This post is part of our special coverage Kony 2012.
Anyone following online citizen media closely this month, would inevitably have come across the heated global debate over the Invisible Children viral campaign to stop Ugandan war criminal and rebel army leader Joseph Kony.
While the Kony 2012 campaign certainly received the attention it sought, many Ugandans and Africans felt its message lacked the nuance required by context, and was more focused on raising funds for the organisation's own survival rather than empowering the people affected by the conflict.
Furthermore, many African citizens felt that once again, the narrative of a highly publicized story about Africa centered on a negative story and neglected the upwards trends the continent has been witnessing.
The other side of the story
While no one argues with the merit of exposing the despicable crimes perpetuated by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, the following citizen media commentaries explain why this debate is more than just a “meme war” but a struggle to reclaim the international perception and narrative about an entire continent.
When a group of North Ugandans, the main victims of Kony's crimes, were showed the Invisible Children's video in a public screening, they were not particularly pleased with the content of the video as is seen in an Al Jazeera English video below.
“If people in those countries care about us, they will not wear t-shirts with pictures of Joseph Kony for any reason,” says one man interviewed. “That would celebrate our suffering.”
A Ugandan man at another screening says, “There is some kind of people, some NGO, who are trying to mobilize funds using the atrocities committed in Northern Uganda.”
The campaign to show the positive sides of Africa has garnered quite a bit of clout as well in the social media scene. American student and Afrophile Karen Kilberg collected a few of her favorite posts about the meme, and also quotes African blogger Tatenda Muranda on Twitter as to why she wrote the post:
@IamQueenNzinga: It's about time we ushered in the era of afro-optimism through words and action
Kenyan journalist Paula Rogo curated on Storify of the “best and the worst” of the “WhatIloveAboutAfrica” conversation. Here are a few posts from her selection:
@mwanabibi: #WhatILoveAboutAfrica The youth! Hopeful, optimistic and innovative
@Sarenka222: #WhatILoveAboutAfrica resilient, perceptive, courageous, independent press, even in the face of intimidation (cc: @dailymonitor :)
@RiseAfrica: RT @texasinafrica: Innovations like mobile money, crowdsourced crisis mapping. #WhatILoveAboutAfrica
The old struggle for the African narrative
Reclaiming the narrative about the African Continent through social media is not a new endeavor. In 2007, a similar campaign brewed throughout the African social media when several prominent bloggers invited fellow bloggers to weigh in on “Why I blog about Africa”.
Ivorian blogger Théophile Kouamouo asked in 2008 [fr]:
Bloguons nous pour la diaspora et le vaste monde, coupé de nos contemporains sur le continent ? Blogue-t-on sur l'Afrique comme on blogue sur l'Europe ou l'Asie ? La blogosphère afro-orientée a-t-elle quelque chose de spécifique à offrir au concert de l'universel version 2.0 ?
The meme was remarkable in that it not only managed to spurt plenty of reactions in the West African region but also spread across the continent to the African Anglophone blogosphere. As a commentary to the meme back then, Rombo of “What an African Woman Thinks” provided an inspiring response to What she loves about Africa:
Africa is under my skin. Africa is the voices in my head. Africa is the itch on my back that I can’t quite reach.
[…] She’s beautiful and she’s strong and she’s got so much to give, she inspires me and I love her truly madly deeply.
She’s battered and bruised and sometimes broken and I love her even more.
She’s always on my mind and in my heart.
It’s not so much, then, that I choose to blog about Africa. It’s that I can’t not.
I really wish the world would see in her all that I see in her.
That’s another reason why I blog about Africa: To make this wish come true.
Sokari of Black Looks added back then:
… she makes me angry and frustrated, lets me down, goes on walkabouts and is influenced by some pretty horrible characters many from distant lands. But I cant help loving her deeply – she is alive, she is real and wise with so many wonderful meaningful stories of humanity and life. She is rich in stature and spirit. I love the way she moves, her facial expressions, the taste of her food and the smell and colours of the earth
The struggle for the narrative is an old story indeed. Binyavanga Wainaina wrote a famous essay about “How to write about Africa” in 2005. This essay was turned into a video called “How Not to Write About Africa” narrated by actor Djimon Hounsou:
In view of the long, drown out struggle to portray the positive side of the continent, one might wonder why it is such a challenge to change the global perspective of the continent and why it matters so much to many people.
An answer to why it is important to highlight the positive side of the continent was offered during the TED Africa conference by Euvin Naidoo, president of the South African Chamber of Commerce. He argues that trust is an important component for investments in Africa, and that a better understanding of all the nuances of the continent is required. He states:
George Kimble said, ‘The only thing dark about Africa is our ignorance of it.’ So let's start shedding light on this amazing eclectic continent that has so much to offer [..] The first myth to dispel is that Africa is not a country. It’s made up of 53 different countries. So to say ‘invest in Africa’ is a no-go. It's meaningless.
This post is part of our special coverage Kony 2012.