10 May 2012

KONY2012: A Reflection

By Lauren Kervian

KONY 2012 epitomizes the extreme evolution of paternalism through a means that is less explicit and even more detrimental to the future of the people it aims to help. The world falls for images that operate under the umbrella of genuineness without inquiry or investigation. Africa, in both documentaries, is seen as more of a backdrop for the heroism and self-serving ends of the West than a focus. Jason Russell, in the first video, almost demands an American intervention in Uganda in order to stop Joesph Kony and the actions of Lord’s Resistance Army. His motives and the motives of the Invisible Children charity are fueled by a “Western savior-like complex”. The depressing part about all of this is not the fact itself, but that the global population has blinded itself from the truth. Leaving behind colonial racial slapstick, world powers have taken a subtle approach to assuaging their foreign interest by validating intervention and aid to Africa under the façade of do-good. Yes, the KONY 2012 movement is funded by an NGO, but its goals are realized through the enforcement of the United States Government.

The KONY 2012 videos take an overtly reductionist approach as they simplify the story of millions of Ugandan people. A multifaceted war is made into a black and white (literally), open and shut case. Uganda would be a veritable Elysium if only Joseph Kony were more famous and well-known. Therefore, conscious citizens must share this video and buy this action pack and then voilà—the day will be saved. The first film, albeit more so than the second, is a narrative of hopeless strife in a war-torn region, directly traceable to the hands of Joseph Kony. The United States, it seems, is the only one who can help sound the voices of the young kids abducted and forced to fight for an undetermined cause by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Now, this is a grave assumption of ignorance. Why, if it is a common belief that Ugandans are without say, would they employ the U.S. to be their speaker? The answer can be linked back to a Westernized propensity to be the world’s savior. There is no better place than the ”Dark Continent”, the land of the primitive and uncivilized, to begin a mission of good motive and little forethought. Yes, Joseph Kony is a man of many atrocities, but the campaign to make him infamous will do little in the way of problem solving. This is a movement of protection rather than empowerment.

The images of KONY 2012 are meant to entice the observer to a certain end. The watchers of this video are bombarded with facts that make action seem easy and immediate, without questioning the White Man’s Burden complex upon which they are operating. Jacob, the Ugandan boy turned man who tells the heart-wrenching story of his captivity and brother’s death, is the source of all sympathy. He is a child that needs help and Westerners are there to provide it. The paternalism is palpable and stock in African agency is nonexistent. The inclusion of Jacob’s interview is used to emotionally manipulate the viewer into action. What is missing from the film are Ugandans talking about the meaningful strides being taken in the nation now. The movement, on the whole, isolates the duties of Americans from the Africans. The U.S. is trying to eliminate one enemy, while it ignores a million more that can take his place. Solving for the moment will only bind Africa more tightly in the chains that are foreign dependence.

Now, it is interesting that the second video was watched by only ten percent of the original viewers. Although the sequel was undoubtedly a placation tactic employed to pacify critics and well-informed individuals, it was still an attempt at remediation. There is finally a mention of the crisis being “complex” and interviews with Ugandans are more prevalent than before. This being said, it lacks answers and falls victim to the same oversimplification approach that doomed its predecessor. Sure, the filmmakers (not Russell, considering his very public arrest) try to rectify their documented ignorance, but the publication was just too little too late. People had already heard enough – their duty to the Ugandan children and to the world were made clear during the first thirty-minute segment. The pioneer version did such a great job of making the problem digestible, that it was simply a waste of time trying to actually understand the foundation behind the movement.

Why understand, when you can help now?

This is America today. The KONY 2012 movement was born out of ignorance and a nationwide willingness to play the world hero. It is almost fruitless (even if it is necessary) to condemn the videos, when their existence was tailored to fit the image the United States has promoted in the global arena. Superiority complexes and a deeply rooted colonial ideology will always found movements resembling KONY 2012. Modern day paternalism is paler, weaker, and perhaps better than before. Yet such a distinction is fundamentally irrelevant when our sin is categorically evil. We, not the documentaries, are the reason for this continued frame of reference with respect to Africa. KONY 2012 is but a manifestation of a hidden ideology – paternalism.


Lauren Kervian is a freshman at Duke University, where she is planning to major in Molecular Biology with a minor in Russian Culture and Language. Originally from Springfield, Missouri, her hope is to one day attend medical school and become a pediatrician. Lauren is a huge Boston sports fan and has an obsession with all things chocolate.