If you haven’t heard of Joseph Rao Kony by now, you probably will soon. An online campaign to make the alleged war criminal “famous” has gone viral in a big way. Invisible Children, a non-profit group dedicated to helping children in war-torn and impoverished areas, made a video calling for the Ugandan warlord and leader of the Christian fundamentalist Lord’s Resistance Army to be brought to justice. It’s received more than 7 million hits on YouTube so far. On Twitter, #StopKony has been trending worldwide, and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Rihanna have helped spread the word.
And why not hop on board? As leader of the LRA in Uganda for the past two decades, Kony is allegedly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, the abduction and killing of children, and—perhaps most infamously—for brainwashing and recruiting child soldiers.
But, as The Guardian reported Thursday, some people are raising concerns about the charity behind the campaign. Chris Blattman, a Yale University professor, has criticized the organization for promoting campaigns that are “inherently naive” in their language that aims at “saving” children in Africa. He says this “hints uncomfortably at “the White Man’s Burden,” referring the patronizing term used to justify European imperial exploits in Africa and Asia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Others have pointed out that the Kony2012 campaign encourages Western forces to cooperate with the Ugandan army in bringing Kony to justice without acknowledging that military’s record of human rights abuses. “We have documented numerous cases in which they’ve been involved in torture and arbitrary arrests, as well as a score of killings of unarmed protesters and bystanders during political demonstrations in the past three years,” Maria Burnett, Human Rights Watch’s Africa division senior researcher, told The Guardian.
Is it fair to criticize the campaign for failing to grasp the complexities of the region’s political and social realities? Might some detractors feel differently if Kim Kardashian wasn’t on board?
Sadly, the answer is maybe.