Saturday, April 28, 2012


Here is one from the archives. A while back I got on Skype and yapped to a class taught by the Green Ninja. The subject was G.W.F. Hegel.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Invisible Children.

On Tuesday the 17th on the top floor of the building that houses the NYU law school, I sat on a panel with several powerful intellects to discuss a video made by Invisible Children.

The purpose of the discussion was to have a productive dialogue concerning the issues raised by the Kony 2012 video and its incredible success. Two members of IC were present: Jolly Okot and Adam Finck. They sat on the panel as well. Amy Goodman moderated: it was a forum in which we could give and ask for reasons, an opportunity to clear the air.

My colleagues and I were excited about this event; we had noticed a trend concerning Invisible Children and the way that they addressed criticism. It seemed that they were into addressing questions under their own terms (like on their web site or in their videos), which left room to strategically omit certain claims that, in a world of reason, it would be vitally important for them to address. This panel would be the first time, perhaps, that IC sat together with their critics to speak at length about such problems. Hopes were high.

Then they were dashed in a sea of stonewalling and question dodging.

Invisible Children's showing was bitterly disappointing. Not just for people who seek straightforward answers to simple questions, but to the victims of the LRA who are hurt by the harm to dignity wrought by the Kony 2012 video. 

There is not a single question that was put to them that they answered straightforwardly.

I told them that the narrative of their Kony 2012 video had a strong colonial era tone, that it smacked of the kinds of assumptions about the world that led Teju Cole to refer to IC and others as the "white savior industrial complex." In response to this they said nothing.

Victor Ochen, a victim of the war and founding director of AYINET, told them that many in Northern Uganda were appalled at the campaign to make Kony famous. They felt offended that this video, that referred to their pain and their struggles, was happening to them as opposed to happening with their consent. IC spoke immediately after this and commented almost not at all on anything that Ochen said.

A woman in the audience, who was Ugandan, asked simply: "what would you tell my family members who are offended by your video?" If what Okot said can be counted as a response, it must be something like "the victimhood of your family is not worth addressing. We have victims who work for us and theirs are the only voices that matter." 

IC was even asked several times about the date of their Cover the Night campaign. April 20th. Some Ugandans felt that this date was in terribly poor taste because April 20th, 1995 was the date of the massacre of hundreds of innocents at the hands of the LRA in Atiak. It is a day of mourning in northern Uganda, and it is the day that IC wants teenagers and college students to take to the streets in a bizarre show of solidarity that only underscores their ignorance of the plight of LRA victims. To this, IC said merely, the date is a coincidence. They did not apologize. They did not even extend a hand of recognition to the mere fact that others are upset. They did not say that, actually, this Kony 2012 campaign was more successful than they could ever have dreamed and that if they had a notion of how high the stakes were going to be, they would have done things differently, maybe did a bit more research. They did not say this despite the fact that their Kony 2012 part 2 video, which they had not planned to make, was clearly an attempt at a response to criticism, a de facto admission, in my view, that the first video was insufficient for reasons that came to light after its release. 

What is clear from the talk is that IC is a business. People who work for IC depend on it for their livelihoods and are interested in maintaining the organization's image. They act as though they are not concerned with the dignity of victims. They seem unable to admit even the possibility that they, as an organization, can make mistakes or missteps for which they are responsible.

They speak of victimhood only to establish the superiority of the victims who work for or support them, to the exclusion of all others. In doing so, they silence the voices of those they are trying to help. Like their colonial predecessors, they sustain the subaltern. They speak like politicians that are unwilling to meet on the terms of the discussion. 

The thing that is the most disappointing is the thought that Invisible Children will never again agree to speak in a forum under which they do not have sole control. They have shown that they have to answer neither to critical thinkers, nor to historians of public policy, nor to the victims that they claim that are trying to serve. These audiences are not significant for them. They need answer only to the legions of high schoolers and young college students that are their constituency. And this can be done from the ideological safety of their computer screens. 

IC did not publicize this event. They did not post it on their blog nor their Tumblr nor their Twitter account. (Similarly, they have not posted about the negative reception of the Kony 2012 video in Uganda.) Perhaps those at IC who agree to and set events are not the same who publicize those events.

Or perhaps Invisible Children did not want to make known to their support base a forum in which they had no intention in truly participating. I hope that this is not true. 

I hope that what happened at the panel was simply a matter of two representatives not being properly prepared to speak, or simply being poor speakers.

We call on reps from IC to continue, or in this case, start, a discussion. It doesn't have to be as high profile as the talk at NYU. Let's just meet on Skype or over the phone and have a discussion that we release to the internet for others to hear.

Here's our email:

We hope you will take us up on this. But I doubt it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Victor Ochen on NGOs and Invisible Children.

Here is an interview with Victor Ochen. He is the founding director of the African Youth Initiative Network, which operates in Lira, Northern Uganda.

Ochen speaks on local and international NGOs and the problems that they face.

He also speaks at length on the activities of Invisible Children, which he feels are dishonest at best.

Ochen, a victim of the war who aids other victims, is calling on Invisible Children and their supporters to suspend the Cover the Night campaign. He says that this campaign is disrespectful to the victims of the LRA.

He also notes that victim communities are planning to burn IC T-shirts and stage hunger strikes in protest of Invisible Children. They are particularly upset over the date chosen for the Cover the Night campaign. It was on April 20th, 1995 that LRA rebels massacred hundreds of people in Atiak.

Supporters of Invisible Children owe it to themselves to listen to this interview and reflect before joining in a campaign that proclaims to work on behalf of victims while never once consulting victim communities.

Victor Ochen lives and works out of Lira. He held the first screening of Kony 2012 in Northern Uganda. People threw rocks.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Okiedoke #14: Philosophy. Also, Jokes.

In this clip, I yap with John Jacobs about Comedy and Philosophy. It'll make you think, yo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Click to Enlarge.

What: Panel discussion “Reflecting on Kony 2012: Lessons Learned for Global Activism”
Where: 245 Sullivan street (Furman Hall, NYU School of Law), Lester Pollack Room, 9th floor
When: Tuesday April 17, 2012, 6:00-7:30 pm, Reception from 7:30-8.30 pm

Valid ID and RSVP required for admission. Seating is limited, so please RSVP to Audrey Watne Event to be followed by a reception.

About the event:
The most viral video of all time, Invisible Children's Kony 2012, intentionally catapulted Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony into the western public's eye. It also provoked a rare public debate about the methods and effects of transnational activism. While supporters celebrated the campaign's viral success, critics questioned its call for a militarized response, its neglect of African voices, and the narratives employed to galvanize western viewers. On April 20th, Invisible Children will again enter the media spotlight as supporters "Cover the Night" in Kony 2012 posters. Please join the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU) and WITNESS, as we host a forward-looking discussion about what can be learned from the campaign successes of Kony 2012 and the subsequent global debate. Speakers include Invisible Children, social media experts, human rights advocates, and critical theorists.


Amy Goodman (Moderator), Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,000 public television and radio stations in North America.Time Magazine named Democracy Now! its “Pick of the Podcasts,” along with NBC’s Meet the Press. Goodman is the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.”

Professor Philip Alston is an international human rights law professor and Faculty Director  and Co-chair of the CHRGJ at NYU School of Law. For six years, he was the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. During his mandate, he carried out a UN fact-finding mission to the DRC, and investigated LRA atrocities. He will give a short framing introduction for the discussion.

Fabienne Hara is the Vice-President for Multilateral Affairs at International Crisis Group. In late 2011, the ICG published a report on the LRA and efforts to end their abuses. Hara will speak about the history of military and political efforts to stop the LRA, and how the Kony 2012 campaign fits into other ongoing advocacy and military strategies.

Chioke I'Anson is a philosopher who specializes in Africana philosophy, postcolonial theory, and humanitarianism. He will be discussing Kony 2012 in the context of postcolonial African agency, humanitarian work, and the history of colonization. He will offer critiques of the narratives employed in Kony 2012 to activate viewers, and will analyze what the reaction to Kony 2012 can teach us about the ethical dilemmas of transnational activism.

Chris Michael is a video advocacy trainer and human rights advocate at WITNESS, an organization that has supported over 300 groups in 80 countries in using video for change. He will analyze what made Kony 2012 so successful as a viral video campaign, and what other advocacy projects can learn from Invisible Children's methods and efforts to integrate video. He will discuss whether the elements that make a video so viral may also raise ethical human rights film making concerns.

Victor Ochenis a survivor of the LRA war and Director of African Youth Initiative Network, which offers rehabilitation assistance to Ugandan youth affected by the war. After Kony 2012, he organized public screenings of the video in Northern Uganda. He will discuss the reaction to those screenings, and offer a war survivor's perspective about the campaign's goals.

Jolly Okot serves as the Country Director for Invisible Children, Uganda. In 2003, she brought the original three filmmakers to northern Uganda with hopes that her dream would one day come to fruition: thousands of Acholi children given the chance to succeed through education. Her guidance enabled the filmmakers to create the original Rough Cut documentary, and her leadership and passion helped develop IC’s grassroots initiatives in Uganda.

The Silence of the Sirens.

I came across this passage a while back and it has been messing with my head ever since. Thought I would read it as a way of trying to uncover its secrets.