Tag Archives: Wronging Rights

“Can I Tell You The Bad Guy’s Name?”: A Virtual Read-In and Comment On #Kony2012 and Badvocacy

8 Mar

UPDATE (10 March): Material is coming thick and fast on #Kony2012, so I’m adding three recent interventions. The first is from Ismael Beah, he of child soldier fame, on CNN (apologies for the awful interviewer).

The second is from Adam Branch (who just has a book out on Uganda, war and intervention) on the wrongness, and also the irrelevance to Northern Ugandans, of Invisible Children:

My frustration with the group has largely reflected the concerns expressed so eloquently by those individuals who have been willing to bring the fury of Invisible Children’s true believers down upon themselves in order to point out what is wrong with this group’s approach: the warmongering, the self-indulgence, the commercialization, the reductive and one-sided story it tells, its portrayal of Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white Americans, and the fact that civilians in Uganda and Central Africa may have to pay a steep price in their own lives so that a lot of young Americans can feel good about themselves, and a few can make good money. This, of course, is sickening, and I think that Kony 2012 is a case of Invisible Children having finally gone too far. They are now facing a backlash from people of conscience who refuse to abandon their capacity to think for themselves.

The third, from Teddy Ruge, beautiful in its rage:

This IC campaign is a perfect example of how fund-sucking NGO’s survive. “Raising awareness” (as vapid an exercise as it is) on the level that IC does, costs money. Loads and loads of money. Someone has to pay for the executive staff, fancy offices, and well, that 30-minute grand-savior, self-crowning exercise in ego stroking—in HD—wasn’t free. In all this kerfuffle, I am afraid everyone is missing the true aim of IC’s brilliant marketing strategy. They are not selling justice, democracy, or restoration of anyone’s dignity. This is a self-aware machine that must continually find a reason to be relevant. They are, in actuality, selling themselves as the issue, as the subject, as the panacea for everything that ails me as the agency-devoid African. All I have to do is show up in my broken English, look pathetic and wanting. You, my dear social media savvy click-activist, will shed a tear, exhaust Facebook’s like button, mobilize your cadre of equally ill-uninformed netizens to throw money at the problem.

Cause, you know, that works so well in the first world.


Glenna Gordon‘s 2008 image of the Invisible Children founders in cod-Rambo pose with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army now defines the #Kony2012 backlash. Jason ‘Radical’ Russell – he who speaks excitedly of ‘war rooms’ – and his compatriots have thus far notched up 12 million-odd Vimeo hits and over 32 million YouTube hits with their 30-minute hymn to awareness, social media, atrocity prevention and youth power. A simulacrum of solidarity now not quite besieged, but at least peppered, by an array of critiques and counter-points, almost always from scholars and activists with their own well-established records of engagement and internationalism.

That backlash is now, predictably enough, giving rise to a counter-backlash from newly enlivened global citizens, and the predominant form taken by this response is itself instructive. Comment threads on posts like Mark’s consistently reveal a nascent activist consciousness which is hugely fragile, but also aggressive. Although many presumably did not know of Joseph Kony until this week (and in this minimal sense, #Kony2012 clearly ‘worked’), they are now so outraged at even the hint of complexity or counter-point that they denounce others as self-promoters, ignorami (ignoramuses?), complacent and/or complicit (by some unspecified metric) in human suffering. The juxtaposition is telling: the fresh anger and one-dimensional vigour of discovering atrocity and of being “empowered” (however vaguely) to end it is simply too appealing to withstand reasoned discussion. And so newly-minted ‘doers’ find themselves in the position of having to attack those old established ‘cynics’, Ugandans and Uganda hands among them, in whose very name they “won’t stop”. Say, at what point exactly did common humanity come to mean lecturing Ugandans that they were “ungrateful” and “negative” for pointing out that Museveni is not so nice either?

But what has been the content of this unbearable counter-critique? Continue reading

Atrocity Porn, the Resource Curse and Badvocacy in ‘Unwatchable’ (2011)

2 Oct

Lest it need saying, *trigger warning*.


Unwatchable lasts just over 6 minutes, but is intended to linger far longer. A project of Save The Congo, it was apparently turned down by larger charities on the grounds that it was too extreme. Deploying liberal doses of slo-mo and orchestral overture, it shows an armed assault on a whiter-than-white (and blonder-than-blonde) family somewhere in rural England. The teenage daughter is gang-raped on the kitchen table while her father is forced to watch, and her parents are eventually mutilated and killed on their front lawn while the soldiers laugh and film them on mobile phones. At one point we see a soldier cowering to avoid the scenes wrought by his comrades. The youngest daughter is killed trying to escape. In other words, a BBFC 18-rated piece of atrocity porn doubling as a viral advocacy campaign.

A small clickable box sits screen top-right throughout. It reads: ‘Make It Stop’. The tagline: ‘Warning: this film contains sexualised violence you and your mobile phone manufacturer may find disturbing’. The pay off being that this is really about the DRC, but that it will take this happening to white people for you to notice. Yes, this is another campaign about the resource curse and another entry in the catalogue of rape atrocity ratcheting, now with the obligatory twitter hashtag (#bloodminerals) and a petition demanding: a) that EU companies be forced into transparent supply chains for coltan and the like; and b) that ‘swift and severe’ action be taken against any party responsible for violence.

Kate at Wronging Rights picks up on the incoherence of Save the Congo’s accompanying claims:

W…T…F…? Rape is cheaper and much more effective than guns or bullets??? No.  Rape is not a “cheap” coercive strategy.  It’s time-consuming and it exposes the perpetrators to injury and potential STD infection. Armed groups absolutely use it anyway, but not because it’s cheaper than bullets.

And, [i]f armed groups were to raid a village and force the population to leave by shooting at them, NGOs could be alerted and the UN would have to react??  This is surely news to the scores of NGOs, both local and international, who have worked tirelessly to document and publicize the use of rape as a weapon of war throughout the last decade and a half of conflict in the region.

Look, I realize that grassroots activism often plays a fundamental role in political change, and has been particularly important to the history of the human rights movement, but seriously, this “the news made me sad / I can haz NGO?” nonsense has got to stop.  Time to invoke Amanda’s “Love Actually Test” on a wider scale, I think.

Bizarre and untenable as such ideas may be (say what?), the key points of Save the Congo’s analysis are ones now commonly repeated as part of the general ‘weapon of war’ narrative. Continue reading

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