The KONY 2012 campaign and debate will improve development effectiveness on all issues


Kony 2012 what?

Fitting the bigger picture on the little screen: To see if social networking is effective in this context (good effect /bad effect) surely the jury is still out. Will this bring Koni to justice? Will it be because of Kony 2012? Will George Clooney and his dad stop Khartoum government from oppression and state backed murder by getting on world news?

Yes Uganda and the rest of the world has dragged its feet, Koni has evaded everybody. It is a difficult and massive terrain to cover. The international court of justice should have had much more support for their top priority. If USA 100 troops are on the ground and Koni knows how to evade them. Did this very public act of persuasion by “Kony2012” of policy makers in USA result in a too high profile act of intervention? Was it thus doomed by its own high profile?

I have worked with theatre and human rights in Uganda and met some affected by Koni. Knowledge of his outrage does induce you to want to act and respond. The processes available to directly help are there but to stop Koni? They are frustratingly remote. No wonder 9 years goes by on a promise that the filmmaker made from one individual to another. Is this the future for solving international or large-scale outrages like the LRA? Definitely not, especially the very "American" way in which the film engages with it's young American audience. It does however highlight the need for a clear focus and firm but respectful co-operation between governments, NGOs, INGOs, military agencies the UN and international courts.

Like most entrenched conflicts and acts of oppression the answer can seem blindingly simple but that simplicity masks a whole lot of logistic and ethical complexity. Koni is clinically mad and unpredictable and slipped the net too many times. He has existed in a liminal ecology that was formed from failure on many levels. He inhabits this construct of human agency failure, geographical isolation and poverty that is seemingly unaddressed. Add to this a hint of political or at least administrative corruption, a lack of funds, a lack of multiagency trust as well as a whole lot of dry dusty scrubby marginal space and unenforceable fuzzy national boundaries. Uganda has a poisonous thorn in its side but there are other life threatening symptoms too. What is their survival priority?

Getting lines of relatively privileged school and college kids to punch the air in unison is a frighteningly naive thing to do. Using Hitler and Bin Laden images along with Koni’s on the poster with an inverted triangle logo surely should have prompted the organisers to reflect on the mechanisms and symbols of oppression in past deep recession periods. Fight fascism with National Socialism? To ignore effective development practice and seek instant change shows a heartfelt approach. The Kony2012 movement is a great example of the need for a systemic approach to education, learning, foreign policy and development practice that needs to be focused firmly on the population of the USA.

One thing is compelling from the Kony 2012 and that is the urgency of the 2012 part of the campaign. I really wish that Koni could be arrested very soon. Lord save us from Koni and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) hey folks it’s in the name. It seems he thinks he got in there first with divine help but the development community really has to come together with non deluded approaches to address the vacuum that created the ecological pocket that allows the Koni’s of this world to find even a precarious footing to build or re build a system of terror and oppression. 

If social networking, internet films and other digital media are to form an effective part of communications initiatives we should be making more balanced and informative films that still can contain great heart and passion with compelling narratives but by people who can see the bigger picture.

Screens are so small, phones, I pads etc. that the viewer is often isolated while viewing. Do we believe this stuff more as we don't experience it live with others and get comments in real time that may challenge it's veracity. When you press the share button it seems to come with a tacit endorsement. Is this the nature of viral media? A new vector for a disease that has no objective checks or balances to mediate it.


Bill Hamblett commenting individually and not as Small World Theatre



"If social networking,

"If social networking, internet films and other digital media are to form an effective part of communications initiatives we should be making more balanced and informative films that still can contain great heart and passion with compelling narratives but by people who can see the bigger picture."

Hear, hear. It's important to get that balancce right.


Improved Communication or Public Relations Nightmare?

From the get go, I was turned off by this guy's approach to this issue.  As somone who's worked in Uganda on and off for many years, Kony is nothing new.  Yes, the issue of child abductions and child soldiers is a difficult and serious issue that needs to be better addressed, but there are many, many complex issues related to repatriating child soldiers, most of whom are emotionally scarred and require intensive psychological rehabiliation that is usually unavailable in many developing countries.  As someone with a video production background, I cringed watching this video.  Not because of the subject matter related to Kony, but by the egotistical and almost narcissistic nature of the film maker and his supposed "narrative".


What do I object to in this video?

1. I see a manipulation to include more of the film maker and his own son, when he and his son are totally irrelevent to this actual issues at hand.  If one does this correctly, the story unfolds and tells itself, we don't need to see a priveledged Caucasian toddler babbling on incoherently about a topic as serious as child soldiers.  He has no clue what his father is talking about, and quite frankly, I found it disgusting to see how much time was spent on the viewer having to endure the musings of the film maker and his small child, rather than allowing us to meet those actually involved - villagers who've lost children, children who've been forced into the rebel army, children who've seen their families torn apart by this, village headmen who have seen the loss to village life, child soldiers who've tried to be reassimilated into society, and the Ugandan soldiers who've been fighting this issue for many years now.  Where were all these people?  A real documentarian does not show his or her emotional involvement in such a presentation, they allow the subjects to tell their own story.  It's documentary film making 101.  I find an utter lack of participation by the very people who are affected by Kony's actions just astounding. We see only one boy who has lost his brother - a sad story for sure - but one of many that should have been told. 


2. There is also the issue of the film maker being photographed with his two white American buddies, in the jungle, surrounded by rebel soldiers, while all three Americans are holding AK47's with serious expressions on their faces.  I saw this photo on a news show, and when the film maker was questioned about it, I really thought he would say, "well we were surrounded by the rebel soldiers and they wanted us to take photos holding their weapons and we felt we could not say no because we didn't know if they would be offended or angry so we did as they asked..."  But instead, his answer was "people don't get that this is just a joke photo. People who know us know how we are totally non violent so we thought it would be funny to take a photo with these big guns...I know some people don't find it funny, but we just thought it was a funny joke."  My mouth fell open when I heard him actually say this on TV.  Who says that?  If he cannot understand why such a "photo op" isn't amusing, then I really don't think he fully understands the subject matter he claims to be so passionate about.  I lost all respect for the film maker in that moment and I think it illustrates how important it is to be completely aware at all times about how one conducts themselves, especially when one is connected to a high profile communication initiative.  I won't even get into this guy's recent arrest for masturbating in public and for vandalizing cars, all of which happened two days ago in the town where I live...


3. The "information" contained in the video is sorely out of date, as some Ugandan colleagues of mine have already confirmed.  One cannot put out any information into today's "media" without ensuring that the information contained within is as correct and timely as is humanly possible.  Information spreads in today's online world like a wildfire and once let loose, it is nearly impossible to contain, and to me, this video is less about what a good video can and should be, and way more about what not to do when you create and release a piece of media for global consumption. To me, it's also about what level of damage can occur when one well meaning but clueless individual does something high profile without engaging in a participatory and inclusive process that garners some level of consensus building, even if on a very small scale (like, say, fact checking between involved villages, NGOS, INGOs and UN and GoU agencies).


Lastly, I sadly do not feel that this video will have a positive impact on development communications, I actually feel it will have a damaging impact because of the aforementioned issues.  The seeming lack of inclusion and participation of those who are really involved scents this entire video and it's related campaign efforts with a strong smell of "white savior" complex.  I wouldn't blame Ugandans one bit if they have lost faith in American and foreign assistance when this sort of nonsense is allowed to happen in their midst.  I would really like to understand and hear from those communication experts who think this video will somehow have an improved affect on development communication, because to me, it's just a really bad joke at this point.

Thanks Shari for your

Thanks Shari for your comments. I was particularly interested in your remarks on the need to "allow the subjects to tell their own story". I also feel this is crucial, both for good documentary filmmaking and for the ethics of development work.

There is an interesting discussion going on at the end of a blog of mine on about how smaller, grassroots organisations need to start having their voices heard using social media - and how best to do that (

I was one of the respondents who clicked "not sure". I see your points about the damaging nature of the messages in this campaign, but I think, tentatively, that (a) the debate the video has sparked might just lead to some good learning, discussion and reflection, and (b) that communicators can look at some of the broader lessons (good AND bad) about using social media and video, and learn what to apply and what to avoid.

What do you think?




A Ugandan's Perspective on Kony 2012

I think the video was too simplistic: You can not get a 4 year old to comment on an issue calling for a global action! Why wouldn’t, for example, a Ugandan soldier who has been fighting for the past 26 years comment on the video?  In my opinion the video  does not depict even 5% of the situation on ground. It is also outdated. Kony was defeated and left Uganda 6 years back. I wonder why the campaign has been launched now in the US instead of being launched in Uganda, DRC and Central Africa Republic where Kony is currently causing immense  havoc.  


Sadly, It is very unthoughtful for Invisible Children to shoot the video without involving or commending the Ugandan soldiers/army who have been fighting Kony for the past 26 years and actually managed to kick Kony out of Unganda.  


As if that was not bad enough, the local people in Uganda, even in Gulu where Invisible Children is working, got to learn of the video from face book. I don’t think that the approarch taken by Invisible Children was appropriate and respectful to the entire Ugandan population.  


As a Ugandan who has been working in development in Uganda for over 10 years, I think there are many issues that are of much higher priority in Uganda than Kony at this period of time. Kony is very insignificant in Uganda and has been for the past 6 years. We need recovery programs, rehabilitation, education, intergration, and health namely.  


If you have been following Uganda events, people in Northern Uganda have now been hit by a "nodding disease" epidemic which has infected over 300 children. The attention in Uganda is finding out a cure and the cause for this strange disease. All in all, arresting Kony will be appreciated but will not solve the conflict.

Great to hear some Ugandan

Great to hear some Ugandan voices in this debate, and I was very interested in your point about IC not having shown the video to anyone in their are of work.

Do you feel that the focus on the KONY 2012 video has given you and others working in Uganda an opportunity to respond? I am just wondering if - in the end - the global debate about this video has actually led more people to understand Uganda (and its priorities) better?

Negative publicity for

Negative publicity for development effectiveness, meaning the characterising of organisations as being poorly informed outsiders and/or as self-interested publicity and money seekers, hasn't previously done much to improve effectiveness. A question might be: "Can social networking tools improve development effectiveness?" This campaign and its debate show how much attention can be generated by, pardon the expression, sensationalism (not to minimise the gravity of the practice of abusing children and youth by "recruiting" them or to criticise the efforts to support their return - the value of world recognition of this horrific human rights violation is the shining moment in all of the buzz). How much of that turns into action that effectively and positively touches the people involved? Thanks, Riona, for your blog:

"Can social networking tools improve development effectiveness?"

Great question - and there are two very well-crafter articles that might give all of us asking this question some beginnings of an answer:

- Sam gregory's piece on what he takes from the KONY campaign in terms of how to effectively (and ethically) use social media for advocacy, which I think contains some great pointers for communicators: (thanks to for bringing this article to our attention)

- Jason Mogus' reflections on why the KONY campaign model worked, and why it is difficult (even if it were advisable) to copy their approach: is also planning to put together something soon on skills, tips and tools for small non-profits who want to explore social media/ networking in their work. Worth watching that space.

(and thanks for your thanks!)

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