Earlier this week, the non-profit Invisible Children posted “Kony 2012” on youtube and vimeo. Slickly produced and superficially moving, the video purports to raise awareness about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, and kicks off a campaign to #stopkony. Asking people to donate and buy advocacy kits that will “make Kony famous” by plastering signs and stickers publicly, they tell their (young, mostly white) audience that “[p]eople will think you’re an advocate of awesome.” Thanks to a tsunami of tweets from celebs and those of us regular people alike (#stopkony and #stopkony2012 are trending), the kits are now sold out.

The Stop Kony campaign and Invisible Children have subsequently come under fire and have become the focus of pointed, and sometimes angry, criticism for their simplified and outdated take on the conflict – as well as their colonialist approach to “solving” it.  Below find links to some of the best critical articles we’ve seen (which also contain links to other great articles). And above, Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, weighs in. We’ll let her tell her own story. And, to be fair, here is the official response from Invisible Children, which ends with this quote from the “poet” Ke$ha: “we are who we are.”

[Editor’s note: we included some new sources in the list below on March 22.]


Ordinary Ugandans are worrying about other things. The government needs a strategy for assessing its capital needs by sector. Should Uganda build an oil refinery or forgo the profits and send crude to Kenya for processing? And if it’s Ugandan children in peril you’re looking for, there are those suffering from “nodding disease” — an unusual neurological disease that’s killed hundreds of children in the very region Kony once terrorized….

…Let’s not amplify and reproduce another narrative of Africa in crisis when Ugandans themselves are moving on.

  • Al Jazeera summarizes the critiques and responses.

“‘There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint.’ -Yale political science professor Chris Blattman”

“But I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.”

  • Read this blog from Foreign Policy.

“One of the biggest issues with a simplistic “Stop Kony” message is that discussions of Navy Seals or drone strikes are inevitable when patience runs out with Ugandan-led efforts . But what about the dozens or hundreds of abducted and brainwashed kids? Should we bomb everyone? Will they actually stop fighting after Kony is gone? What if they shoot back?”

  • Another great summary of the critiques of #stopkony from the New York Times.

While much of the backlash reported in the American news media this week cited objections raised by development experts in the United States and Europe, several African bloggers and activists have objected to what they see as a more fundamental problem. Among them, the possibility that the “Kony 2012″ campaign reinforces the old idea, once used to justify colonial exploitation, that Africans are helpless and need to be saved by Westerners.

Many African critics of the effort to make Mr. Kony, the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a household name said it echoed the ideas in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” written in 1899 to urge Americans to embrace their imperial destiny and rule over the “new-caught, sullen peoples,” of the Philippines — even though the typical native was “half-devil and half-child.”

  • A New York Times article that points out the more nefarious reasons for the US to send advisers to Africa – which Invisible Children is advocating.

In the New Statesman, Tom Rollins goes further. He fears that “so many people could be duped by a video that explicitly calls for U.S.-led intervention in Central Africa” — which, coincidentally, could make it much easier for the West to gain access to the region’s natural resources.

  • Boing Boing did an excellent job of rounding up articles written by Africans across the continent and within the diaspora.

“The point of the film is absolutely not to encourage deeper questioning of Ugandan governance. The name of Uganda’s Life President Yoweri Museveni is nowhere to be found. Instead the point is to “literally cry your eyes out”, having been moved into a frenzy of moral clarity by the quite revolting mixture of generalised disgust at black Africa, infatuation with white American virtue and technological superiority, and a dose of good old-fashioned blood-lust.”

  • Read an interview with Glenna Gordon, photographer of the now infamous photo of Invisible Children founders with SPLA guns.

“I found all of their previous efforts to be emotionally manipulative, and all the things I try as a journalist not to be.”

“The problem here is the lack of balance on who speaks for Uganda (and Africa) and how. We need approaches that are strategic and respectful of the local reality, build on the action and desires of local activists and organizers, and act as partners and allies, not owners and drivers.”

  • And, on a more humorous note, someone tweeted this age-old gem from  “Stuff White People Like”

“You get all the benefits of helping (self satisfaction, telling other people) but no need for difficult decisions or the ensuing criticism (how do you criticize awareness?).”

  • Oh, and watch this awesome snark from What’s Up Africa, entitled “Sh*t White People Say After Watching #Kony2012 video”


27 Replies to "Joseph Kony and the White Man’s Burden"
j.a. says:
March 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Cannot read anything on this post because of your background. The pattern makes it absolutely impossible to read any text without highlighting it first. You may want to consider changing this.

Katherine says:
March 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Why do people have to make it about race and criticise them for being white…. if the guy in the video happened to be a black american would that make it more acceptable?!

    Anonymous says:
    March 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Because it is relevant to the issue at end!

    Josh says:
    March 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    How is it relevant to the issue at hand?
    This is merely people coming together to try and do some good for the world.
    Black or white, people are people. We should all be able help each other.

    Maybe you don’t agree with how they’re trying to help, but there’s no reason to make it about race.

    AndradeK says:
    March 13, 2012 at 2:52 am

    Yes we should help each other by working together. Although this KONY movement raises awareness, it makes it seem as if Ugandans are helpless and that they haven’t been working for numerous years to address the issues of their country. I’d rather work beside Ugandans than act like it’s the US’ job to fix all of their problems. I’d also like to add that the oversimplification of how to “fix” this problem is making it a trend and now all of a sudden everyone is a revolutionary. Well, soon enough these part-time revolutionaries will be distracted by something new, and the crisis around child soldiers will fade away like the injustice involving Troy Davis’ life and countless other important global issues. We need commitment, consistency, and collective work.

    In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “do not confuse charity with justice.”

James C. says:
March 8, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Stop being such an effing hipster. You’re just hating it because too many people support it. If someone told you a week ago that they spent their day trying to raise awareness of the LRA’s atrocities, you’d have been impressed.

KalaikaP says:
March 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Color of skin is not relevant. If the kids were white, it would still be a tragedy. If the IC was headed by a black man a lot of the logistical questions would still be valid. If the person watching the video is white, black, brown, or green they should be effected by such a terrible thing. Something needs to be done. Skin color is irrelevant. It’s a matter of making it a more permanent fix. Perhaps an institutional change. And maybe this is not the end all be all solution, but atleast it has begun a conversation of what can be done.

    Cee Ess says:
    March 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    WELL SAID!!! Basically my stance on the topic!

    Ola says:
    March 9, 2012 at 7:31 am

    How many campaigns start a conversation in vain? Stop talking and get to work, non?

March 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Yeah, its the same ol same theme “White Knight” to the rescue. That will always be “America” that’s what makes this country so great. The whole idea of it “Freedom.” #Stopkony campaign is only feeding the idea, democracy! That’s the true beauty of it at the grassroots of the whole issue. Minus the political issues and politics of Uganda: mind you Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda, he left about six years ago. The message is simple; “Let’s use our influence to make this barbarism known! Let’s speak up.” That’s what makes it beautifully worth joining. At the end of the day we are all one. “Am I my brothers keeper?”

Helen says:
March 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I just love how all the Africans who are no longer in the country and in the situation speak out against this and slam the ‘white people’. Ungrateful lot you now safe and educated people are.

    Anonymous says:
    March 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

    To Helen,

    Your comment has shocked me.

    Firstly, Africa is not a country it is a continent. It is made up of over 50 different countries.

    There is no one ‘situation’ in Africa. They are millions of ‘situations’. Some horrific and heart breaking, but also some good and inspiring.

    Please do not assume that all African people are unsafe an uneducated and that they owe any education they have to the West.

    Why do you think they are ungrateful? Ungrateful to who?

    Please watch this TED talk by the Nigerian writer Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. She explains my point better than I ever could.

    Anonymous says:
    March 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    perhaps you should look at the comments by people in Uganda. For some reasons they don’t like it either!

riley says:
March 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

You are definitley overlooking the whole idea. We are trying to help stop a monster from getting kids to kill their own people. We are not saying Africa is hopeless we are saying that the kids are abducted by Kony are helpless and it’s a horrible reality that we can help change.

Dani says:
March 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm

@KalaikaP not really. There are a couple of black-run initiatives I can think of off the top of my head aimed at “saving” some part of Africa that I don’t get down with because they’ve got a shallow approach that will not hols water in the long run or are financially shaky. If you’d read any of the commentary, all of the quotes point to why whiteness IS a relevant issue here… its patronizing. And lots of whitefolks have a funny way of seeing nonwhite people without really SEEING nonwhite PEOPLE.

But okay… the conversation has begun and now what? Next week there’s a different topic trending and all this “awareness” is going to be where? And all the donations they’ve gotten off these kits are going where? The “conversation” happening between you and I on another continent is doing absolutely nothing for the people of Uganda. But hey, we got the t-shirt!

    KalaikaP says:
    March 9, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    So you don’t get down with the initiatives because they are shaky. That’s perfectly ok. And if that’s the reason for not getting down with IC, great. But again, color of skin should not be an issue…. As far as patronizing, I get that. “Oh look at me I’m rich and I’m white and I’m helping out these poor little people that can’t help themselves.” I totally understand that. I know plenty of people like that, and I see where it could come off that way. All I’m saying is that it’s a bit sad when right off the bat everyone assumes it’s that way, and somebody trying to do good is faced with so much negativity based on his skin color.

    As far as what he’s doing with the donations and how legit his operation is, that’s a whole other issue. Like I said before, they may not have the right answers at this moment. But kudos to the IC for atleast starting the conversation. That’s where everything begins. And I hope this awareness leads to justice and a better quality of life for some of those kids. Not because I’m black and they’re black, but because we are human, and no human should be subject to the things they are.

Michelle says:
March 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I was very moved by the Youtube video of these people making a CHOICE to do something about Kony. Whether you live in Ugunda, or whether you live in America, if you choose not to do anything about it, his mission will still go on. Just think if everyone just in America decided that they will do something about whatever bothers them somewhere else, how much better life would be for anyone. If you feel he is misinformed or lacks knowledge, the thing to do would be join his effort instead of pointing it out to the world, it just lets us see that all these words you have to say shows you to be Insecure and full of hot air.
JUMP or sit down and be quiet.

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  • Priya says:
    March 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Thank you for this summary. Rosebell Kagumire’s response above is moving, unlike the smug, eye-roll-inducing, condescending, manipulative and frankly silly Kony 2012 video

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  • Cornlia says:
    March 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Judging by *some* of the comments, there is still a LONG way to go and a LOT of history to teach ! Thanks for posting the excerpts Vanessawithoutborders.

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  • claire says:
    March 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

    I heard about stop Kony from my friends 15 years old daughter,who is half black and half german. I will support this cause because whoever started the movement, and how it was started does not change the fact that these children were abused and that whole villiages of people were whiped out by Kony and his followers. Arguing about race only distracts us from our responsiablities as humabeings to stand up for each other. If you are laying in a ditch bleeding to death you are not gonna care what colour the hand is that reaches in to help you out. I myself am of mixed race and have learned a long time ago that it doesn´t matter who, as long as the help comes when needed in the best way possiable. Of not the USA then other countries should jump in. Everday people are minipulated by the media into buing new cars, or shoes, but when soeone makes a video to get people to support saving lives they are automaticly out under fire. I don´t understand it.

    adoley says:
    March 11, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    As an african, I took the video as inspiring institutional change and political awareness, instead of apathy in the hearts and minds of our generation. Other people are entitled to their opinions. But, I know if i was in Uganda, or Congo, CAR, etc. and Joseph Kony is going after my people, myself and my family are moving from place to place, don’t know if we will see the day’s end alive, if we will eat, or if we will even have shelter. I would be grateful for somebody to do something! I would not care if it out of guilty or whatever!! I care about someone’s love and sincerity. After watching the Kony 2012 video, I have no doubt that, love and sincerity is where movement is coming from for the Ugandan people.

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  • carlos says:
    June 9, 2012 at 6:26 am

    The Ports are an important part of our transport infrastructure and they need to be operating as productively and efficiently as possible.

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