I finally watched the Invisible Children video that is making waves this week. I had tried to watch it a couple times before but I kept turning it off because I don’t like seeing a community that I know as strong, peaceful and warm portrayed in that light.
The main footage you see of Gulu, a town that has occasionally been my home over the past five years, is of the night commuters back in 2003 or 2004. After watching this video you have no idea that Gulu is a booming town that is recovering from the conflict the best it can. Gulu is a place where I watch local soccer matches and cheer for the team my friend coaches; Gulu is a place where karaoke parties usually included a multinational rendition of Bob Marley or Madonna; Gulu is a place where going for a run involves saying hello to countless people, dodging a few goats and the odd motorcycle taxi; Gulu is no longer a place of night commuters and rebel raids. Yes horrible things have happened there, and the scars of the conflict remain physically, emotionally, economically and politically. There’s no denying Joseph Kony has done evil things but we can’t let that define Gulu or northern Uganda – we can’t fall victim to the danger of a single story.
Having spent time in northern Uganda, I am not a fan of Invisible Children and the way they work (and I’m not the only one who feels this way as this week has made clear) but I’m going to leave my criticism of the organization aside and focus on the energy that has been created.
So the real question is what do we do now that everyone and their dog has seen this video?
First off, I think we need to think critically. The video plays on emotions and offers an easy solution. If the solution was really that easy, why is Kony still at large? Hint – it’s not because North Americans didn’t care. It’s because the conflict is really really complicated despite what an IC director says. It’s been six years and four stints in the region since my crash course in the LRA and northern Uganda and I still don’t have all the causes, allegiances and interests sorted out.
This video has brought up a huge debate and IC has faced some strong criticism. Rather than react emotionally to this criticism, I think it is good to read all the perspectives especially the Ugandan ones. Some of the comments I’ve been seeing on this discussion have been really defensive and emotional and others were just plain rude. The majority of the people criticizing this campaign are people who have been working on this and similar issues for years – they know what they are talking about – they don’t want to criticize for the sake of criticizing or because they are jaded. They are criticizing because they believe that this campaign is bad advocacy and bad advocacy can actually harm people. I understand that people want to help and may feel that doing something is better than doing nothing but sometimes that isn’t the case. There is a great list of articles on Why Dev and I think people should read as many as possible. Think critically about what everyone is saying – this is a complex topic and the more you know the better.
There’s the concept that my friend Hayley and I call “owning your shit”. In between learning more and acting is ‘owning your shit’. Owning your shit essentially means knowing who you are, what you can offer and what your limitations are. I am a Canadian woman, I have some background in humanitarian work and peacebuilding in northern Uganda but I’m no expert. As a 27 year old Canadian – I am not going to end the LRA and quite frankly neither are you. But that’s ok. What we can offer is donations; we can ask what support is needed by organizations in Uganda working to rebuild their society and maybe we can provide some of that support from home. We can remind our politicians that we would like them to support efforts in East and Central Africa but even then it is up to the governments of Uganda, South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR to act. We all have to realize that watching a video, tweeting it and buying a bracelet isn’t going to solve the problem any time soon. Even if Kony is captured tomorrow or in two months, the video will probably not be why he is captured – correlation does not mean causation.
The Kony2012 movement allows us to feel powerful in the face of horrific abuses against our fellow humans but it is just a feeling of power. It pulls at our emotions and then offers a simple way to act. Sharing a video, clicking a link and putting up Kony posters feels like we’re doing something but it doesn’t actually have much of an impact on the suffering caused by the LRA. Instead take that emotion – that desire to do something – and funnel it into listening to Ugandans, Sudanese and Congolese communities affected by the LRA and supporting the organizations that work with them. There’s a ton of organizations working on the ground in LRA affected areas doing good things – they could use some support – check out the Child Soldier Initiative, War Child, MSF, AVSI, Women of Kireka and GUSCO to name a few.
I’m happy so many people care, let’s just put all that energy to good use.