Every so often my activities as a teacher crash with my Twitter and blogging life – but rarely. The teenagers of today are very rarely engaged with politics and social issues. They are barely aware of Australian politics outside vague understandings about a carbon tax, an NBN and refugees entering Australia. About the plight of Aboriginal people in rural areas, they know next to nought. Their engagement with politics has changed, however, with the Stop Kony campaign. It really has been viral in a way I haven’t seen for such an issue. Students of varying abilities and knowledge bases who usually tell you European football scores, what is in a WRX engine, about what Kyle said, who is on The Biggest Loser or what a Kardashian did last week suddenly asking questions about Africa. They are – at least at the moment – consumed with a passionate desire to rid the world of Joseph Kony. Especially older students. This is all because the Jason Russell video is well produced, very powerful propaganda. Fahrenheit 911 had a similar effect on any student who watched it.
As with any political issue, the issues are much more complex and a simplistic piece of American lobbying material doesn’t reflect the full story. This is not a story of one evil man who needs to be taken down by Americans. For one, Joseph Kony, the villain of the piece, isn’t in Uganda and doesn’t have the influence he once did. The events mentioned in the video happened more than 6 years ago. There are also more challenging issues regarding the social and political issues in Uganda – as in who else is involved in the actions of the regions, as outlined by Musa Okwonga as well as Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire in this video response:
This response highlights one of the biggest problems with the Invisible Children campaign – it is conducted by white Americans, directed at a western affluent society. Hence the tshirts and wristbands – the hallmarks of short term fashionable campaigns amongst the middle class. (I remember the Make Poverty History wristbands. I note that poverty is still present as well as being a part of history). The son of the director gets more prominence than Ugandan kids, highlighting the primacy of American values and attitudes over African ones. Hence the go get him, Hipster Rambo style of campaign being run by the organisation. With thanks to @kimbo_ramplin, who has tweeted all of these great responses, these themes are explored in greater detail by Jack McDonald, Daniel Solomon, Solome Lemma and Mark Kersten. I note with interest McDonald’s suggestion that it’s “really dangerous” for such a campaign to empower western societies with the desire to get all Sylvester Stallone in Uganda. I am also taken with the idea advanced by Lemma that this is another case of the “White Saviour” complex possessed by Americans – as summarised here –
“I will do anything I can to stop him,” declares the founder in the video. It’s quite individualistic and reeks of the dated colonial views of Africa and Africans as helpless beings who need to be saved and civilized.
While the direction of the campaign and its simplistic premise can be criticised in this fashion, the campaign has the ability for positive outcomes. Children, teenagers, young adults are talking about Africa. They are wondering why there are people like Kony, why children have been drafted into military service, why people are living in fear from such people. It is much better that they are asking about things like that than asking about the impending pregnancy of Snooki. The crucial point, though, is that people in the community should be prepared to answer the questions – highlight the problems faced by many in Africa. Show them the articles and videos that are being produced by Africans. Discuss why so many people are refugees, waiting for asylum in Australia. If students find media distortions about Sudanese refugees in Australia, suggesting that they shouldn’t be accepted, point out that the LRA has links in the Sudan. Perhaps spread that teaching to adults in the US and Australia who might share Nancy Sinatra’s knowledge gap towards Africans:
If this campaign does that, it has achieved a great positive, at least for teachers of young people whose minds are usually filled with more trivial matters. The problem will come, however, with well meaning and passionate people who will try to slap down those who suggest that there are grey areas and complexities to this issue. The same people who will howl down those who would suggest that Russell is a great propagandist – and should make Rambo V – Mission to Uganda. Though in his version, Rambo has an ironic tshirt, cardigan, thick framed glasses, a laptop packed with editing software and cool music, a phone and a video camera.