The viral Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children has spurred a debate, especially about the portrayal of Africa by Westerners. While the video has succeeded in its objective of making Joseph Kony a household name, critics have argued that it oversimplifies and misrepresents the Lord's Resistance Army conflict and that it perpetuates the White Man's Burden. One Kenyan tweeted that "Africans are not going to let anyone hijack the narratives of their individual countries." This comment sums up the sentiments of most Africans opposed to the Kony 2012 video.
Nevertheless, media plays an indispensable role in shedding light on human rights issues that far too often affect many African countries. The media creates urgency for intervention when human rights are being violated. More often than not, the message is not overtly biased or misconstrued. In fact, film as part of media is a modern griot, as it has come to hold an integral role in African storytelling.
With some striking similarities to the work of Invisible Children, my friends and I are also working on a film about marginalized children in Africa. As a former street boy and amateur filmmaker from Kenya, I walk a tight-rope trying to balance the portrayal of courage in the face of despair as experienced by many homeless street children in Nairobi. It's a constant, nuanced struggle to honestly expose the challenges they experience while preserving the dignity of their lives, and the lives of other Kenyans and Africans in general.
Whether you agree with the Kony 2012 campaign or not, we hope the angle of our film will appeal to you. Take a few minutes to watch the trailer and you'll quickly realize there's nothing invisible about our children. In fact, there is estimated to be more than 60,000 of them living in plain sight on the streets of Nairobi. Any visitor there can't miss them, usually observed scavenging for scrap metal or getting high from sniffing glue in broad daylight.
In our situation, however, it is a lot harder to pinpoint the villain robbing them of their childhood and potential. No one's being sought by the International Criminal Court. No warrants are out for anyone's arrest. Our villain doesn't even have a name, and there are no military advisers to deploy. As such, our campaign doesn't have a cause célèbre to arrest this person or stop that group, let alone one that comes with an expiration date.
Similarly, our kids aren't abducted in their sleep. They aren't given guns and forced to kill. Our girls aren't turned into sex slaves. Our boys aren't turned into child soldiers. They don't mutilate people's faces. They aren't forced to kill their own parents (if their parents are even alive).
Nevertheless, many facets of their lives are just as devastating (again, see trailer), and this is why we want to see their lives transformed. But just because their current circumstances are problematic shouldn't cause an overwhelming sense of despair. They see hope in their predicaments, and therefore so do we. This, too, is why we want to see their lives transformed.
Through our film we hope to show you an accurate portrayal of their lives. While a westerner did operate the camera for this film, all other aspects were strictly Kenyan. From the directors, to the characters, to the language, to the organization that is seen providing services to the children, it is all done by Kenyans. Instead of speaking on behalf of marginalized children, we feel it is more empowering to give them a voice so they can share their own narrative in their own words and language.
Our film probably won't get 80 million views, and yet if Kony 2012 has, why shouldn't it? While the ravages of war and sexual slavery don't compare to even the worst of crimes in a peaceful population, we bet a casual observer in Kenya couldn't really tell much difference between one of our boys and one of Joseph Kony's victims. Shouldn't they, therefore, be deserving of just as much attention and mobilization of resources? We applaud the Kony 2012 campaign for its ability to raise awareness and create dialogue; indeed, we seek to emulate it.
Kony 2012 is ambitious. It is accountable. It is clear and focused. However, in a way, it is also simple, and the problem as presented is quite tractable. And yet, even if we do get rid of Joseph Kony this year, we will still have a world where myriad children live in fear of more elusive villains. Please join us as we hunt for these as well.
Follow Michael Mungai on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@MungaiMichael