Why Invisible Child’s #Kony2012 Campaign Gets No Applause From Me

In short: #Kony2012 #StopKony misrepresents N. Uganda, spreads misinformation abt Kony/the LRA, denies Africans’ agency and is imperialist. It raises the perennial question of “Who represents Africa?”

For example: This tweet (one of many prime examples) succinctly exemplifies all that I critique in this piece:

In fact, it reminded me of my post-colonial readings of Karl Marx. Reading this quote from his “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden” spurred me deeper into my anti-colonialist, post-colonialist fervor. Literally translated from German, “Those who cannot represent themselves must themselves be represented,” the quote revealed to me just how insidious the narrative of “saving” and “speaking for” the subaltern is.

HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 CAMPAIGN?

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. Certainly, if you think that Uganda is in Central Africa, you should not be disseminating (mis)information that could have implications on policy.

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

[Also, I suggest a little light research into Invisible Children’s spending practices.]


I’m not going to pretend that the Lord’s Resistance Army does not have a track record of egregious abuses that includes labor and sex trafficking, child soldiers, looting, murder, rape and other crimes. However, in the conveniently binary framing, Kony is depicted as the “bad guy” while everyone who fights against him is “good.” Never mind that the Ugandan Army, UPDF has been accused of rape, looting and land grabbing. Amid the hasty generalizations, one small forgotten detail is obscured: Joseph Kony and the remnants of the Lord’s Resistance Army fled from Northern Uganda to the Congo, and the Central African Republic over 6 years ago.

Also, let’s talk about how Northern Uganda’s Acholi people face a second genocide w/ US military involvement, and land grabs for oil deposits. Remember, Northern Uganda has oil deposits. Companies in China & the UK already tried to claim some. Now the US wants a turn. The same thing is happening in Southern Somalia. The UK has been baldfaced about their desire to claim the oil there. This is, of course, in keeping with the idea of a “resource curse”- where a region’s resources are valued more than its people and their rights.

I also urge you to pay attention to where military intervention by “western” nations on the continent of Africa occurs. It’s usually where the resources are. I addressed the United States’ increased military presence in Northern Uganda in the context of the 2009 Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in an article entitled “The Greater WE: Military Interventions in a Globalized World,” excerpted below:

“What are the implications of President Obama’s decision to send military advisers to Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Can we learn from the United States armed forces’ forays into Africa? Can we look at the First (1993) and Second (2006) Battles of Mogadishu (Somalia) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008) and learn from the resultant civilian casualties, displacement and heightened risk of hunger and famine?

Billed as a strategy to force Joseph Kony (head of the Lord‘s Resistance Army) to sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) (a peace agreement that even the Ugandan government has refused to sign), Operation Lightning Thunder destroyed the Lord‘s Resistance Army (LRA) base camp and scattered the LRA over the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). Tens of thousands of Congolese and Sudanese were displaced in the December 2008 military operation, comprising a percentage of the 200,000 displaced.

In the DRC, citizens either fled to major towns or across the border to Sudan. Thousands of Sudanese left their villages along the border and sought shelter and security in major towns. However, in towns, it was unclear whether the army was providing security. Other factors, including the rainy season, lack of food, housing, medical care, exacerbated the plight of those displaced by the fighting.”


I recommend you send your donations to the following community-based organizations in Northern Uganda:
Concerned Children & Youth Association (CCYA)
Art for Children Uganda
Children Chance International, founded by Kenneth Odur
Friends of Orphans


“… They’re [Invisible Children] essentially a well-funded production company that makes slick documentaries. Noble intentions aside, they aren’t doing charity so much as they’re playing charity.

Then of course, there’s the project founder, Jason Russell. Read this interview where he says, “If Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Bono had a baby, I would be that baby.”

“…The thing is that Joseph Kony has been doing this for a very, very, very long time.  He emerged about a quarter of a century, which is about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power.  As a result the fates of these two leaders must, I think, be viewed together.  Yet, though President Museveni must be integral to any solution to this problem, I didn’t hear him mentioned once in the 30-minute video.  I thought that this was a crucial omission. Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora.  It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.”

  • Africa is a Country (blog): The #Kony2012 show
  • A critique from a former LRA child soldier and Director of Friends of Orphans UgandaAnywar Ricky Richard:
  •  “I am writing from Pader, Uganda, because I believe the recent conversation about Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Invisible Children is not including the voice of those that matter most– the people of Northern Uganda. I know more than I would like to know about the LRA, not from watching “Kony 2012” or reading insightful accounts of the conflict, but because personally I have seen it, have lived it, and have been in it. I was one of the now-famous “child soldiers.” …”


  1. I like millions of others had never heard anything about Kony or President Museveni before Jason Russell’s video ‘Koney 2012’ and like any half intelligent person out there or any one who’s heard what’s being done to innocent people and want to help in some way, I did my research before basing an opinion. Obviously ‘Kony 2012’ is not the right cause to help but if it gets people to the right information, to just make people aware of what other people somewhere else(…even if they don’t know where) are going through every day. Surely this isn’t all bad? To say people first reading the goings on in Uganda gaining awareness is rather a fancy name for ‘white man’s burden’ is very insulting and for someone making such a big statement about not having the correct information, i would say you don’t have the correct information yourself. Any person who can log on to facebook, see ‘Kony 2012’ and decide it’s not there place to get involved and they don’t know enough to base an opinion is quite honestly not worth the time of day to listen next time they need help. If you were walking down a busy street and saw a child being beaten up would you not be outraged if no one stopped to help? would you not want to protect that child? Lack of understanding and lake of caring are completely different things. No decent European, American, Scandinavia or any other ‘white person’ in there right mind would refer to these children, teenagers and even adults as a burden, they are victims yes, but a burden no. Now I wanted to hear your opinion and see why you think the thinks you do, which is why after reading the first half of this I carried on reading but might I suggest if you want people to read this and agree with you you first do some reading and thinking yourself and find out how people really feel towards this rather than basing your argument on massively jumping to conclusions?

    1. Hello,

      First I wanted to thank you for reading and commenting. Then I wanted to point out that the phrase “The White Man’s Burden” comes from a 1899 poem by Rudyard Kipling:

      Take up the White Man’s burden—

      Send forth the best ye breed—

      Go send your sons to exile

      To serve your captives’ need

      To wait in heavy harness

      On fluttered folk and wild—

      Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

      Half devil and half child

      Take up the White Man’s burden

      In patience to abide

      To veil the threat of terror

      And check the show of pride;

      By open speech and simple

      An hundred times made plain

      To seek another’s profit

      And work another’s gain

      Take up the White Man’s burden—

      And reap his old reward:

      The blame of those ye better

      The hate of those ye guard—

      The cry of hosts ye humour

      (Ah slowly) to the light:

      “Why brought ye us from bondage,

      “Our loved Egyptian night?”

      Take up the White Man’s burden-

      Have done with childish days-

      The lightly proffered laurel,

      The easy, ungrudged praise.

      Comes now, to search your manhood

      Through all the thankless years,

      Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,

      The judgment of your peers!

    2. Also, I wanted to ask why you insisted on identifying Europeans/Americans/Scandinavians as “white” a non-descript, de-raced/de-ethnic-ed phrase. (Interesting that you also assume that American or European = white).

      ” No decent European, American, Scandinavia or any other ‘white person’ in there right mind would refer to these children, teenagers and even adults as a burden…”

      As for “the White Man’s Burden”- it’s a phrase derived from a Rudyard Kipling poem that describes the colonialist/imperialist notion that a white man/person’s duty is to bring “civilization” to the non-European/African/Asian/etc “savages.” It is about who controls the narratives of “civilization” & “savagery.” Here we have a “savage” African named Joseph Kony placed against the innocence of a 3 year old white American boy. The binary is very clear- from the prominence of the white filmmakers who shape the narrative, to the binary frame of the story.

      This blogpost was to complicate and challenge that narrative. There is nothing binary about the Lord’s Resistance Army & Joseph Kony and their previous presence in Northern Uganda. There is nothing simple about the political corruption and economic inequality that fuels actors in conflicts like these.

  2. What are your thoughts about what they say regarding this specific issue on their website?

    Invisible Children’s programs in Uganda, DR Congo, and Central African Republic are implemented with continuous input from, and in respect of the knowledge and experience of, local communities and their leaders. In Uganda, we learned very quickly that a top-down, Western approach was not the answer, and that local solutions were needed to fill critical humanitarian gaps. It is for this reason that over 95% of IC’s leadership and staff on the ground are Ugandans on the forefront of program design and implementation. In DR Congo, Invisible Children works with the Commission diocesaine justice et paix (CDJP), supporting projects that have been identified as priorities by local partners and that are responsive to local realities and needs. Invisible Children staff members in project areas consistently strive to ensure that they build the capacity of local partners and do not take on duties where local partners can more responsibly and effectively carry these out; the organization meticulously monitors and evaluates the impact of its work on the ground, partnering with Princeton in Africa and employing qualified Monitoring & Evaluation professionals.”

    1. Speaking for myself obviously, but that part seems fine as far as it goes. The problem is that they only spend about 1/3 ($3.3 million) of what they take in on those programs. Meanwhile, they blew a million dollars last year just driving around the U.S. on an ‘awareness’ tour, another $600,000 on t-shirts (none made in Uganda, of course), $500,000 on rent, and so forth. It’s absurd.

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