Kony 2012 - what's it all about?

Written on 10 March, 2012 by Larry Bloch
Categories CEO Blog

It's been a very inspiring day for mass activist action against injustice. The filmmaker Jason Russell and his groundbreaking movie went viral - racking up tens of millions of hits in a very short space of time.

Many of us have been touched by the issue and motivated to participate in some way. There has also been criticism - not mainly of Invisible Children Inc.'s motives which are seen to be in the right place, but of the bypassing of local African players in seeking a solution, of focusing too heavily on one man and glossing over the complexities of the situation on the ground, of using out of date images of the realities in 2012 in Northern Uganda. And yes, there has been some criticism of their motives.

But what astounds me is that the commentary seems to completely ignore the most glaring and profound aspect of this initiative. Almost all commentary focuses on the issue of the LRA and Joseph Kony, but my take is that this is not the main point of this movie - it is not the main stated aim.

What come across most strongly to me is that these filmmakers are making a pitch for a new mode of governance. They are saying that the collective can drive the agenda, that outcomes can be initiated and determined by group action. And they are stating that achieving this interim goal (capturing Kony and dismantling the LRA) is the moment in history when their vision of collective action will come of age.

Kony.2012 is a means to a greater end. It is a proof of concept in a far bigger ambition. They seek to demonstrate that people power can rule, that giving voice to the mass can determine policy, drive action at the highest levels and deliver outcomes that have been otherwise unachievable. And they are right - that has always been so. Ghandi demonstrated this many years ago, and countless movements before and since have found ways to organise masses to ensure the collective voice of the weak is heard and acted upon.

But this is entirely different. With Kony.2102, what is being attempted is a mass organisation of tens of millions of people all over the world around a single, deserving but obscure -  and in the grand scheme of their ambitions, irrelevant -  issue. An issue that does not directly affect the masses of individuals they seek to mobilise and on a timescale that is breathtaking in its brevity.

If this is achieved and the concept is proved, powerful establishments - governments primarily - will be shaken and rightly so. How much easier is it to influence domestic or foreign policy through this sort of mass action than capturing a cunning and wily warlord who has managed to evade capture for 30 years? If 25 people contacting politicians on a single issue on a single day is noted, what will they do when hundreds of thousands do so?

For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that I 100% support Invisible Children's campaign to bring Kony to justice - it is long overdue. And I  support their methods, although I share some concerns about the bypassing of local African players and of the dumbing down of a complex issue to aid the simplicity of the message needed to ensure mass action by largely uninformed supporters. It's a necessary evil. And I think the broader message of mass, global action to drive governments solve the worlds worst problems is an unstoppable and mostly positive development.

But make no mistake, in an historical perspective, this particular phenomena is not about an evil man that should have been destroyed years ago. That is not even the highest goal detailed in this movie by Invisible Children Inc. Quite deliberately, this is a demonstration of the means to establish a real, effective, global, grassroots political powerbase.