Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Covering the Truth

We recently received this message view the listserv for historians of Africa hosted by Michigan State University.

In response to the explosion of campus interest in the Kony2012 video  and the "Cover the Night" event this weekend of the Invisible Children  organization, several Africanists have prepared new educational  materials to promote more accurate understanding of the situation in  Uganda and Central Africa and the LRA.

The 11-page packet React and Respond: The Phenomenon of Kony 2012 can be downloaded from the web site of the Association of Concerned African Scholars.

It includes an overview of the LRA situation, guides for teachers  about stereotypes and critical thinking about Africa and media  literacy regarding the Kony 2012 video, "What can we do about Uganda  and the LRA?," and a resource list. Please share it with high school  and middle school teachers - and college students - you think might  use it.  The National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) is publishing a  shortened version in the May-June edition of "Social Education," which  has 17,000 subscribers. The packet was created by the Outreach  Directors at the Boston University and Michigan State University  African Studies Centers, Barbara Brown and John Metzler, with  Christine Root from the Association of Concerned Africa (ACAS).

See also the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars' Statement to  the U.S. Government about the Lord's Resistance Army and Central  Africa which is on ACAS' extensive resource list on this topic.

Finally, a group of young scholars has organized Uncover the Night, a petition campaign  advocating to Obama against a military solution.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Slacktivism to Activism

We are hoping, through our April 12 viewing and follow-up conversation with regional experts, to help move our community from slacktivism to activism. The term slacktivism has been around for a few years, but the Kony 2012 phenomenon has gotten people to think about it more carefully.

  The Rise of the Slacktivist
Sortable The Rise of the Slacktivist

Monday, March 19, 2012

Beyond Kony

On its new Beyond Kony page, the HungerSite rightly suggests that this moment be used to learn about humanitarian crises that would continue in Central Africa, even if Kony is brought to justice. Proceed with caution, though, as this site practically invented slacktivism. This is not to say that clicking and buying will do any harm, but such actions are not likely to be fully sufficient.

Image from Foreign Policy article
Brave New World of Slacktivism
In fairness, the Foreign Policy article cited here was written two years before the Occupy movement, when people did start to move beyond couch-based social change.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Another War on Ugandans

When I set up this blog in response to the Kony 2012 video and phenomenon, my first intention was to provide access to many different points of view on the video and movement itself. My second intention was to provide access to much more information on the Lords Resistance Army. A week into the fracas, we have done a pretty decent job on the first goal and have made a modest start on the second. Much more remains to be read and posted on the LRA, but more recent news brings me to a third goal: to provide some information related to the attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Uganda that have been supported by "Christian" groups in the United States.

In the Bad Coffee House post on my blog Environmental Geography, I point to several recent news stories about a "ministry" in Springfield, Massachusetts that is being sued for its role in promoting the killing of GLBT people in Uganda.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On the Media

The Kony 2012 phenomenon is, more than anything, a media phenomenon, so it was a natural subject to be covered by this week's edition of On the Media.

In What to Make of Kony 2012, Brook Gladstone speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholoas Kristof, whose recent column on the subject is entitled Viral Video, Vicious Warlord. They have a very frank discussion about how social movements in the West are generated, including the pivotal role of "bridge characters" that connect would-be activists to far-away victims. They examine the balance between empowering people to overcome their own challenges, versus the feeding a White Savior Industrial Complex.

In a second segment, The Kony That [sic] Ugandans Know, Brook speaks with Musa Okwonga, who recently wrote Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions for the British paper The Independent. In the interview, Okwonga, who is of Ugandan descent, describes the surprise experienced by middle-class Ugandans in the region that was vacated by Kony years ago. He warns against the patronizing attitude conveyed in the video and critiqued by so many, though he does express satisfaction the campaign -- however flawed -- is bringing some much-needed attention to devastation wrought by the LRA. This interview is particularly informative, as it describes -- from a Ugandan point of view -- several aspects of the story I've not heard elsewhere.

Human Rights Watch

As mentioned in the Amnesty International post below, the Invisible Children campaign against Joseph Kony should lead viewers to do some reading about the work of other long-established NGOs in Uganda and surrounding countries. One of these is Human Rights Watch, whose Ida Sawyer recently wrote From Campaigning to Action on Joseph Kony and the LRA.

Sawyer describes how HRW helped to bring about the Obama Administration's current effort to pursue Kony with U.S. Special Forces. She agrees with critics that social networking alone is not enough to bring Kony to justice, nor would that in turn be enough to solve the problems created by the LRA or the broader problems in the region. She does, however, argue that bringing Kony to justice should be done, and that U.S. participation is probably needed. In this article, she points to the Crisis Tracker mapping site that Invisible Children has created.

LRA Crisis Tracker

The controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 video should not be allowed to obscure some of the important work that Invisible Children really is accomplishing in the region. With regional partners, for example, IC operates a reporting network that is linked directly to a mapping application, the LRA Crisis Tracker. Viewers can select any time slice since 2010 to find reported incidents of various kinds. The map makes clear two facts, only one of which the video makes clear: Kony and the LRA continue to commit atrocities AND the group has left Uganda. The snapshot above is from the first 10 weeks of calendar 2012, and shows incidents clustered in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This mapping project is reminiscent of another grassroots GIS project about which I wrote in 2010 -- the HarrassMap project in Cairo. In both cases, victims or witnesses of abuse are able to use geotechnologies to create maps that can be used both to draw attention and to guide investigators.

Amnesty International

The recent attention to human-rights abuses in Uganda is a good reminder to do some research with NGOs that have been on the ground there for a very long time. See the Amnesty International Uganda page for the past several years of annual reports on human rights in the country as well as specific articles about the various campaigns against gay and lesbian Ugandans, many of which are supported from the United States. In response to the Kony 2012 campaign in particular, AI urges respect for human rights in any efforts to bring Kony to justice.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bounds of Journalism

Today's edition of Slate features an article about the decision to retract a story from the radio program This American Life, which is hosted by Ira Glass. The story in question is about working conditions at Apple in China.

The story is not directly related to the Kony 2012 discussion, but it is worth reading and listening, as a reminder that work for human rights may involve artistic license, but it also requires utmost integrity. It also requires an ability to admit -- a Ira Glass and his staff have done -- when we have been mistaken.