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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The (Counter) Revolution Will be Twittered

On the ironically-titled blog Africa is a Country, Elliot Ross writes that "in the future we’ll have to get used to crowdsourced foreign policy that will come with dollops of the white man’s burden and most likely won and lost in popularity contests on social media." 

His The #Kony2012 show post was originally entitled "Phony, risible children." He sees the Kony 2012 phenomenon as indicative of something broader, as a "study of a bunch of vain and ignorant young people who can think and feel only in cliches and appear to be laboring under the notion that Mark Zuckerberg invented both compassion and democracy for them sometime around 2004."

 As with many articles on this subject, Ross both encourages and invites scrutiny. That is, he calls on readers to fact-check what they are seeing elsewhere, but his assertions regarding the International Criminal Court themselves raise doubts.

His article is a reminder that activists and educators who use social media must be careful not to be used by them. The discussion continues on the same blog with Megan Elliot's post entitled, Jeffrey Gettleman's continent, in which she warns against "guilt-based aggression."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free the Children on Kony 2012

In "Our Thoughts," the group Free the Children celebrates the attention generated by the Kony 2012 video, and urges readers to use this opportunity to build interest in sustainable development.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ugandan Blogger

A female Ugandan blogger explains how important it is to emphasize that much has changed in Uganda since the war has started. A very good source emphasizing true Ugandan opinion and the importance of "sound intelligent campaigns."

US Troops in Uganda

An interesting comparison regarding U.S. involvement in Uganda. The first article is from this year which references the second, regarding 100 troops being sent to central Africa October of last year.

The Guardian: Kony 2012: what's the real story?

The Guardian has devoted most attention to question the effectiveness and merit of the Kony 2012 campaign.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012 and the potential of social media activism

A range of opinions about the role of social media activism.

VIEWPOINT: A Partial Defense Of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 Campaign

This post defends the motivation of Invisible Children and comments on the merits of continuing to draw attention to Kony and the LRA.

Guest post: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated

This article in Foreign Policy is the most sustained critique of the view of Kony 2012 campaign.

Foreign Policy on LRA

In the Name of the Lord is an article from Foreign Policy that discusses the rise of the Joseph Kony and his "army.".

Critique from The Daily What

A blogger known only as The Daily What offers a sharp critique in the article On Kony 2012. Unfortunately, the comments section does not provide a lot of illumination of the actual story, but focuses on the blog post itself. Still, for a succinct outline of the critiques, this seems a good place to start.

NY Times Summary

In the article Online, Conflict Soars to Topic No. 1, New York Times reporters Josh Kron and J. David Goodman describe how Jason Russell came to make what he calls the "Pixar of human rights stories."

Kony 2012 on NPR

A March 8 report by Alan Greenblatt is entitled Joseph Kony Is Infamous — But Will He Be Caught? Greenblatt describes the complexities that would be involved in following the goals espoused in Kony 2012: bringing Joesph Kony to justice. The United States has already deployed 100 military personnel to pursue a policy of killing or capturing the LRA leader. His whereabouts are unknown and his group is splintered along the borders of Uganda with other unstable neighbors, including South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a second report on Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep speaks with Ugandan journalist Barbara Among. In Viral Video Educates World on Ugandan Warlord, Ms. Among said that she welcomes the attention to the Uganda's recent history, but she also describes in more detail the complexities that would arise from bringing Kony to justice during a period when most Ugandans are focused on reconciliation.

Growing Outrage Over Film

The Telegraph reports, in Growing Outrage in UK Over Film, that while not disputing the facts outlined in the film, many Ugandans have some important concerns. First, they say, the film does not make clear that Kony has not been seen in the northern region of Uganda for six years. Second, by making Kony "famous," the film makers hope to pressure Washington to continue funding military advisers in the country, perhaps frightening Kony and motivating him to lash out.

Open Letter from Jonah Kanter

Canadian activist Jonah Kanter has written An Open Letter to Kony 2012 Critics, in which he supports the Invisible Children campaign. He also pinpoints the origin of the critique. I learned of Canter's letter from his friend Michel Chikwanine, who has visited our campus and was himself a child soldier in neighboring Congo.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Invisible Children Home Page

Invisible Children is the group that created the Kony 2012 film and launched the movement that has generated so much attention worldwide and led to the creation of this blog. Its main site include the film itself, links to IC's social media, and responses to the criticisms that have been directed at the organization.

Kony 2012 and Uganda Education

In early March 2012, a campaign against Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony rapidly gained momentum in the West. the Kony 2012 video told the story of human-rights abuses by the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

Within days, the video was viewed millions of times, and a growing movement seeks to hold Kony responsible for his various atrocities. Within a day or two after this surge in attention, however, questions emerged about the film itself and the instigators of this movement.

The film will be shown on the Bridgwater State University campus at 7pm on Thursday, April 12. By creating this blog a month ahead of the event, I hope to encourage campus and community members to do as much of their own research on this topic as possible ahead of the screening. In this way, we can have a more meaningful discussion of Joseph Kony, the film itself, human rights in Uganda more generally, and the appropriate role of Western observers, scholars, and activists.