20 April 2012

Moving Beyond #Kony2012 to Kony, the LRA and Activism

A new e-book is out today that is worth your time to read. Amanda Taub of Wronging Rights fame edits Beyond #Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness, & Activism in the Internet Age. Today also happens to be the day that Invisible Children supporters will go out and "Take Back the Night." Aimed at new activists, the book features an all star cast of contributors including Bec Hamilton, Jina Moore, Taub with her blogging partner Kate Cronin-Furman, Laura Seay, TMS Ruge, and more.

The hope is that people who were engaged in the issue of Joseph Kony through the IC video will want to learn more. This resource provides a critical take of the video and more information about the issues surrounding Kony. Taub lays out the book in her introduction:
The first several chapters provide historical and political context. Adam Branch, Daniel Kalinaki, and Ayesha Nibbe explain the roots of the conflict, and how it has persisted for so many years. Alex Little and Patrick Wegner discuss various attempts to end the conflict through peace negotiations, ICC arrest warrants, and military operations, and why they have not been successful.

Later chapters consider the ethics and effectiveness of awareness campaigns like Kony 2012. Jina Moore and Glenna Gordon draw on their experiences as journalists to critique the video’s portrayal of Africa and the people who live there. Rebecca Hamilton, Laura Seay, Kate Cronin-Furman, and Amanda Taub examine the weakness of “awareness” advocacy. Alanna Shaikh explains the ethical dangers of bad aid work. Teddy Ruge offers a different view of Africa, as a place of dynamic innovation instead of violence and helplessness. And youth activist Sam Menefee-Libey describes his frustration with the tone and substance of the campaign meant to target his generation.
What Taub does well is shape a book that starts with providing more information about Uganda, Kony, the LRA and Central Africa. It fills in the historical and present perspective that were missing in the original video. From there, contributors engage in thoughtful discussions about the video and the campaign. Though I only had time to skim, my favorite section is the last. Teddy talks about shifting the conversation towards resilience and innovation and Sam uses his practical experience in advocacy to discuss not only why he disliked the campaign, but ways in which young people can become involved in a meaningful way.

You can read one sample chapter for free. Amanda and Kate take on the individuals who cast aside critics of Kony 2012 as mere "arm chair critics." They explain that the point of view comes from a paradigm of heroes verses critics. The heroes are the actors on the ground that are doing something in the face of an atrocity. In setting up the two opposing ideas, the heroes can emerge as the do-gooders that are working to make change. Ultimately, it allows the substance of criticisms to be cast aside. By saying that a critic is doing nothing the response acts to undermine the criticisms through a personal attack. Rhetorically, it is a brilliant move that distracts the audience from the concerns raised.

Not every critic of Kony 2012 had merit. It became popular to tout the idea of the US's oil interest as the reason for the action. Such a claim is as simplistic as the Kony 2012 video. The chapter ties all of this together to help illustrate some of the shortfalls of awareness raising. By creating such a strong narrative, it becomes easy to shut out discussion, debate and criticism. Give the chapter a read and then go get the full book. It is a pay-as-you-want system that allows you to get it for free, pay the suggested $2.99 or a bit more or less.

I will try to do a full review once I have read the entire book.