces an ambitious activist plan for stopping and arresting Joseph Kony, leader of the East African LRA rebels’ army and a wanted war criminal. Why do I refer to this project in this blog? Unlike any other activist movement, the KONY 2012 is not only convincing us to help the KONY objective but linking this movement with the power of internet social networks, claiming that in this era new communication tools can allow us to make a change anywhere on the globe. This pretentious argument is not baseless, but demands some clarifications.
Before being petty, I must express appreciation to the KONY ambition and to people who approach the project from a warm-hearted place. That is indeed touching.
The most solid and interesting idea expressed in the KONY video is that when the public pressures the government to do something by raising the flag of justice, then even an action that the government has no security or economical interest in can suddenly become required. Responding to public pressure is a new interest. The KONY team don’t lament the rules of the political game, but rather use the public to win it. After understanding that the US government has no interest in entering Uganda, only public pressure and media campaigns managed to change that picture. It is left to see whether one day public pressure doesn’t only manage to make a government act in a place of no interest, but will even lead it to act in battles that strongly contradict its economic interests. At present even ‘justice’ has its price.
The KONY video portrays itself as the battle of the masses, but its current ‘marketing’ tool is an amazingly produced 29 min video that incorporates all the charisma and emotionality tricks of popular culture. Not all activists in the world, even Facebook and Youtube users, have means to produce such impressive propaganda.
KONY has a movie-like black and white plot as Joseph Kony is the ultimate ‘bad guy’. In 29 minutes, the video hardly talks about the background of Kony and the LRA and asks us simply to commit to the idea that he must be stopped in all cause.
I have no criticism towards this narration, but I refer to it because the weight of this propaganda isn’t addressed towards the ‘why’ but to the ‘how’. The audience joins not as creative thinkers who analyze the situation but as people who participate in the marketing platform and hold hands together in this attractive ‘community’.
What can really be learned from the KONY video? Is it a good cause wrapped with a pretentious (or manipulative) message or does it really offer a way to make the world a better place? 99% of the conflicts taking place as we speak cannot be reduced to one evil bad guy as the KONY story is. If similar techniques are to dismantle clashes in other locations, they would either a-market a bad guy and ignore complexity or b-allow greater place for dialogue and brainstorming concerning the ‘why’.
The KONY video hints that similar projects will be organized in the future after Kony is arrested and that the world can together change global leadership priorities. Except for mentioning the fact that most of the global population is still not online nor connected to FB, and hence cannot participate in such projects, the resource of time and emotions will prevent people from covering more than a small fractions of the problems that occur in the ‘invisible’ parts of the world. This format does not really create a bottom up process for changing world politics, even if it shows that rules can change in some occasions.
If this new format of activism becomes less about bad guys and good guys, people will have to become more aware of facts, details and emotions of local people and be creative not only in the propagation but also in the solutions. In some warzones there is no single evil dictator and endless arguments about right and wrong take place. Global activism that would listen, arrange dialogues between commoners of both fighting (or hating) sides and promote solutions together with the locals could be the true revolution some of us are hoping for.
The thing I likes most in the KONY video is the image of the born infant and the narration that every one of us is born pure and does not choose where to be born at. If this message is remembered, even when we look at aggressive youth, bitter adults, and enemies, then positive things will follow. I choose to hope that the audience of the KONY video will promote that message rather than simply enjoy the internet pursuit of the African warlord.
the video can be watched here