The immediate impact of the KONY 2012 video and campaign by the NGO Invisible Children has sparked a high level of debate on social media platforms. The video has been seen by seventy six million people on Youtube and its reach continues to grow. It is a textbook example of viral campaign.
Invisible Children, an organisation founded from a documentary of the same name that was released in 2006, has worked in LRA (Lords Resistance Army) affected areas since the movie began. the organisation also focuses on advocacy and lobbying. Their videos have raised awareness of the atrocities committed by the LRA, and has created a high level of interest in Uganda in the United States, the home of Invisible Children.
The most recent video has managed to polarize its audience, some viewers have been struck by the awful plight of those affected by the LRA and are outraged that Joseph Kony is still at large and causing atrocities (all be it at a dramatically reduced rate). Other viewers are not only outraged at this, but are also outraged at Invisible Children, the makers of the video.
Their objections range from the messiah like depiction of Jason Russell (the narrator of the film); the focus on the need for the US to intervene to ‘save Africa’; the lack of balance in not showing the different stakeholders and the reasons for the end of the war in Uganda; the lack of understanding of the reasons for the war; to the support for the US training of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) that have their own history of human rights abuses.
It is true that the film does not sufficiently show the context of the conflict, or try to understand or show the viewer the reasons as to why armed rebel groups such as the LRA form and continue to thrive. The marginalisation of people in Northern Uganda lead to the establishment of many rebel groups of which the LRA became the sole survivor.
But, in my opinion, both sides of the KONY campaign miss the most important subject which is the topic that we should all be tweeting about: education.
You might wonder where education fits into all of this? Well, I believe education fits in everywhere. There are 24 Countries listed with ongoing conflicts in Africa. Many who wage these wars are victims of discrimination, marginalisation and a significant lack of education. If we want to really understand the reasons as to why rebel groups such as the LRA are formed, and why they are formed so frequently, we need to look at our societies in more depth and how we educate our young leaders of tomorrow.
This campaign should be more than a focus on capturing one individual, we should be looking at the root causes of conflict, encouraging our leaders, governments and civil society to understand why communities and individuals that are marginalised feel the need to take arms and commit such atrocities.
The campaign for access to education under the millennium development goals has seen a steady increase in the number of children enrolled in schools. But school enrolment is not enough. We need more focus on relevant curriculum, pedagogy and schools that can give young people who are facing adversity the chance to improve their livelihoods without the temptations of resorting to conflict.
This campaign has given us the opportunity to discuss the root causes of conflict and how we can address this through education.
Last week a colleague of ours visited a school in Switzerland to talk to some schoolchildren about the KONY 2012 campaign. All the children that they spoke to knew about Joseph Kony through the video, but none of them could name up to ten wars over the past decade. Social media has enabled us to publicise single issues like never before, but we should not lose sight of the broader context.