Friday, April 20, 2012

Kony 12 and Images of Africa

Today high school and college students across the nation will be covering their communities with posters demanding the arrest of Uganda's Joseph Kony for his abductions of children into his Lord's Resistance Army, in an action entitled "Cover the Night," organized by Invisible Children through a video that's gone viral. 

Margy Burns Knight, co-author of Africa is Not a Country (which I illustrated), wrote this April 4 post for Teaching Tolerance, suggesting that we make this a teachable moment and take the time to examine the complexities of the situation - such as the on-the-ground realities in Uganda, the implicit messages of the video, the impact of viral campaigns, and the aims of Invisible Children, to name a few. 

"... if we introduce complicated situations such as the LRA as 'stopping the bad Africans,' we set our children up to assume they can save Africa—or worse—that they should be the saviors of Africa," Margy writes. 

Boston University's African Studies Center has created an excellent study guide, "React and Respond: The Phenomenon of Kony 12," including a brief history, detailed guidelines for teaching the material and analyzing the video, and extensive resources. The guide identifies these core stereotypes/generalities which may be activated by an uncritical response to the video: 
1. Violent crises are part of the “African condition.”  
2. Africa is all the same. Africa is often seen as homogenous, and a place of the exotic, primordial loyalties (tribalism), poverty, underdevelopment, and corrupt and ineffective governments, as well as a tendency towards violence. 
3. Africa and Africans have little capacity to solve problems.
"Countries in Africa, like countries around the world, have human rights problems," Margy writes. "Our children should learn about them. But it sells short our children’s intelligence and the good human rights work going on around the world to teach it in flashy, dubious viral movies. Why not teach what people in Uganda think about Kony 2012? Our children, and the world about which we’re trying to teach them, deserve better."

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