Last March, the social-networking thickets caught fire, sparked by an online video called Kony 2012. Its creator, founder of the San Diego–based group Invisible Children, Inc., was hoping to broadcast the misdeeds of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. His short film was viewed tens of millions of times in just several days.
Kony 2012 subsequently “started a conversation,” as intended, but the conversation was not about Joseph Kony as much as the ethics involved when a white man distorts ongoing violence in Africa and makes it the basis for a hip viral campaign, complete with red, Livestrong-like wristbands. It was a conversation about what the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole called “the White Savior Industrial Complex.” The author Dinaw Mengetsu, an American born in Ethiopia, was one of many to add his voice to the dialogue. He wrote that Kony 2012
wants to tell us about Joseph Kony and his atrocities, but much more than that, it wants to convince us that there is a solution … That solution, however, only works in the myopic reality of the film, a reality that deliberately eschews depth and complexity, because of course the real star of Kony 2012 isn’t Joseph Kony, it’s us.
All the publicity, perhaps needless to say, did not bring down Joseph Kony. Still he lurks in the Ugandan bush—far, far away from globally conscious Americans and their MacBooks.