Who is Joseph Kony?

Written by 

kony1The recent OccupyIntegral! article has inspired some good conversations about the nature of protest, activism, and taking concrete steps to change something about your community (be it global or local) that you think is important.

The video below reports on a unique and intriguing example of grassroots activism (man, how did the word grassroots get to feel so cheesy. I don't know how that happened and can't think of a replacement at the moment - bottom-up, maybe? Annnyyyhow...). It strikes me as pretty darn savvy at using boots on the ground, street art, and the networked relationships we're all so linked into.

So, who is Joseph Kony?

(If you're short on time the last 10mins will give you an idea of what's up).


Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 07 March 2012 20:38 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    thanks for posting this Bergen, this is an important and compelling video. I found it both heart breaking and heart bursting. I see that it's now starting to really rip around networks on the web, which is great. powerful stuff, thanks.

  • Comment Link Lindsay Robertson Wednesday, 07 March 2012 21:56 posted by Lindsay Robertson

    Compelling indeed! This is just so moving and inspiring… I want everyone in the world to see this and to feel deeply how much their involvement matters.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Thursday, 08 March 2012 07:56 posted by Bergen Vermette

    In the words of the Dude, "New shit has come to light".

    When this video first broke on March 5, I posted it not really guessing how quickly it would be spread around the net. (Not unlike our other 'Day One' posts of Occupy Wallstreet, the protests in Egypt, and those in Wisconsin. Apparently we get lucky with this stuff at Beams) Over the past two days my facebook feed has been like 50% Kony at peak times. The video has already spawned parodies, new memes, and comments across Youtube that ask Who's Kony? and quickly get voted to the top.

    I also spent a chunk of time today debating the merits of this organization and their cause. This is the gift and curse of being a student in an international studies program focused on, among other things, peace and security. Several of my mates have NGOs in Uganda and others are headed there soon. They're all well informed, most better than I.

    So I thought I'd add some of their comments here (with their permission) and link to some of the criticisms this project has already attracted in just 2 days.

    I still hold to my original statement above. I think it's a brilliant use of media, networking, and art. And generally speaking I support the cause. Like those in the comments above, I was (and still am) warmed by the response we all apparently feel to injustices done to our human cousins around the globe (although, yes, we can always do more to help) and think it's exciting to be witnessing the continual unfolding of the potentials of social media and this collective mind we're all plugged into.

    That said, it's wise for everyone to make their own decisions in light of all available data.

    KONY is a powerful, well-designed video--I will give them that (then again, most good propaganda is). However, this Facebook cause-du-jour is disturbing in several ways.

    First, only 32% of all donations given to IC actually makes its way to Africa--most goes to travel expenses, video production and salaries (by comparison, that figure is 98% for the Red Cross).

    Second, why is the focus of the video on capturing and prosecuting Kony? The Ugandan government some time ago defeated Kony and his rebel forces, who now take refuge in other Central African countries. ...

    The scope of the video should be on how best to help Uganda and the children who were direct and indirect victims of Kony's atrocities. This is a tremendously complex issue that people need to fully understand before blindly supporting an organization for which there are many question marks surrounding.

    I think KONY 2012 and what they have done is admirable...just not very well thought out.

    1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years

    2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

    its great to see people caring about something. but it requires a little bit more than changing a facebook status or sharing a link

    Sharing a video on Facebook does not help fight for a cause. You have to get out of your chair and go out into the world to have an effect. I find it an interesting technique to inform. Honestly though, I don't see any of the people who are posting links of Facebook ever trying to make a difference.

    Good FP blog on Kony. (expect many more in the coming days, no doubt)

    Good tumblr with lots of info and action:

    Other financial facts(?) on IC

    Alas, as they say, 'haters gonna hate'. At the end of the day, we can be really smart and smug and tear down something positive someone is trying to do. Or we can support it in a small way, and improve it by pointing out flaws and making it better. Any thoughts here?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Thursday, 08 March 2012 08:01 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Oh yeah, and on a lighter note...

    the Kony rally is set for April 20th.

    Here in Vancouver it'll be at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

    April 20th is 420.

    And every year on 420 the Art Gallery is the place that hundreds of people go to get high as fuck and chill-out on the grass together.

    That's some sort of cosmic coincidence man. Weed and protests go together like apple pie and ice cream. There's symbiosis there, I'm sure of it. It's gonna be a good day!

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 08 March 2012 17:05 posted by Chris Dierkes

    It's a crazy world indeed. A few weeks back I got a pretty out of the blue email from a group I'd never heard of called Invisible Children asking if they could show a video and give a talk here at the church I work at. Now it's a worldwide thing. Pretty weird.

    Anyway, I found this piece in Time today a helpful critique of the video (particularly note the quotations from the Ugandan journalist on the lack of contemporary political and social context to Uganda).


    It's certainly an interesting experiment of whether social media can be used in this way but it definitely brings up big-time questions about the place of social media vis a vis democratic institutions and so forth. Particularly in the US context where Presidents have seem to bypassed the whole notion that Congress has to declare wars. It's worth asking whether it's a good idea to use social media to support US interventionism. Maybe? Maybe not.

    Nobody's arguing Kony is anything other than a brutally evil warlord that should be captured, tried, and imprisoned. Certainly the video is compelling and well done.

    The images both in Hollywood and now in social media of sub-Saharan Africa that are still (largely) out of the mid-90s African experience.

    e.g. Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamonds, Constant Gardener, even The Last King of Scotland. All excellent films in my mind. Think of Bono's One Campaign and all the rest.

    I always worry when the depiction of Africa in Western media is essentially all child soldiers, people dying of AIDS (brilliantly mocked in Team America and Book of Mormon by the South Park boys), total corruption, genocide, etc. God knows there is plenty of corruption, there are still places of violence (e.g. DRC), and AIDS is still of course profoundly devastating.

    But there also have been significant changes and development in the last ten years in particular--including in Uganda, even around the LRA. Broader economic development, the entrance of the Chinese as major players in the region (and possibly neo-colonial ones at that), etc. But the image in the Western, particularly US media, is still very much corrupt Africa.

    Which is a long way of saying I'm worried about the tendency towards well meaning actions that might be infected (unknowingly) with forms of neo-colonialism. White people going to save Africa. And in particular how that both historically and in contemporary ways becomes allied with Western military powers. In practice many of these (this video as well as the Sudan campaign) boil down essentially to advocating for NATO (and really more practically) US military intervention.

    To wit, the US has been pouring huge amounts of money into AFRICOM over the last decade--the African Strategic Command. One offshoot of that is drone wars in Yemen as an example. If the US ramped up in Uganda, they would like go the drone route which has a strong tendency towards the death of civilians.

    And I'm not totally opposed in all cases to such things. The intervention in Sierra Leone had some positive effects. The US, UN, NATO failure in Rwanda is of course haunting.

    But each one requires thought about the whole global world as well as the finances of the West. It's complicated stuff. Short emotional videos lacking a number of other contextual issues can get people fired up for sure but don't evaluate multiple sides. But to their credit, they are bringing the issue forward and probably it requires always giving the bad news and speaking to heartbreak to get the issue at the center of debate--I just think that has the tendency to lead to bad policy.

  • Comment Link Heather Olson Thursday, 08 March 2012 18:22 posted by Heather Olson

    Well said, Chris. I thought the video was extremely provoking and compelling, but also felt slightly uneasy while watching it, and couldn't really put my finger on why. Your comments helped to clarify that. I think in my heart, I feel uncomfortable with military intervention period, regardless of the intent of the mission. It will definitely be interesting to see how this unfolds.

  • Comment Link Trish Thursday, 08 March 2012 19:46 posted by Trish

    And while I agree he needs to be stopped, other, even more deeply disturbing LONG TERM problems go unaddressed: the Congo, religious strife, AIDS, etc. etc. Does raising awareness and action over this person, do ANYTHING for these other endemic, epidemic, and sytemic problems?

  • Comment Link Lindsay Robertson Thursday, 08 March 2012 20:17 posted by Lindsay Robertson

    Well, admittedly, I was a bit emotionally manipulated by that video. There’s some great things in there though. Feeling something is important. Clearly there’s some things to talk about, and the good news is we’re discussing it.

    On facebook, in response to the Kony video, I’ve seen a few folks post links to local organizations that support abused children, with comments like ‘think globally, act locally’, which for the most part I support. But they didn’t post those links before the Kony video, so it’s got people thinking, taking and hopefully acting. Which is great. A big part of what I took away from the video is that we as a group or as an individual have impact. And while intellectually we ‘know’ that, we don’t always experience or embody that. This was a reminder for me.

    If anyone is looking for a great organization to support ‘Free The Children’, is a good option. Founded by a 12 year old (years ago now) and actively combines ‘local’ and ‘global’, and dare I say Integral in their approach.


  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 08 March 2012 21:40 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Lindsay. For sure. And I have great admiration for people who are working so hard to protect children. And hopefully it will raise more discussion around these topics.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 08 March 2012 22:43 posted by TJ Dawe

    Not too long ago I posted about the What I Do comics as a meme, and how short lived its fame was. This Who is Joseph Kony video first came into my awareness Monday, when Bergen posted it, it was posted on my wall and was all over my Facebook newsfeed Wednesday morning, and by Wednesday afternoon Facebook was just as full of critiques of it. People are still sharing the video, but just as often they're including articles critiquing it, and conversing about it. But the timeline for this kind of thing is getting shorter and shorter. This is a digital age response to this, for sure.

    Another digital age aspect is the slickness of the filmmaking. It's full of sliiiiiiiiick post-production, in both editing and effects. But how many people would have devoted thirty minutes (a huge amount of sustained time for one thing on the internet) to a Chomsky style lecture on the subject, even if it included powerpoint?

    It's also interesting that transparency is a big priority for the digital generation, and that value is coming across in all of these critiques. Are you addressing the issues adequately? Is there hypocrisy? Are there any hidden agendas? How are you spending the money people are donating? Is there self-glorification in all of this that doesn't belong? It took a lot longer before people on the left were asking these questions about Michael Moore.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 08 March 2012 23:45 posted by Chris Dierkes

    good points TJ. The increasing speed of the speed of these things is what Mickey Kaus called The Feiler Faster thesis (named after Bruce Feiler).


    To piggyback, I posted earlier the link to the Time article that I thought raised some good critiques of the piece.

    This piece is a good overall defense (partial) of the film and good call to move forward:


  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 09 March 2012 00:50 posted by TJ Dawe

    another side of the experience of Africans is presented in the documentary Throw Down Your Heart, in which banjo player Bela Fleck travels through Africa, playing with local musicians, learning their music. Part even takes place in Uganda. There may be strife in that part of the world, but there's also joy:


  • Comment Link Scott Payne Saturday, 10 March 2012 20:06 posted by Scott Payne

    This is a good conversation that I am, as usual, late dropping in on. This whole phenomenon has been pretty fascinating. When was the last time you saw a YouTube video garner, at last count, more than 20 million views (and I've heard estimates north of 50 million if you count more than just You Tube) in less than a week? I mean, thank god this isn't another video about cats, right?

    The critiques of Invisible Children are many and compelling. There is substantial reason for pause with regards to what IC suggests be done about the issue. But there is also ample invitation to look at what the emergence of this video says about our contemporary state of affairs on an internal basis, I think.

    For me, the neo-colonial argument is true but partial. Chris does an excellent job of fleshing it out, but there is also some shadow work to be done here.

    Our acknowledgment of a neo-colonial past has been an important step in tempering, adjusting, and in many cases dialing back our sense of what constitutes making the world a better place. In particular, we have had to re-evaluate how we go about making the world a better place. Intention is only half the story -- the road to hell, as the saying goes, as well as the location of the devil (in the details).

    The flip side; however, is that one begins to get the feeling that our acknowledgement around the veracity of neo-colonial analyses has also led to a certain paralysis that caches out in both physical and moral terms. To be cute for a second, we seem to have developed a certain sense of iNIMBY (thanks Apple): it's not in my backyard.

    If an issues isn't in our immediate scope of influence, not only are we not able to do anything about it, we shouldn't do anything about it because we're likely to do more harm than we are good. "Hey, I'd love to do something about starvation in East Africa, but it's not in my backyard. So, you know..."

    One of Bergen's peers talked about how you can't Facebook like these problems away that you actually have to get involved. And that's true. But consider how many people have grown up hearing the message that they can't actually do anything useful in the world because of neo-colonialism. Why would they get involved with that millstone hanging around their necks?

    So I'm not suggesting that the neo-colonial analysis is wrong because it isn't. What I'm suggesting is that it has a shadow side that I think we need to address in order to do justice to the larger context around the possibilities for our own actions.

    At heart, what I think many people who got excited about this video experienced was an exuberance about the possible break through of that paralysis. "I DO care about this issue and I CAN do something about it." For me, that is an expression not just of caring but a recognition of responsibility that is all too lacking in our contemporary world.

    There is a deep philosophical point here about the tangible results of your actions and the outcomes around the decision about how you choose to live your life. That point remains beautifully summarized in this excerpt from the movie Waking Life where there is a dialogue about the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre and the existentialists (sorry Trevor, yes this bit again):


    "And when Sartre talks about responsibility, he's not talking about something abstract. He's not talking about the kind of self or soul that theologians would argue about.

    It's something very concrete. It's you and me talking. Making decisions. Doing things and taking the consequences. It might be true that there are six billion people in the world and counting. Nevertheless, what you do makes a difference.

    It makes a difference, first of all, in material terms. Makes a difference to other people and it sets an example. In short, I think the message here is that we should never simply write ourselves off and see ourselves as the victim of various forces. It's always our decision who we are."

    I worry that our iNIMBY tendencies have become a substantial form of escapism from that grounded sense of existential responsibility for ourselves and for one another.

    So yes, of course, there was some emotional manipulation going on in this video. There is some sort of emotional manipulation present in most forms of art, be it benign or malicious.

    But I also think there was a genuine burst of important overcoming and feeling and in some senses being that many people felt. Or at least I think that I can feel confident is saying that for the folks on this thread.

    So while we take an important step back from this video and the organization that created it to take a sober second look, I hope that we don't at the same time step back from the impulse to responsible for ourselves and the impact that our lives can have on the world around us.

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Most Popular Discussions