Kony 2012: Uncensored sparks discussion among international students, American audience members

What does the name ‘Joseph Kony’ mean to you? Does it evoke feelings of anger? Sad- ness? Disdain? Seton Hill University (SHU) students were welcomed to discuss that name and the video that made it famous with a panel of international guests—four of whom were native Africans on April 19.

“Kony 2012: Uncensored” began by show ing Invisible Chidren, Inc.’s video as a source point for later discussion at the event. The video, “Kony 2012,” is a cinematic call-to- action against the crimes of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Africa.

“[The video] made me feel like I could do something; like I could help because the video offers a solution,” said Shayla Jones, a sophomore who attended the event. “It made me angry about the situation in Africa. It definitely upset me that this had been going on for 20 years and no one has really done anything to stop it.”

Like many other Americans, Jones said she wouldn’t have been aware of Kony and his crimes had there been no video.

“While I’m not an expert on African af fairs, I can say that American college students are typically unfamiliar with the continent’s problems. But this is not really the fault of American students,” said Joseph Coelho, as- sistant professor of political science. “Most of the blame should be directed at the media, which fails to adequately cover the issues and problems that emanate from this part of the world.”

After the Invisible Children organization received intense scrutiny for the handling of donations and the creator of the video, Jason Russell, was arrested for drunken lewdness, it lost some of its power and credibility.

“After learning all the objections and ev- erything about Kony, I felt that my opinion did change a little,” said Jones. “I thought ‘maybe everyone else is right’; I’m all fired

up about a situation that I really don’t know about fully.”

For some, the video was never powerful enough.

“For every country in Africa, I can give you 10 Konys,” said Mandu Ikpe, a senior and panel member from the West African coun- try of Nigeria. Ikpe, like the subjects of the Kony video, was a child soldier at only nine years old.

“When I was first approached about being on the panel, I hoped to paint a more accurate picture of what really goes on during such conflicts, no matter how barbaric the picture may turn out to be,” Ikpe said.

Bringing people together, he says, is the only thing he will give “Kony 2012” credit for.

“Overall, I was disappointed with the video because it failed to expose realities fac- ing the subjects of the video—child soldiers,” Ikpe said. “The video fails to show the actual lives of these children before war, during war and post war. If anyone is to be fully invested in trying to prevent such an issue from oc- curring in the future, I believe it is impera- tive to understand every aspect surrounding the lives these children face, no matter how violent or foreign such realities may be to a Western audience.”

Coelho created a similar link between the impotence of “Kony 2012” and Western culture.

“I think Kony 2012 was a savvy social media campaign that was effective in terms of bringing attention to a war criminal that has been overlooked by the U.S. media,” said Coelho. “I’m not sure, however, if the cam- paign was effective with regard to educating students about the war in Uganda, which has been over for quite a while.”

Coelho says that the “Kony 2012” video does not address the “historical and regional context” of the war, leaving viewers unaware of issues such as the reasons for the LRA’s ex- istence and, as Ikpe said, the use of child sol- diers in African wars.

To give the audience a better understand- ing of the issues either ignored or marginal- ized by Invisible Children, Ikpe provided a graphic documentary that used a much dif- ferent approach to reach viewers. The docu- mentary, called “Cry Freetown,” depicted actual violence toward children and the con- sequences that its victims face.

At the conclusion of the videos, the pan- el—which included four Africans, one Italian and one American—began a discussion that would last for several hours. As they intro- duced themselves and talked about their ex- periences, they concluded that government oppression–including control of the media— and corruption were two of the worst prob- lems in Africa.

“Either you have money or you have noth- ing,” said junior Bovey Masiole Balyesele of Tanzania. The amount and accessibility of water—something that Americans take for granted every day—was one of the most sur- prising things he encountered when he ar- rived in the United States, he said.

Discussion then drifted from the ills of society in Africa to the search for a solution, which led to some disparity between the pan- el members.

“The most important tool any country could use to eliminate current or future con- flicts of this nature is education,” said Ikpe. Though all panel members agreed with this concept, they were divided when it came to implementation of education.

Ikpe says that without a stable eco- nomic structure, educating the masses is

“How can you hope to educate citizens for-

mally or informally when they have no means to eat, housing, protection, etc.?” he said.

For this reason, Ikpe says, criminals like Kony are able to hold such a large amount of power and influence. When essential needs like food and water are scarce, people flock to whoever can help them to meet those needs, regardless of their “political ambitions.”

Ikpe said, “What citizen wants to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture when his or her stomach is crying for a slice of toast, fruit or anything available to eat? Education is valuable but one has to understand [that] it also has to go hand-in-hand with some sort of monetary structure.”

As a result of the subject matter and turmoil on the panel, the surprise of some American audience members was almost palpable.

“After the panel discussion, I realized it was alright to feel overwhelmed as an Ameri- can wanting to help these other nations such as Africa,” said Jones. “It was alright to feel overwhelmed because it is an overwhelming situation that is going on.”

As part of its call-to-action, Invisible Children introduced ‘Cover the Night’, an event meant to spread awareness and make a point to government leaders by “flooding the streets” and proving that supporters around the world are ready to catch Kony.

Shelby Edwards, a sophomore, participat- ed in the local ‘Cover the Night’ event.

“We went around Greensburg putting up posters on every telephone pole. We also gave fliers to people who were walking around,” Edwards said. “Many people did not know who Kony was and we explained it to them. Most of them were excited to know about him, whether they would do something about it or not.”

In spite of criticisms of Invisible Children and “Kony 2012,” Edwards still believes that the mission to catch Kony is a valid one.

“I do not like giving my money to [Invis- ible Children] because I do not know what they do with it, but I will give my time,” Ed- wards said. “I want to change the world and make it a better place, one cause at a time. I believe the video did a great job. It made peo- ple aware and it touched people’s hearts with news of innocent children.”

Coelho suggests that students use resourc- es like BBC World Online to learn more about Africa and other world affairs.

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