Joan Smith: All is vanity – and it's gone viral over warlord Kony



It has become an internet sensation. Celebrities have rushed to offer support. The White House has congratulated the people who made it. Within a couple of days of being posted on YouTube, around 50 million people had watched Kony 2012, a short film about an African rebel leader. And I'm wondering whether I've seen the same video as everyone else, because when I watched it I wanted to throw up.

There's no doubt that Joseph Kony is a nasty piece of work. His ridiculous Lord's Resistance Army was responsible for countless murders, rapes and mutilations in his home country, Uganda, and he should be tried for crimes against humanity. But Kony's soldiers were driven out of Uganda six years ago, leaving the country to get on with the process of rehabilitating child soldiers and girls forced into prostitution. Kony is thought to be hiding in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo – so remote, indeed, that he may have missed the fact that he's been targeted by a parade of smug celebrities.

"Dear Joseph Kony, I'm Gonna help Make you FAMOUS!!!!", Sean Combs (aka the rapper P Diddy) warned last week. Combs is so serious about "stopping" Kony that he's mobilised millions of followers on Twitter, ordering them to retweet his message. Rihanna, too, has added her name to the roster of stars urging an end to the non-existent slaughter of children in Uganda. Famous people emoting in a cause they know nothing about is hardly novel, but the internet has dramatically increased opportunities to look naïve, or downright foolish.

The celebrities squaring up to Kony are responding not to facts but to the film's saccharine tone and its unashamed narcissism. It's all about feeling good in return for not doing very much, and the rest of us can share in the glow by wearing a wristband, buying a campaign kit, and putting up posters. The aim is to turn Kony into the world's most wanted man, which will supposedly put pressure on the United States government and the Ugandan army, itself accused of human-rights abuses, to track him down. A more urgent case could be made for "stopping" a number of people still in power, including Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir – Kony's main backer and an indicted war criminal – and President Assad of Syria.

The film was made by an American organisation called Invisible Children. Quite why its activists think they're helping kids in Uganda by launching a celebrity wild goose chase is a matter for them. One of several significant facts not mentioned in the film is that their own government has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court, which is the only body with the legal and moral authority to try notorious war criminals.

But the most astonishing thing about the campaign is its total insensitivity to questions of race, power and representation: the film demands that we look at a nasty black man, Kony, through the eyes of a winsome white child with blond curls who happens to be the film-maker's son. I'm not at all surprised it's been greeted with anger and astonishment in Uganda.

Those who run Invisible Children have been accused of spending too much on administration and making films and not enough on helping children. But this is a morality tale for our times, showing what happens when well-meaning but utterly misguided people decide to utilise the power of the internet. Facts get lost, vanity goes viral – and a thuggish warlord trends on Twitter.;

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions