The “Kony 2012” Experiment

“The next 27 minutes are an experiment. But in order for it to work, you have to pay attention.” With those words, on March 5, Jason Russell, Co-founder of Invisible Children, Inc. launched the video “Kony 2012.” Sixteen days and 99 million viewers later, “the experiment” has not only gotten peoples’ attention, it has set off a fire storm of controversy writ large across the globe.

Literally, hundreds of thousands of people: foreign policy think tanks, high school students, bloggers, culture critics, politicians, NGO’s, actors, villagers in Uganda and even President Obama have dived into the debate over whether the film serves a positive social and political purpose.

What’s more astonishing is that the majority of people weighing in on the controversy have missed the point of “the experiment.” So, what is it that “Kono 2012” detractors and some of its defenders are missing?

Invisible Children’s objective in the making the film is to promote their “Stop Kony” movement; the mission is to make Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony so well known internationally, that global outrage will facilitate his arrest in 2012. Told in part from the perspective of Jacob, a Ugandan youth whose brother is kidnapped and forced into Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a harrowing picture emerges of thousands of children –boys and girls—converted into an army of youth soldiers and sex slaves. These youth were not only forced to pillage and visit unspeakable atrocities upon their fellow countrymen, but to murder their own parents.

But as compelling as it is, “Kony 2012” is not really about this story. It is not a narrative about Joseph Kony or Jacob, or for that matter the Ugandan people. Africa and other corners of the world are all too familiar with the rogues’ gallery of butchers like Kony, Idi Amin Dada, Charles Taylor, Augusto Pinochet, Muammar Ghadaffi and others. They also know that the world powers of the “civilized west” have more often than not turned a blind eye to these acts of genocide in Rwanda, Serbia and Darfur unless forced to respond.

The essence–the revolutionary kernel–of Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012”campaign is to squarely put the responsibility of policing the planet’s “bad actors” on the global community, not on non-responsive governments. It is now possible for the emerging global community, empowered with the connecting force of the internet and its vast array of social media tools to play this revolutionary role. The massive response to “Kony 2012” has already succeeded in demonstrating the potential and the power of a politically roused electronic global village.

Thus, at the end of the day, “Kony 2012” the video and the organizing effort to “Stop Kony” is about us. It is a test—an experiment–if you will, to determine if we have truly grasped what the technological revolution now makes possible. And when it comes to human slaughter and deprivation, the speed in which we can act becomes the difference between life and death for thousands of people.

Those who quibble over whether Invisible Children exaggerated the number of deaths in Uganda, or complain that Kony’s worst crimes happened five years ago, or bemoan the fact that Kony’s militia is no longer in Uganda really miss the point. To be sure, the founders of “Invisible Children” are no angels, although they indeed appear to have their roots in the Christian Right. Yes, their eight-year campaign has raised millions of dollars and they have problems with transparency. It is also true that the 30 minute film is simplistic, but the millions who have been awakened by Invisible Children’s efforts—many for the first time–do not have the luxury of attending Conflict Resolution 1.0 courses at Harvard or Oxford.

On April 20, Invisible Children organizers and supporters have vowed to plaster cities across the globe with “Kony 2012” posters. This escalation of the campaign is the mid-term test—a real-time demonstration of strength. The final exam date is December 31. By then we will know if the “Kony 2012” experiment has succeeded in generating enough international pressure to capture the war criminal Joseph Kony.


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