It has been a little over a month since the internet phenomenon of KONEY 2012 and Invisible Children has gone viral in the consciousness of the world. This has made me think a lot about Slacktivism and the impact that it really has, this site is interested in engaged people who try to impact the world in a positive while, so why am I so bother with this phenomenon of slacktivism and slactivists? I thought that it was important for me to wait till this latest phenomenon has blown over before I would write about this, to avoid any conclusions that I was reacting directly to the Invisible Children campaign (which I still believe must be questioned and examined) and also to see just what impact has this had. But first of all, what is Slacktivism?
Slacktivism is a term that is a combination of the words slacker and activism. It is usually considered to be a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts require minimal personal effort from the slactivist. The underlying assumption being promoted is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research. These slactivist activities include signing Internet petitions, joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services. Research is beginning to explore the connection between the concept and modern activism/advocacy, as groups are increasingly using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids describes the term slacktivist, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.”
We could debate on the value of slacktivism in today’s world, but what I am more interested in exploring is the actual impact that campaigns like KONY 2012 achieve and also just how informed are people when they start plastering their Facebook profiles and twitter accounts with these types of campaigns. First of all, did anyone know who Invisible Children are and how were they working for the cause that they are publishing? Secondly, what are other organizations and groups in the area saying about this same cause? Are we to trust what one group is saying? This is something that I learned early in my activist days, my first activist actions were the creation of an ARA chapter (Anti-Racist Action), then taking part in Anti-Globalisation protests and then giving out flyers for Animal Rights Groups, and now I have been bringing meditation to people who are incarcerated. My message has always been one of compassion and tolerance, the vehicle might have changed through the years, but the message has remained. One thing that this transformation has taught me, and I think that most activists have the same storyline to a certain degree, we unfortunately learn that we can’t trust even those fighting the good fight. My best example is PETA, an organization that helped me discover the fight for animals, but as time went on I noticed that I could not support their methods and tactics by 100%. Discovery of their euthanasia practices, and especially the internet pornography site that they created ( I mean, how are you able to free animals from oppression and suffering while you oppress women?), these facts made me go through periods of self-reflection and realize that we have to research who we decide to follow and not be fooled by flashy and catchy advertising.
So when KONY 2012 came out, the first thing that I did was research Invisible Children and assure that they were an organization that would be trustworthy. And, with some quick research we see that Invisible Children might not be the organization that we should trust with this campaign. So lets start at the beginning… After some research, I found out that only 25% of their fundraising actually goes towards helping the children of Africa while the other 75% goes towards salaries, travel and other expenses. How could one support and contribute to a charity that barely even donates to the cause it is founded upon? Even the Ugandan people don’t support them according to the Uganda government? The Invisible Children organization used “multiple regional conflicts to make it appear that this is one rapidly increasing issue” according to one source. They used as much emotion as they could in order to provoke a young generation. But they provoked us all for a false purpose, a false issue and a war that has ended.
So many people that I know were outraged about this issue when they first saw this video; I decided to do more research to hopefully better inform those around me because I did not want them to fall into the trap of basing my opinion on emotion like so many had, simply because they are so uneducated on the situation in central Africa. I was faced with many people telling me that no matter what Invisible Children were doing, the important thing was that people were being informed; but, as I looked more into it, I noticed that people were being wrongly informed and letting emtions take over their judgements. The Internet movement by Invisible Children was meant to play off our emotions and appeal to those who are uneducated about the issue and it did exactly that; however, none of us have ever lived there so why not believe those that have?
There is no denying that Joseph Kony is a terrible person. He has done shocking things and for them, he deserves to be punished. The nature and execution of the punishment is what we seem to be arguing over in every spare column inch and every other Facebook post. Given that we have decided to despise him, what’s the best thing we can really do to help Ugandans and others who have been affected by his regime? Kony stands accused of conscripting over 30,000 children into combat warfare over a twenty-year period. The plight of those affected has been brought to light by ‘Invisible Children’, the charity behind this campaign. They believe that the US military should intervene to capture him and the ‘KONY 2012′ video, which has now gone viral, intends to inform the wider world and work as a call to action so that the US government will take note.
This move has not been without backlash, as the charity has come under attack from many other aid groups and lobbyists claiming that the campaign is “at best a gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation, and, at worst, an actively unhelpful misuse of resources and attention.” Essentially, after only days of support for Invisible Children, the charity is now being accused of misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and essentially making the situation in Uganda worse. This idea has gained support from NGO workers, activists, academics and journalists but, naive as this statement may seem, how bad can they be if they are bringing attention to the crisis?
Whatever about making the situation worse, the basic fact is that while Invisible Children sells itself as a charity set up to campaign against the use of child soldiers, only one-third of money raised has gone to directly assist children and families affected by such regimes. The video seen by millions around the world may raise awareness, but what if this is awareness based on false ‘facts’? Joseph Kony isn’t actually in Uganda and hasn’t been for six years or so. Such a fact seemed to not to matter too much in the thirty minutes Invisible Children talked about stopping this warlord. If this is just the surface, where else has the charity bent the truth?
The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is not the leader of a democracy. Ushering in a fourth term in the office last year, he has now held this position for twenty-five years. Museveni lords over a country with minimal social services and well-documented governmental human rights abuses. Invisible Children is channelling money into a corrupt country. Stopping Kony will not change any of the other facts about Uganda and if we are to support the giving of more finance and firearms to those in power, we may actually make the country’s overall problems worse.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Uganda is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the Lord’s Resistance Army, of which Kony is the head. Yes, you read right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one both the Government of Uganda and the LRA have perpetrated and benefited from after nearly twenty-five years of systemic violence and displacement. In order to stop Kony, we may be looking at a larger problem, far beyond the scope of Invisible Children.
What the charity has at its core is obvious – the welfare of children, especially those who have been conscripted, but condoning violence of the sort proposed to bring down Kony and to ‘free’ the Ugandan people seems slightly counter-productive. If you’re trying to save people and safeguard children, the best way to go about it is not to storm their country with ammunition and a mission to kill one man. Those caught in the crosshairs will not be few and far between.
Where there is an argument, there is always an objection and Invisible Children have not taken their criticism lying down. Finance aside, they say that co-ordination with regional governments is vital in helping to secure the arrest they so desperately want, and promise that no money has passed from them to the Ugandan government. They say that their video is simple because their goal, at its core, is not complex, but they also state that they want to see as many people as possible coming out to support the cause and the ‘KONY 2012’ video appeared to be the best way to do it. Whatever we think about it, they’re correct about one thing: we are talking about it.
Nevertheless, Kony 2012 focuses on one warlord and asks that viewers support the continued presence of U.S. military advisers in Uganda to capture him. However, U.S. forces participated in a disastrous operation in 2008 that failed to capture Kony in his base in Congo, but which succeeded in provoking the LRA to launch a ferocious counteroffensive. The rebels abducted an estimated 700 people and killed almost 1000. The Invisible Children video likewise ignores the brutality of the Ugandan military’s campaign against the LRA. In the hunt for Kony, they have been accused of looting the Central African Republic and forcing women into prostitution. The Kony 2012 campaign will not only reinforce this brutality by giving it a “humanitarian” justification, but it serves to strengthen an authoritarian state that last made global headlines for its attempts to pass a law to punish homosexuality with death.
Even from a strictly humanitarian point of view, it’s hard to see why U.S. intervention deserves support. First of all, if the military were to find Kony, we should ask how many of the LRA’s child soldiers—in whose name Invisible Children claims to speak—were killed in the attempt to bring him in. We might also question the commitment of the U.S. government to ending the use of child soldiers in Uganda when it funds the armies of four countries that continue to use them, including Yemen and the Congo. But beyond these questions, it’s important to remember that U.S. military interventions never have been and never will be carried out for humanitarian motivations. U.S. military involvement in Uganda isn’t about concern for ordinary people, but Washington’s desire to strengthen its foothold in Africa. According to a transcript from a March 1 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon’s Africa Command is aiming to expand its presence in the region.
For anyone who watched the Invisible Children video, the deceptions in the call for intervention weren’t the only troubling aspects.
Despite Invisible Children’s claim to speak on behalf of Kony’s child soldiers, only one such soldier appears in the video. The only other Ugandans interviewed are politicians—representatives of a U.S.-aligned government that has repressed the Acholi. In fact, the camera spends more time on the video’s white director and his child, and the white activists working with Invisible Children. According to the video, this is “a crucial time in history where what we do or don’t do right now will affect every generation to come.” But the “we” in that passage is clearly Westerners, not Ugandans. This approach—appealing to people in the United States to fight Joseph Kony on behalf of the people of Uganda—has a long and ugly history. It goes by the term “white man’s burden”—the racist argument made famous by British poet Rudyard Kipling that it is the duty of Western countries to be a “civilizing” influence in undeveloped parts of the world.
The Kony 2012 campaign embraces the idea that the people of Uganda must be “saved” from themselves by the benevolent West. This ideology justified almost a century of colonialism in Uganda and the rest of Africa, creating the very conditions that produced monsters like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni. Naturally, people in the United States who see the Kony 2012 video will want to do something to alleviate the suffering that they see portrayed in the film. But if nothing else, a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan should teach us that the U.S. war machine can never be used to stop violence and end suffering. The Kony 2012 video gives false answers to a terrible conflict. The best way to help Uganda is to challenge U.S. intervention and the neoliberal economic policies that devastated the continent.
Are we still talking about bringing down this African warlord? I have to say that I have almost heard nothing about Invisible Children and their KONY 2012 campaign, like so many other online revolutions, people are distracted and have returned to their everyday Facebook use. A second video has been released but the campaign has definitely lost its steam, and now the slactivists of the world are waiting for the next big moment! This makes me sad, where are all these people that were up in arms? The ones that wanted to bring awareness to all corners of the world? Where is the fight? We don’t change the world with awareness, but with actions I suppose; and liking something on Facebook does not change anything….
Also, to just go back to the “white man’s burden”, what are you doing in your country to help the people who are oppressed and being killed by a morally bankrupt government. I feel that there is not the same empathy for the Native American and the suffering and oppression that he is faced with everyday in Canada. There are causes that are being brought to the publics attention by organizations like Amnesty International about the cruel indifference by the Canadian people towards its Native population, a peoples that our ancestors killed and stripped away all resemblance of the world and culture that they once knew. Here are some videos to help some of you be better informed about what is happening in our own backyards.
Two Worlds Colliding is a movie about Darrel Night, a Native American man that was dumped by two police officers in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon in January 2000, during freezing tempatures (-20 degrees celsius). He was able to find shelter and survive the whole ordeal, but he was shocked to find out that the frozen bodies of other Aboriginal men were discovered in the same area. This documentary explores what was known as Saskatoon’s infamous “freezing deaths,” and the tension between a mistrustful Aboriginal community and a police force that has to come to terms with a shocking secret.
This next video is about the hundreds of Native women that are murdered and ignored. This helps to show the stagering indifference that exists in regards to this subject.
Thanks for reading and I hope that we will always take the time to look into the causes that we decide to support, and most importantly… Are you acting locally also to help make your community a better place for those that will follow?