Why Kony2012 Is A Good Thing


Meet Kiana.

Kiana is my 15-year old sister. Sometimes I forget that there's nearly a decade between us, because in a lot of ways, Kiana is not a regular teenage girl. She is unselfish, compassionate, and I've never heard her say a mean thing about anybody.

Yet in a lot of other ways, Kiana is a regular teenage girl. She's obsessed with The Vampire Diaries, wears extensions, loves manicures and shopping, and can play a mean game of Temple Runner on her iPad (which, by the way, she bought with her own money). On March 6th, all she talked about was one thing:

"Have you heard of Kony?"


The next morning, I watched the Kony2012 and couldn't help but feel moved. I shared the link on Facebook and Twitter, changed my profile picture, and donated to Invisible Children.

Is this "slacktivism?" Absolutely. Is there much else I'm capable of doing to help the situation? Not really. Hate on slacktivism all you want, but sometimes it's the all people have to offer. I think it's wrong and mean-spirited to berate people for trying to use what little philanthropic power they have.

One of the biggest charges against Invisible Children is its paternalistic approach to international development. Paternalism encompasses the idea of privileged Westerners thinking "Aw, look at all these poor people in ____. I'm going to save them." Rather than helping others help themselves, Westerners often approach development with a messianic view of their stewardship (see also: the White Man's Burden). This often worsens problems rather than fixing them. Take, for example, TOMS. Buy a pair of shoes, give a pair to a person in need. What could be so bad about that? Well, nothing, if it didn't run local shoemakers out of business. It's good marketing, but bad aid.

The Kony2012 campaign by Invisible Children is much of the same. Cute little blonde-haired boy is sad because Kony is a "bad guy." Pictures of Ugandan children as child soldiers. It's poverty porn at its finest. People complain that the video was simplistic--watering down an extremely complicated regional issue into viral clickbait.

The list of grievances goes on: From solutions that Invisible Children is advocating for (like military intervention and allocating resources to the Ugandan Army), to its intellectual shallowness, on and on and on.

You know what's crazy? I agree with all of this criticism. You know what's crazier? I still love the campaign.

Because I am talking about it right. now.

Yeah, we've got some bad advocacy going on with the Invisible Children campaign. But look at the discussion it's spurred! We're not just talking about the LRA and Joseph Kony, but development and aid in general. What is good aid? What is bad aid? How do we satisfy our desire to be altruistic without being paternalistic? What should you know about an organization before you donate to it?  What do we need to know about Uganda and the area around it before coming up with solutions? What would a good solution achieve? Who needs to be involved and how do we involve them? In the era of "development 2.0", these are critical questions.


My 15-year old sister can do something today that she couldn't do three days ago: Albeit however simply, she can articulate an issue of crimes against humanity that is happening half a world away from her. She is feeling a sense of responsibility--an awakened conscience telling her that being a member of this planet means looking out for our global family.

When I asked Kiana some nuanced questions about the Ugandan situation, all she could say was "You just have to watch the video." And who cares if that's all she could say? She's freaking fifteen. Hate on awareness campaigns all you want, but if you want teenagers to grow up into people who make a difference, awareness is the first step.

Brock asked a question that was really telling:

"Kiana, if your friends had the option of reading a short article about the LRA or watching a half-hour video, what do you think they'd choose?"

"Um, they'd probably watch the video because they don't want to read."

That's life, people. These are teenagers. And now, a word for Kiana.

Kiana, I love the fire I've seen in you the past few days. It's a good thing, and don't you dare let people try to make you feel stupid or naive for it. But if you're truly passionate about the situation in Uganda--and I believe you are--I hope you won't let the Kony2012 video be the extent of your knowledge. Read. Start with Wikipedia and work your way up. And don't think you'll only need to learn about Uganda. You'll need to study the theory and history of development assistance in Africa, the International Criminal Court, the history of crimes against humanity, Ugandan politics, African geography, colonialism, etc.

Reading will open up a web of learning where you'll encounter questions that you didn't even know you had. The more you know, the more you know you don't know. It seems daunting, yes, but guess what? Knowledge is the best weapon.


  1. First of all, this is awesome. You're awesome.

    Second, you are also famous. One of my friends who, as far as I can tell after some light facebook stalking has no connection to you at all, totally posted a link to this post and said how awesome your opinion is.

    I'll have to be watching your followers.


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