Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

The real reason to be wary of Kony 2012

With the internet abuzz about Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" viral campaign, it was predictable that there would be some blow-back from critics. The most compelling criticism from my perspective is that Kony 2012 offers an extremely simplified message that is largely disconnected from the problems that presently plague Uganda.

In its own small way, I believe that such issues are laid bare by IC's vocal endorsement from James Inhofe, the Oklahoma senator who features prominently in the viral video.[*] Call me crazy, but I don't think that someone who has campaigned on the discriminatory platform of "God, gays and guns" is particularly well suited to act as spokesman for Uganda's current problems... Which $$-$$ more than the unspeakable acts of the now exiled Joseph Kony $$-$$ include massive discrimination and violence perpetrated against gay people.

Non-partisan support is something that we should almost always strive for. However, I am troubled by the fact that IC have unquestionably accepted and advertised Inhofe's endorsement, even though he has a record of overt bigotry. I suggest that IC might want to think a little more critically about the signals that they are sending to the Ugandan people, given the country's struggles against rabid homophobia.

UPDATE: Well, it seems that the case against James Inhofe's moral leadership on Ugandan issues is even stronger than I first guessed. A group of evangelical US politicians and lobbyists $$-$$ Inhofe foremost among them $$-$$ have been documented as providing advice to David Bahati, and implicitly inspiring him to introduce Uganda's infamous anti-Homosexual Bill (aka "Kill the Gays Bill") that I linked to above. Disturbing stuff.

[*] I've previously discussed Inhofe here if you are interested. Notably, his demanding role as the US Senate's climate change denier-in-chief... a hotly contested title if ever there was one. (A sadly amusing postscript to that saga here.)

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Disclaimer $$-$$ I wrote this post, and especially the title, with my tongue pressed angrily against my cheek. Joseph Kony undoubtedly deserves to face justice for his crimes. If this Kony 2012 campaign achieves nothing else, it's still good to know that millions of people around the world have now learnt who he is and understand the nature of his barbarism. Still, I think that this illustrates how simplified messages can distract from the real issues in development; a sadly recurring theme in field. For a nice, short summary, see Chris Blattman.