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Joseph Kony 2012: It's fine to 'Stop Kony' and the LRA. But Learn to Respect Africans.

Invisible Children's viral campaign to 'Stop Kony' is a powerful use of social media in activism. But by focusing on what Americans can do, they are undermining the role of Africans.

By Semhar AraiaGuest blogger / March 8, 2012

In this July 2006 file photo, members of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army are seen as their leader Joseph Kony meets with a delegation of Ugandan officials and lawmakers and representatives from non-governmental organizations, in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Sudanese border. Invisible Children launched a viral campaign to 'Stop Kony' on Tuesday to mobilize the next generation of young Americans to help end the conflict in northern Uganda.

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This week’s biggest Africa news isn’t from Africa. It’s from a massive online and social media campaign launched by the American advocacy group Invisible Children to capture indicted war criminal and Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.

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As with their previous campaigns Displace Me and How it Ends, Invisible Children launched Stop Kony 2012 on Tuesday to mobilize the next generation of young Americans to help end the conflict in northern Uganda – except this time, they called on their mostly white, privileged, and educated youth followers to get involved through web-activism on their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube accounts.

It all begins with a remarkable 30-minute video highlighting the instantaneous and hyper-connected world we live in. Founder Jason Russell narrates, stating “there are more people on Facebook than there were in the world 200 years ago” and that “humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect.” He may be right. In just two days, it has been viewed 32 million times and quickly grabbed the attention of personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Van Jones, Sean Combs and Rihanna.

It is a powerful example of how social media, art and activism can merge to mobilize privileged people into action and how open-minded Americans want a safer, fairer, and more prosperous world.

I appreciate their role. They are reaching a core constituency -- many of whom have never thought about these issues before -- and getting them to care about Africa. But caring is no longer enough.

Sadly, there are concerns that history may be repeating itself, as seen in responses from emerging African diaspora leaders Solome Lemma and TMS Ruge.

Of course Joseph Kony should be captured. But this approach is flawed. The video shows only a Western audience, without any reference to African partners or leaders. They are disempowering and undermining the role of Africans. They failed to recognize the role of individuals like Betty Bigombe, a long-time Ugandan activist, or seek partnerships with African organizations for the launch, such as Ushahidi or Africans Act for Africa.

Invisible Children and other Africa-focused advocacy organizations should deliver more sophisticated, nuanced, and respectful narratives that recognize capturing Kony is a collective responsibility and that Africans must play the primary role in bringing peace to the region.

Calling for the use of the latest technology, tools, and organizing tactics to attract millions of people who have never heard of Kony before (as they say, 99 percent of the world) into action is exciting. But for Africa’s sake, it is no longer enough. 

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