Invisible Children was a fiasco. Is Expedition Kony the real deal? | 

Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton

This week we covered Expedition Kony, a crowdsourced project by swashbuckling adventurer/author/journalist Robert Young Pelton to find warlord Joseph Kony in northern Uganda. “This is a project that seeks to shine a light on this hunt, on the hunters as well as the hunted,” we concluded.

But there are still questions to be answered – who is Pelton and why does he think he’s qualified to find Kony? What will he do if he meets him? And what about critics who say this belongs in the “#Bullsh*t Files,” like Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 project, which ended with Jason Russell, the founder of the organization, naked in the streets of San Diego?

Well, we had an extended chat with the guy so you can judge for yourself. Despite his bravado, Pelton doesn’t seem as cartoonish as Russell or evoke the same sort of messianic zeal. In a similar vein, his analysis complicates reductive, simplistic portraits of Kony himself. This “media event” he’s trying to put together seeks to uncover the governments, wealthy actors, and nonprofits (he calls Africa’s NGO sector a “self-licking lollipop”) implicated in why a two-bit rebel leader like Kony, of all people, is a household name.

Before all that, Tom and I discuss the top Humanosphere headlines this week: why one major charity head is calling for a shift in focus from disasters to politics, and the less savory side of “the golden age of philanthropy.”

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Update on the Kony hunt | 


Joseph Kony

Suddenly, there’s been a flurry of media reports about the military hunt for African warlord Joseph Kony and his gang of thugs known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. It’s not clear why — though perhaps it is in reaction to earlier stories that report frustration among activists and futility on the hunt in Uganda.

Many say Kony, who is now arguably so marginalized as to be a fairly minor bad guy when it comes to the world’s leading bad guys, is no longer in Uganda. First, the reports said he was in DR Congo and now some say he is somewhere between Sudan and South Sudan.

Some think he might be dead.

In any case, the Kony manhunt goes on — driven by popular sentiment. Even Ugandans, many of whom angrily protested the showing of the Kony 2012 video, are reportedly more supportive of the effort.

If you don’t know about Kony, let me be the first to welcome you back to life on the grid. For the 99 percent of us who have been unable to avoid the massively successful social media campaign targeting this particular and peculiar bad guy, here’s the latest:

New York Times US troops assist in the search for Kony

Washington Post Kony hunt proving difficult for US troops

AP Uganda says Kony getting support from Sudan

Voice of America US uses high-tech intelligence methods to hunt down and stop Kony

For those of you interested in ongoing critique of the Stop Kony campaign, you can read the collection of essays and comments gathered at Project Diaspora by TMS Ruge in response to the very interesting report compiled and edited by Amanda Taub called Beyond Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness and Activism in the Internet Age.

Five reasons why Kony campaign’s street action mostly flopped | 

Given the fast-paced nature of news combined with our peculiarly American brand of cultural ADHD (attention-deficit-hyperisolationist-disorder), perhaps nobody should be too surprised that the call for actual action by the Kony 2012 campaign largely flopped.

That doesn’t mean the actual hunt in east-central Africa for the now world-infamous African warlord Joseph Kony isn’t on. Oh, it’s on.

But Friday was supposed to be a day of global call to action — in which the anti-Kony organization Invisible Children had called for people worldwide to put up posters and graffiti calling for the end to Kony’s reign of terror.

Didn’t really catch fire this time. Here are five possible explanations floating out there:

  1. Slacktivism or Clicktivism — the modern tendency for people to “engage” in a social action that involves clicking on a web page but then doing nothing more.
  2.  Collapse of the heroic narrative. One thing the Kony 2012 bunch did amazingly well is create a ‘heroic narrative’ in which a bad guy is targeted by a good guy. But then the good guy, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, confused people with weird behavior.
  3. Apathy.
  4. The counterpoint prevails. The Kony 2012 video exploded in popularity and just as quickly was attacked by many aid and development experts as a dangerous Hollywood-ization of a complex problem.
  5. We cared then, but this is now. We’ve all just moved on to other things.

Here are some stories that examine the reported failure of the Cover the Night campaign, variously suggesting any or all of these reasons.

As The Guardian noted Kony 2012 fails to move from the internet to the streets:

The Kony 2012 Cover the Night campaign woke up to awkward questions on Saturday after activists failed to blanket cities with posters of the wanted Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony. The movement’s phenomenal success in mobilising young people online, following last month’s launch of a 29-minute documentary which went viral, flopped in trying to turn that into real world actions.

Locally, Seattle Globalist reported on the diehard supporters:

After a record breaking viral video and over 1400 likes on the local Facebook event page, the youth mobilized by the Kony 2012 campaign were supposed to come out in force to “Cover the Night”. They were to blanket Seattle, and the rest of the country, “demanding justice on every street corner” as the viral call-to-arms video proposed.

So did they? At least here in Seattle, the answer seems to be a resounding “kinda”….

Devin Erickson, a 20 year-old University of Washington (UW) sociology student and leader of the college’s KONY 2012 club, met with fellow club members Amethyst Williams, 18, and Alison Guajardo, 20, at UW’s Red Square before heading downtown to put up posters.

“[After the video went viral] we had 100 new members for our chapter but we have not seen any of them at the meetings,” Erickson said, referring to the difficulty of taking an online campaign offline.

Invisible Children claims otherwise, that thousands of photos they received indicate that their “Cover the Night” event was such a rousing success it “blew our minds.”  Hmmm, not sure that’s the best phrase to use given co-founder Jason Russell’s bizarre reaction to their initial success with the video.

Here’s what they have planned next:

Victory for Kony2012 campaign? AP: African Union to hunt harder for Kony | 

The Associated Press

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army

ENTEBBE, Uganda — Officials say the African Union will send 5,000 soldiers to hunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony in a mission officials describe as necessary to remove the Lord’s Resistance Army from Central Africa.

U.N. and African Union officials told a news conference Friday that the mission is to be launched in South Sudan on Saturday and will last until Kony is caught.

The hunt for Kony has primarily been carried out by Ugandan troops, who received a boost last year when President Barack Obama deployed 100 U.S. forces to help regional governments in the mission.

Friday’s announcement comes amid an Internet movie campaign by the group Invisible Children to make Kony “famous” so policymakers would make it a priority to remove him.