Melissa Bukuru is an intern with the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Program. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.
After 50 million views and a media buzz that shows no sign of dying down quickly, backlash to Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video campaign was inevitable. Many African journalists are protesting the “imperialist” undertones of the video, arguing that the video presents only a “single story”and ignores the community-based organizations already at work in Uganda and its neighbors (not to mention plenty of important details about the LRA.)
Invisible Children’s campaign appears to be a cash machine: as of now the ‘action kit,’ a $30 pack that contains a t-shirt, a bracelet, and other gear is sold out. For all the popular attention generated by the video, there has been less attention paid to the actual solution the advocacy group is pushing for – to have Kony arrested, and brought to the ICC to stand trial.
The International Crisis Group’s excellent report (pdf) on the LRA published in November explains that while advocacy groups and others should press for the arrest of Kony and the other LRA leaders, “this could leave many LRA fighters in the bush [who] would continue to be a threat to civilians.” Its final assessment is that while US involvement is promising, “African buy-in” is required. But, the strengthening of the Ugandan army in particular could have the undesirable consequence of helping Museveni hold on to power after thirty years in office, as well as supporting a continued culture of impunity within the army. (He spent $740 million on new Russian fighter jets last summer.)
The danger here is best articulated by Ethan Zuckerman who wonders if the fundamental shortcoming of the Invisible Children approach is that it “forces [us] to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions?” Yesterday, the State Department’s spokesperson fielded five questions about the KONY 2012 campaign — the same number of questions she answered about defections in the Syrian government — and reiterated that the US is “quite aggressive in trying to support the governments that are going after the LRA.” The fragile East and Central African region is complex, and the LRA is more than just Kony.
One possible benefit of the video’s visibility is the space it has created to educate Americans with a counter narrative about the complexities of the conflict in central Africa (which the blogosphere has made a commendable effort to do.)