In early March, a film entitled “Kony 2012” took the Internet by storm. The video, created by the charity group Invisible Children, was meant to increase awareness of war criminal Joseph Kony, focusing particularly on his abduction of children to use as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Polly Walker, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies, shares her thoughts on the video and its effect on the conflict:
A: I think that it will have an impact on the American populace. I’m not so sure that it’s a very well thought-out impact or that it’s a very effective impact, particularly from the view of conflict transformation and peace-building.
Q: How accurate is the film?
A: I don’t think it’s fully accurate. I think it raises an awareness of the need for retributive justice for perpetrators such as Kony, but it does not represent an accurate picture of what the situation is currently. David Otim, who works with the peace-building Mennonite Central Committee in Uganda, says that the film portrays the situation more in terms of the time period which ended in 2003. And, of course, Kony is now in one of the surrounding countries. There have already been several military attempts to arrest him, and there also have been a number of successful, at least in the interim term, peace-building processes that are not mentioned in the film. The film is a very limited, and not a very nuanced, approach at resolving the conflict. It only focuses on top-down processes and military options, and it does not look at the social, economic, historical, or ongoing political processes that have made it such an entrenched conflict.
Q: Invisible Children has been criticized for focusing more on awareness than on concrete activism. How do you think the importance of awareness compares to direct support?
A: I think that awareness can be dangerous without a deep commitment to change, without a capacity and a well-informed approach. It needs a strong analysis and a strong commitment to change that draws on the local level, and that’s one of the major criticisms that many peace-builders have about the Kony 2012 campaign. The film presents the conflict in two ways: First is the filmmaker saying, “I want a better world for my son,” and then he speaks for a superordinate identity, saying that they want justice for all people. They do not draw on the knowledge and experience of the Ugandan people very deeply. When they screen the film in northern Uganda, most of the people get very angry or get up and walk out. They say, “This isn’t about us. This isn’t about our experience, this isn’t about our process.” It’s through the eyes of a white person in the United States and it’s about the effect that it would have on his child and his community, and then out into the world.
Q: Do you think that this conflict can be resolved peacefully?
A: I think that many countries in the world have many more resources that they could devote to conflict transformation and peace-building, in comparison to how many resources they put into military intervention. I’m not an expert in this, so I don’t think I can say, “Oh yes, it could be,” but I do know that sustainable peace-building conflict transformation requires a much more nuanced and integrated framework than solely a military intervention.
Q: Do you think that people should support Invisible Children, as opposed to other activist groups?
A: I think people who support Invisible Children should clearly understand that they might be contributing a portion of their money to a program of retributive justice. A lot of damage has been done by people with good intentions, and there are criticisms that Invisible Children reaches a very small percentage of people in Uganda. One report says that only 30 percent of the total funds donated to Invisible Children get into programs such as renovating schools, scholarship programs, mentoring children. One of the problems with this Invisible Children program is that it builds a mindset that Africa needs white saviors and white intervention to make this change, leaving the sense that African peoples don’t have the capacity to transform their own problems.
~Laura Bitely ’14, Juniata Online Journalist