< A Viral Video From Your Government


Friday, April 27, 2012

BOB GARFIELD:  Last week, another would-be viral video about Joseph Kony was uploaded to the Web by members of the United States Senate.

MAN:  For millions of Americans the Kony 2012 campaign was the first they’d heard of the LRA’s terrible crimes. But many in Washington had been trying for years to get the world to notice and to act.

BOB GARFIELD:  The eight-minute film intentionally follows the uplifting Kony 2012 template, only instead of a good-looking young activist and his adorable little boy, this one stars John Kerry, Mary Landrieu and James Inhofe.


The video raises a number of questions, among them, how much can the U.S. government really do about the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony? And can the U.S. government really create a viral video? Senator Chris Coons is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, and one of the legislators behind the video. Senator Coons, welcome to On the Media.

SENATOR COONS:  Great to be with you, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD:  All right, so Charlie Bit My Finger, it isn’t. But it is an attempt to use this new channel to capture the imagination of the online public. How did you come to this notion?

SENATOR COONS:  Well Bob, as the Kony 2012 video was growing in its own prominence and as my own kids brought it to my attention and said, what are you doing about this, Dad, I thought that our response needed to be in kind, something that was immediate, that was accessible, that could be liked and tweeted and forwarded.


We did also do a hearing on Kony and the LRA efforts of the United States government and our allies, but I frankly didn’t think that a formal setting subcommittee hearing in the United States Senate was going to be as immediate or as powerful.

BOB GARFIELD:  Has your video gotten forwarded and viewed and tweeted, and all of the above?

SENATOR COONS:  Well, so far the video’s been viewed more than 25,000 times. Senators have heard from their constituents far more broadly and far more personally on this issue than on almost anything in recent years that touches on a purely humanitarian issue in Africa.


The next legislative action for the Senate is going to be a resolution — there’s more than 40 co-sponsors, myself included — of a resolution supporting the Administration’s action and continuing the pressure for regional, multilateral efforts to capture Joseph Kony and remove him from the battlefield.


I’ve encouraged folks to go on to my web site and serve as citizen co-sponsors of this resolution, and I’ll be eager to see how many of the folks who watch this video join in being citizen co-sponsors of this resolution here in the Senate.

BOB GARFIELD:  Capturing a monster and bringing him to justice, as legislative efforts go, fairly uncontroversial. I wonder if YouTube and the rest of social media, as a channel for helping to create public interest behind a, a given legislative policy, is going to continue with much more, I don’t know, politically fraught initiatives in the future. Are senators going to be making their case on Twitter and, and Instagram [LAUGHS] or continue to do it in the well of the Senate?

SENATOR COONS:  Well Bob, I think we need to do both. Our constituents are communicating with us by email, by Facebook, on Twitter. Those are the tools that modern Americans use to communicate with each other, to express their opinions and to engage in their communities. The Congress of the United States is struggling with very low public regard and is at risk of being even more irrelevant, even more disconnected from our constituents, if we don’t participate in the conversation and the dialogue and respond.


So while I expect we will still be giving speeches on the floor of the Senate, we will still hold hearings, we will still deliberate in the time-honored ways of this Congress, we also need to demonstrate to our own constituents that we’re capable of participating in the modern, online communication that is reshaping the American community and reshaping the American political future.

BOB GARFIELD:  Senator, thank you so much.

SENATOR COONS:  Thank you, Bob, appreciate having a chance to be on.

BOB GARFIELD:  Senator Chris Coons is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs.

In Uganda, a group of local journalists also relates to YouTube video in response to Kony 2012. The project is called Uganda 2012. Its video is much less polished than those produced by Invisible Children and the U.S. Senate. At the end of the week it had just 3900 YouTube views.


MAN:  I’ve begun to send Ugandan stories. You want Ugandan stories told and voices high. In this video you will see some of the soldiers fighting for Uganda in response to the Kony 2012 video.


BOB GARFIELD:  Uganda 2012 contributor Rosebell Kagumire says that the group prefers a few viewers interested in the truth, rather than millions casually consuming a simplistic and misleading story about her country.

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  Uganda suffered so much in terms of loss of lives but also a loss of economy. We didn’t have tourists coming here. But now we have recovered. And if we have a movie being watched by a hundred million people, which kind of shows that there’s a war in Uganda, we were worried that that was going to have a big impact.

BOB GARFIELD:  Invisible Children’s video was very slick, but more to the point it had a very compelling narrative. Your video has had very, very few views, and I wonder if that’s because it isn’t very slick, and it sure isn’t, or whether there’s – some other element is missing.

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  In the Kony 2012, you have this good guy from America and his kid fighting this bad African guy. So it’s easy to make people emotionally charged about some bad guy that they’ve just learned about. We are looking for people to understand that this war is not just emotional. The war is also about which other actors have taken part in it.


Most people, for example, in Northern Uganda, when the film was shown, they said who the hell would wake up and wear Joseph Kony’s name, a shot of a mass murderer. We are not looking to raise up emotions; we are looking to get thoughtful contributions to end this war.

BOB GARFIELD:  When your group began to discuss what to do next, was there debate as to whether even to acknowledge the existence of Kony 2012? Or did some say, no, let’s use this opportunity? Did others say, oh, how can we even dignify it with a reference? I mean, what was the conversation?

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  This campaign came because it was in response, but it’s not limited to that, so the whole Kony 2012 was about capture Kony, capture Kony. But we are concentrating on victims of the war and what they are struggling with and what they hope their future to be.

BOB GARFIELD:  What do you believe deserves the world’s greatest focus?

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  You know, just like any other war in Africa, once the war has ended, organizations just pack their bags and go and then forget that people have to pick up pieces. You know, the whole entire system was broken down by the war, so people are slowly starting to build systems which are not good enough yet to support them, especially education, health. You know, there’s a major disease now called the Nodding disease.

BOB GARFIELD:  This is a neurological disease that affects children between five and fifteen.

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  Yes. And we have over 2,000 children across Northern Uganda facing this disease that has no cure. The response was really slow, both from the Ugandan government and from agencies that are working with health. So really, people in Northern Uganda have very serious problems that the world can really help.

BOB GARFIELD:  In the end, though, in a funny way, Rosebell, in terms of calling attention to the actual problems in Northern Uganda, do you not owe a certain debt to Invisible Children and the very documentary that you so despise?

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  I think that it’s absurd that people who can afford to tell the story correctly choose to tell it the wrong way. So for us, we are here to do that. And if they had been perfect, maybe we wouldn’t have spoken. And so, I don’t owe anything to Invisible Children.


BOB GARFIELD:  Rosebell, thank you.

ROSEBELL KAGUMIRE:  Thank you so much.

BOB GARFIELD:  Rosebell Kagumire is a journalist in Kampala.


Senator Chris Coons

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Bob Garfield