We arrive at Invisible Children unprepared and apprehensive. An employee, who just so happens to be a white American girl, greets us in the office’s conference room. Cue the hardcore judging. She explains that she does the PR for Invisible Children’s Gulu office, and the position is always given to an American. More judging ensues. But then she tells us about what Invisible Children’s Gulu office actually does. How they have partnerships with schools and women cooperatives. How they provide safe drinking water for rural communities and give scholarships to secondary and university students. Too many people will never know about these initiatives because Kony 2012 overshadowed their efforts. The initiatives, however sustainable and effective, represent another ambiguous offering in the Africa collection pot instead of a donation with tangible results.
During the office tour, a friend and I briefly speak with a Ugandan employee who tells us that Invisible Children’s San Diego office did not show the Gulu office the Kony 2012 video before broadcasting it to the whole world. White Man’s Burden soon became Gulu’s burden when riots ensued at local screenings of the video. The Gulu office had to fix the White Man’s mistakes and explain that even though the thirty-minute video strayed from fully explaining the depth of the conflict, it was rooted in good intentions. And in the business of NGOs, isn’t that what matters. Or at least that’s what White Men like to tell themselves.
At the end of our visit, we ask if we can borrow the Kony 2012 video. We haven’t watched it yet, we admit. The moment is oddly humbling. Who are we to criticize others ignorance when we are ignorant ourselves? Back at the hotel, we gather around a laptop and watch the video, most of us for the first time. I could list a hundred things I hate about the video, but my complaints would do nothing. Even writing this post, I am aware no one cares about Kony anymore. In many ways, his sudden appearance on your newsfeed might seem jarring and out of place; a similar reaction might occur when you see your eighth grade boyfriend’s status on your Facebook newsfeed.
The day after our visit to Invisible Children, I am back at the internet café. Across the room is a Ugandan boy playing Call of Duty. I wonder if he knows about his home’s dark past; he must know. I want to tell him that politicians, armed forces, along with a bunch of ignorant American tweens worked hard so that he might not have to endure a similar fate. I want to tell him that his life could have been severely different. If history had twisted down another path, he could have killed actual humans instead of obsessing over the imaginary world of the game, where death leaves an untraceable mark on the hand-held controller, instead of the controller himself. It seems ridiculous to escape death only to play within its midst so willingly. I wonder if some of the men and women in the room are former child soldiers, and if so, I want each of them to tell the boy his or her stories. If I had the authority, I would tell him many things. But my angst over Invisible Children has taught me that simply knowing is not enough. My knowledge will not instantly change his world.
I may struggle to understand my duty as a white girl in Africa, but I am sure of that boy’s. You have one duty, I would tell him. You are called to live.