The Kony 2012 video has divided students’ message toward the warlord’s actions.
Temple supporters of Invisible Children took to the streets of Philadelphia to make an infamous African warlord known, while other students set out to cover his face and name.
With more than 100 million views during its first two weeks, the Kony 2012 campaign has produced both ardent supporters and critics. Invisible Children, Inc., a national organization behind the campaign, has used many forms of media to make the warlord, Joseph Kony, a household name in the hopes of bringing him to justice.
On April 20, Temple’s chapter of Invisible Children hung posters bearing the name and face of Kony as part of Invisible Children’s “Cover the Night” event.
Temple students Kelsey Nielsen, a senior social work major, and Victoria Sensenig, a junior social work major, set out to cover up posters left by those supporters.
The duo’s posters read: “I am respectfully covering up the face and name of a viscous warlord responsible for senseless acts of violence against people I love in Uganda.”
“What we really wanted to do was start a dialogue,” Nielsen said. “We were reaching out to get people understanding both the positives and negatives of the campaign.”
Sensenig agreed, and said that she feels that Invisible Children supporters are not considering the Kony 2012 campaign.
“Our goal was to tell people our side of things and how we feel about it,” Sensenig said. “They will probably ask why their signs are covered up because they don’t know our side or where we are coming from.”
Nielsen, who has done social work in Uganda three times, said many Ugandans feel exploited by the campaign.
“Some Ugandans are saying they feel exploited and that profit is being made off of their pain,” Nielsen said. “That is not a good sign. It’s not something that should go unaddressed.”
However, Nielsen said she does not entirely denounce Invisible Children.
“I think [the Invisible Children’s] efforts are very commendable, but I think that they are acting too much on emotion without a thoughtful analysis of what is helping and what it hurting,” she said.
Nielsen said that it’s important that Americans understand who this cause belongs to and who will have to live with the results at the end of the day.
“The [African] people who are right in the midst of it are the ones going to solve this problem,” she said. “It’s not going to be teenagers wearing T-shirts or hanging up signs.”
“I think sometimes it’s scary for us to realize that sometimes there is just very little we can do,” Nielsen added. “To claim that you are the ones ending this war, or that you are the ones solving this problem, is just not true and is not appropriate.”
Michele Aweeky, a senior journalism major and founder and president of Temple Invisible Children, disagreed with Sensenig and Nielsen. Aweeky said that her views represent those of Temple Invisible Children, not the views of the national organization.
“This claim that [Invisible Children] doesn’t have a right to advocate to the western world about a social issue that they find appalling because it isn’t theirs to advocate for is just asinine,” she said. “The reason they felt the need to start a movement is because the mainstream media in the western world [were] not talking about the atrocities happening in Central East Africa.”
Nielsen said that she believes it’s imperative that Americans take a supporting role and seek to understand, rather than dictate how problems should be solved internationally.
“I think we need to abandon this as the cause of American youth and recognize that it’s the cause of the Ugandan, Congalese, Sudanese and the rest of the people in that region,” she said. “It’s something that they’ve been fighting for over 26 years now.”
Citing the long period of time that Kony has committed crimes, Aweeky said that the situation must be addressed by the international community.
“Kids being killed and no one [has done] anything about it for more than a quarter of a century,” she said. “A vicious warlord is the kind of force that needs international support and involvement to be stopped.”
In response to the idea that Ugandans do not appreciate the Kony 2012 video and campaign, Aweeky points out the differences in culture.
“Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video was not made for Ugandans,” she said. “It was made for young people in the United States to educate them about what’s happening in Uganda and inspire them to do something about it.”
It is that human connection between young people that Aweeky enjoys when taking part in the campaign to stop the rape, murder and torture alleged by Kony’s forces.
“Knowing that people all over the world are doing the same thing, for the same reasons, is something you can’t comprehend until it happens to you,” she said. “We [young people] are not ignorant, despite the frequent label.”
Aweeky did admit that it was discouraging to see the reaction of the Ugandan people to the campaign.
“I was honestly very disheartened when I read and watched reactions of some Ugandans to this campaign, as were many of the members of Temple IC,” she said. “But we then looked at the situation from this perspective and remembered that the kids are the main reason we’re doing this, and they’re still in danger.”
Nielsen and Sensenig said they understand Aweeky’s perspective, but urge that people think critically before acting.
“I think [Invisible Children supporters] are very intelligent and passionate people,” Nielsen said. “It’s not that we don’t want you to care, or that you shouldn’t be involved in this cause. We just really wish that you would think about this more.”
John A. Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.