Laurier students, faculty respond to Kony

Last week, many people, including numerous Wilfrid Laurier University students, latched on to a YouTube video entitled Stop Kony 2012. The video went globally viral in a matter of hours.

Made by the group Invisible Children (IC), the video aims to make the African warlord Joseph Kony a household name in order to spread awareness regarding the atrocities he has committed in Uganda. By using footage of IC leaders in Africa and interviews with victims of Kony’s outfit, the video has been effective in encapsulating some of its viewers.

Despite the large number of WLU supporters, there are many criticisms of the video and IC. John Laband, chair of the history department, explained that the video is grossly oversimplified.

“As a historian, as an Africanist, one of the biggest problems is that there is not wider context, or at least no contextualization, of Kony’s outfit,” he stated. “It is very simple and gets to people’s emotions and they respond …. This is what good public relations (PR) or propaganda is about; that’s the problem.”

Despite the information in the video being severely compacted, many WLU students have taken it upon themselves to bring the “Stop Kony 2012” movement to campus.

Colin Penstone, a first-year WLU student, along with friends, created a Facebook event to ‘cover the night.’ This event is mentioned at the end of the video, and calls for all supporters to plaster posters of Kony’s face in public areas to raise awareness.

Penstone hopes this event at WLU will help spread awareness regarding Kony.
“One of the big things for me personally was that [if] this is happening in Uganda, which is a tiny province in Africa … it’s happening all over the world, and people need to be more aware,” he said.

Samantha Sousa, another first-year Laurier student, echoed Penstone’s sentiment in stating that more people need to be aware of Kony and support IC in attempting an intervention.

“It’s almost like conquering one thing at a time,” she stated. “I know a lot of people didn’t want to get involved because they were saying there are so many injustices and things like that, but I think that’s a kind of naive way to look at it.”
Events that WLU students have put together include a ‘cover the night,’ a screening of the film and a possible lecture from some of IC’s leaders.

However, some people are still wary about the information perpetuation from the campaign, with one of them being Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Canada’s research chair in international human rights and a global studies professor at Laurier.

“I wouldn’t give that organization money,” she stated when asked about IC’s campaign against Kony. “Another thing is I would never give money to three young men who pose with weapons … human rights should never be going around posing with whatever they were posing with [such as] AK-47s.”
She also stated that WLU students should become more informed with regards to this campaign, and support more legitimate groups.

“All the commentary says that Kony is no longer in Uganda, he’s in Sudan, his organization is almost defunct at this point,” she continued.

Laband added onto Howard-Hassmann’s concerns. “It does fit into what Laurier is about, but I do think students should think more carefully about it,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to what’s going on in neighboring states … or malaria, which is a far greater killer than even AIDS.”

Despite these criticisms, Penstone and his friends plan on continuing with their efforts. But, according to Howard-Hassmann, the IC needs to decide what direction their campaign is actually going.

“Either they are interested in human rights or they are interested in being complete idiots — but not both.”
-With files from Justin Smirlies

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publishing date.

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