Contributing our voices to the Kony 2012 debate
One of the positive unintended consequences of the Kony debate was the rise of the African voices coming to the microphone. This conversation was of particular concern for me because it hit home. Unlike other do-gooder debates (1 million t-shirts, Sevenly, SWEDOW and malaria) I’ve contributed to, which were about Africa in general, the Kony 2012 debate featured Uganda heavily.
Apart from my initial response that I penned and published before our site went down due to a merciless hacking job last week (sorry about that), I was fortunate enough to be invited to publish op-eds for CNN and the New York Times. My piece at CNN covered some of the reasons I thought the video created the wrong buzz:
What does it say about our capacity to care when we are barely moved by video shot on shaky cellphone cameras of innocent people being slaughtered, but we suddenly get a collective conscious because of a slick Hollywood production documenting a 25-year-old issue on the decline.
More children die of malaria, diarrhea, and nodding disease in northern Uganda on a daily basis than the monthly average of Kony’s 25 years of killing. Where’s the slick viral video for those children?
Over at the New York Times, I was extremely thrilled to join eight other voices in a global debate published in the NYT’s Room for Debate portal. My concise contribution covered the need to use our social media clout to elevate the voices of those we want to help:
The takeaway for me is that social media is a powerful tool for flattening the conversational landscape. It is imperative that we don’t hijack the voice and agency of the actors we are trying to help. Instead we should use our social clout to help them realize they have a voice, and we shouldn’t dare assume we know what’s best for them.
Additionally, I took part in an emergency panel discussion at SXSW convened by Sam Gregory from witness.org. The conversation attempted to look at the meta lessons we can take away from the buzz that the video created. What can we as a society take away from a phenomenon where 70 million people engaged with one video? An archive of notes from the conversation can be found here [PDF].
Finally, I doubt I will ever have have time to respond to the more than 400 comments around the 3 posts that I published. Even if I did, I doubt I could ever do justice to that many voices engaging this African in conversation if I tried to synthesize what it all means. Instead I will say thank you everyone for taking the time to consider another perspective in to the debate and conversation. This is also a thank you to all those who engaged in a respectful manner, even if you didn’t agree with what I had to say, or how I said it.
The development communications landscape is changing, and I think that is good for those of us classified as recipients by the development aid complex. The rise of our voices is going to be something the world isn’t ready to accept. But I think it a necessary and urgent tool central to our development. We have a right for our voices to be heard. And we have a right to be partners and contributors to our own rescue. I, for one welcome louder, deeper voices, cogent voices rising from the lower pyramid. Let’s flatten the development paradigm by becoming equal partners and not just the perennially down-trodden.