Reframing Kony? How to solve the world’s trickiest problems

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Kony  2012

Kony 2012 is a recent campaign uploaded onto YouTube by Invisible Children. It was posted on 5 March 2012, and already has enjoyed a wide circulation. Invisible Children’s mission is stated on their website as ‘using film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity’.

Watch the 29:59 minute documentary explaining the campaign here:

It is a compelling story, and a cause that is troubling. Especially when seen from the normalcy and comfort of a Western household. How can we respond in any way other than to be shocked?

So much sadness and suffering in the world. Must we prioritise our response? Do we have to chose ‘our favoured cause’ above others? What difference does it make anyway…in the long run, will any of it make any difference?

Before looking at some of the criticism to the Kony 2012 campaign, I argue that we can all agree on one thing: taking no action is wrong. It is wrong ethically because we enjoy so much. Action can be small as much as it can be significant.

Here are two thoughtful blog posts which give a considered critique of Kony 2012 and are worth reading. Read them yourselves rather than me summarising them in detail. My friend Cathie McGinn presents The questions we should be asking about the Invisible Children viral in her mUmBRELLA post. Patrick Wegner argues that “the Kony 2012 campaign is a reminder why we should see advocacy campaigns to interfere in conflicts with some scepticism, no matter how good the cause” in his Justice In Conflict post.

Last night, I attended a book launch for Eric Knight’s first book “Reframe: how to solve the world’s trickiest problems.” Eric’s book is a worthwhile read. He argues that often we miss the real cause of a problem, and so are then are unable to create a workable solution. I would suggest that he might respond the the Kony 2012 issue by applauding its action, while at the same time questioning whether the root cause has been addressed. Does dismantling Kony’s authority or freedom guarantee an end to the terror visited on so many African children?

This blog is not a criticism of Kony 2012 in itself. I would encourage people to get involved rather than criticise from the sidelines. I would also suggest that it does not in itself solve the problem. Focusing a social action campaign to mobilise the deployment of 100 military advisors is probably failing to recognise the impotence of our action in such circumstances. Intriguing to see the earlier indifference from the US Senators, and now to find their earnest commitment (cynically one might say timely following recent discovery of oil reserves in Uganda, as well as during a time of withdrawal from two larger campaigns in Iraq and now Afghanistan.)

Through the 10 City Bridge Run, I am asking “how can we use networks to alleviate child mortality?” Importantly, I do not believe that this is a stove-piped issues, nor is it something that can only be addressed at the expense of giving attention to another cause. Developing a more robust collaborative spirit of social action is required to make a difference. The lines of what causes poverty are blurred at the edges. Raising awareness of injustice itself is a good start to making the right choices in more areas than a person might have first intended.

This is the first blog I have written for almost 11 months. It has been a long recess. Writing this blog has been a good start point to come back into the conversation. Please join me as I prepare to start running in September. I am going to ask for your help before then by taking photographs.

In the meantime, we need to get better at working together from the ground up in order to solve the world’s trickiest problems. Kony 2012 is a great example of what is possible. Does it really matter if it is not a silver bullet?


6 thoughts on “Reframing Kony? How to solve the world’s trickiest problems

    ryanlinstrom said:
    March 10, 2012 at 2:29 am

    It’s not a question of something being a silver bullet. The debate here isn’t between good and perfect. It’s between helpful or harmful. Not about varying degrees of success, but, in the end, about how this will affect the people involved. And in this case, the consequences of hyped-up, ill-informed activism could be very harmful on the people in the region.

    Pathfinder said:
    March 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks Ryan, great comment.

    The truth is, that we don’t know what the consequence of Kony 2012 will actually be. I suspect it will have unintended consequences of stimulating action that births a new generation of social activism. We will see the flaws and strengths in this campaign and learn from it.

    My personal sense is that it won’t be any more harmful than much of the ill-informed activism that currently exists. The more that we can do that is helpful, the better. In the meantime, the very fact that this story has had 40 million views and is reaching mainstream broadsheet publication with critical op-ed summaries is a sign that there is a maturing of what can be done.

    I believe that starting a conversation around what is injustice is worthwhile. It really doesn’t matter whether someone is Most Wanted #1 or so far down the list that they don’t get a mention by name. The best thing that might come out of Kony 2012 is seeing that celebrity figures are not always right (and that we should think for ourselves), that policy makers most often act because of an unstated agenda (and that we should be vigilant), and that removing a Kingpin does not stop the rot or end the war (this is an incredibly naive view which has been seen tragically with the capture and death of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden).

    40 million views is a lot of activity. Can we have enough faith in the human condition that people can wake up to themselves when they realise that the assumptions behind the Theory of Change of Kony 2012 is flawed, and that we all must take some responsibility for ending bad things where we can?

    The tragedy in Kony 2012 is that it reinforces an unthinking acceptance for supremacy of Western intervention. The great opportunity now for Kony 2012 is for bottom up refinement to a simplistic campaign. There is massive support which can be mobilised – not for the arrest and death of Kony (which could be argued as almost inconsequential given the current situation) – but more for a rethinking of what needs to be done to support Uganda and the region. Would Jason Russell be strong enough to open the conversation by saying: “OK, we got it wrong on this one. I know that there is something to be done in that region, but I am not completely sure of the answer. How can IC repurpose itself to make a real difference?”

    I suspect that IC is too entrenched in the campaign to make this change, but even so the discussions around the edges, like this one, are what is most important.

    The question I would leave you with is: “what action would you suggest I take in order to make the most difference to alleviating child mortality? Would you be open to working together to making a difference in this area?”

    Once again, thanks for your post. Matt

    ryanlinstrom said:
    March 11, 2012 at 2:12 am

    You make some great points, Matt – and I’m seeing a lot of people make similar ones; namely – that we should use this momentum to educate people on the full story and then encourage them towards more appropriate actions that can lead to real change in the region. This article ( was challenging for me in that sense, because I want to believe people are ultimately smart and want to be treated like adults – but as the success of this campaign has shown, the opposite is true, and we may need to think about ways to dumb down the message if we want to get people’s attention. For now, I’m hoping we can learn how to keep those people involved while still educating them further on the topic.

    Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that Russell or IC is open to the criticism. He calls the critics “haters” in his interview on E! (I know, silly that I’m quoting an E! interview) (, and says IC just needs more love. Other IC staff I’ve spoken with have been overly defensive and have suggested that the criticism is only coming from “misinformed and uneducated” people. Which is funny, because I’d say that’s a more apt description of the audience they just recruited to the cause….

    As far as what action to take – I think network building is a great start. If Kony 2012 has shown us anything it has shown us that when people come together, it is powerful. But as many have suggested, we are leaving out a foundational element, a key link in this network: the African people in Uganda, CAR, DRC, and Sudan. Their voices have not been featured in any prominence by IC, and that, more than anything else is what concerns me about this movement as a whole.

    Sorry this was so long, and thanks for the discussion….

      Pathfinder said:
      March 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Thanks Ryan,

      A couple more observations: when I saw George Clooney on the video, I immediately thought I wonder how this will likely affect the future buy-in by celebrities, especially now that the issue has both a raised profile (good for exposure) and also is starting to develop a more complex dimension beyond a simple sound bite (bad for simplicity on the cocktail circuit).

      I am always alarmed when the celebrities are wheeled out to give their two cents worth. I don’t deny them a voice or an opinion, but increasingly our news is shaped by their opinions over anything else of relative merit (for example, I am really sad that Michael Jackson is dead, but is the outcome of a court case looking at the culpability of his doctor really global news? Really!…)

      It is a crack-up that E! is now being quoted. This idea is now officially mainstream! If that is the only successful (unintended) outcome from this campaign, to my mind it will have been a success. To cut through all of the hype and get E! to comment on an issue of social justice beyond some shots of Bono or Clooney is a win.

      I would suggest that the movement is now is a transitional stage which it did not expect to reach so early. I believe that it is at this point that Russell needs to reframe what is planned for 20 April. If I were him, I would be working hard now to build the networks you mentioned, rather than just plaster cities with signage that most people now recognise.

      Interesting lessons in readjusting ‘Theory of Change’ as the situation becomes mercurial.
      I also think that there are parallels with the Occupy Movement globally. And this perhaps shows the irony of a grassroots campaign: it is intentionally bottom up and community organised, but it also must have some expectation of success (or failure) and how it ought to respond when things develop to take the campaign to a whole different level where a different type of leadership and organisation is required.

      We used to look at what the USMC referred to as the “Three Block War” after their interventions in conflict following the end of the Cold War. It referred to the commander needing to manage mid-intensity conflict, peacekeeping and the delivering of humanitarian aid all within the geographical confines of a supposed ‘three city block district’. I think this is something I will give a little more thought to in the coming days.

      Thanks again for engaging- great to talk. Matt

    @Martin_English said:
    March 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Check the following link:

    Using Invisible Children as an example, it shows you how to obtain financial data about US based charities. This can help you determine whether, say, their expense to income is too high, or whether your time (and money) may be better spent on a more focused effort.


      Pathfinder said:
      March 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Martin, I always find it impressive to see the wealth of data and tools to manage it with that is developing and more readily accessible. Great link, but it still goes to show that not everyone will read links like this one. I guess that just points us all more toward a collaborative framework between us all.

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