The problem with Kony 2012? Its a single story.

Back in the fall, I wrote an entry that took up James Dawes’ question “But is doing nothing worse than risking something?” inspired by some of the material in the class I was TA’ing.  In the wake of the conversations that are going on in response to the video from Invisible Children, I thought it was worth reposting.

(Just in case you are feeling crunched for time, jump over to this post aptly titled African Reactions to the Kony 2012 Campaign.  It is super short and oh-so-much more valid and important than anything I have to say. Otherwise, continue reading here, and I’ll come back to that point in just a few short paragraphs.) 

In it, I reference Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, the dangers of a single story, which highlights the problems that can arise when people who are so far removed from a place are the ones that get to tell the story. The Kony 2012 video from Invisible Children is the perfect example: the Globe and Mail (amongst others) reported there are no Africans involved in Invisible Children.  This means the people writing this story – and distilling a longstanding conflict with causes that run deep and wide and far beyond resources (systems of oppression being just one) into 29 minutes or less – are not the people closest to the situation, living in it, or actively advancing solutions that have the most benefit to people on the ground.

While there is a place, sometimes and in some contexts, and in very carefully undertaken ways, to tell other people’s stories (see the James Dawes quote referenced in my original post), it is important to be clear about your position as the story teller: positioning oneself, implicitly or explicitly, as the expert when really, you are a world away, presents a major opportunity for criticism. That is certainly the case here.

I’m not the first person to write about this obviously, and this isn’t the first time Invisible Children has taken some severe criticism from the development community. But, what is most important in all of this is that it is not only academics from North America who are calling foul here. More importantly than the words of many, many of my peers and colleagues who are writing critically about Kony 2012, African media is also reporting a lot of criticism towards Kony 2012.  One example is the blog AfriPop!, run by African youth and focusing on music, fashion and film.  Check out the post aptly titled African Reactions to the Kony 2012 Campaign. If you read one thing, this link is the place to start.

This doesn’t mean we should not be paying attention to this issue – just that we should be very sure that we are paying attention to the relevant parts of this issue, and supporting political, advocacy and humanitarian efforts to create change in ways that are meaningful for those most directly affected…and listening to the voices of those most directly affected.  As so many of these links provided here say alongside countless others, just because people’s lives have been directly and severely impacted by conflict or poverty doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of finding solutions.  That, of course, doesn’t mean the rest of the world should sit by and watch silently, but just that the rest of the world would do well to ask the people who are there first.

Keep using your words and engaging with those of others. 🙂

(PS. This is a reminder that Africa has 50+ countries. It is not one place, and not all the countries are the same. Thought I would throw this out there as a clarification as a few of the links I have posted here have taken it up as such.)