Browse Category: International Development

We Are Not Invisible: 5 African Women Respond to the Kony 2012 Campaign

The Kony 2012, a campaign launched recently by Invisible Children to raise awareness of the issues of child soldiers in Uganda in which they propose what they believe to be the ultimate solution — arrest Kony, the LRA rebel leader responsible for over 30,000 child abductions — was met with overnight “success” (i.e. over 50 million views on YouTube) and then heightened controversy; there are critiques that suggest the video promotes a white saviorist approach to humanitarianism, others that applaud the effort but challenge the film’s inaccuracies, and many more that call for the inclusion of more African voices in Invisible Children’s advocacy efforts.

Almost overnight, the web was flooded with so much commentary from western media on the erasure of African voices that it became challenging for me to even locate perspectives from fellow Africans; ironically, African voices weren’t initially just being drowned out by the success of IC’s viral campaign, but by western voices sharing their own take. Fortunately, African voices stepped up to the  plate, offering a wide range of perspectives; you can find a compilation of African responses to the campaign here, and a more general roundup of the Kony2012 issue here.

Nevertheless, I’m (as always) acutely aware of the amplification of male voices on the Kony 2012 campaign. Hence — and in the spirit of women’s history month — I’d like to highlight African women’s voices. The 5 women below aren’t just adding to the conversation, but inspiring critical thinking about how we can be more conscious about the media we consume, more humble in our efforts to provide support to fellow global citizens, and mindful of the gift social media has given us. Africans now have the power to combat harmful narratives about Africa simply by telling our own.

So, here they are: 5 responses from African women to Kony 2012, and westerners seeking to support Africa, ethically and responsibly, now and in the future.

1) Solome Lemma
Involve African Leadership, Work with Organizations on the Ground

Soon after I heard about the Kony 2012 campaign (and watched the video), I read “You Do NOT Have My Vote” written by Solome Lemma under her Innovate Africa Tumblr.

Solome is also the Co-Founder of HornLight, a platform to share diverse, complex & nuanced narratives on the Horn of Africa. In this post, she stresses the need for African leadership:

…when your work and consequence affect a different group of people than your target audience, you must make it a priority to engage the voices of the affected population in a real and meaningful way, in places and spaces where programs are designed, strategies dissected, and decisions made.

Read the full post at, and follow @InnovateAfrica on Twitter.


2) Rosebell Kagumire
Respect Africa’s Agency, Don’t Paint Us As Voiceless

While the cyberspace heated up with written critique upon written critique, Rosebell KAgumire, a Ugandan blogger and journalist that covered the LRA several years ago, decided to post a video summarizing her thoughts.

In this video, she passionately asserts the danger of a single story to dehumanize a people:

“How you tell the stories of Africans is much more important that what the story is; because if you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless [then] you have no space telling my story. You shouldn’t be telling my story if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on.”

Rosebell also stresses the importance of including African leadership, as well as engaging other political players such as the Ugandan government and other African countries before attempting to implement any solutions.

Visit Rosebell’s blog here, and follow @RosebellK


3) Betty Oyella Bigombe
Historical Context is Necessary for Any Future Solutions

Although Betty isn’t currently directly involved with peace efforts for the LRA, nor has she written a formal response to the Invisible Children campaign, she has been quoted and cited several times as a notable Ugandan peace-seeking activist the Kony2012 video erases by suggesting that there’s been limited attention called to the issue. Not only was Betty previously tasked with convincing the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerilla rebels –negotiating with Kony himself over 10 years ago — to lay down their arms, following the failure of military efforts to defeat the rebels, her shared experiences working from all sides of the conflict provide counter to IC’s claim that there are just good guys and bad guys. From

Bigombe has seen the LRA’s brutality first-hand. In 1995, when she was a government minister, she was the first outsider on the scene of one of its bloodiest massacres. Rebels attacked a town and captured about 220 men, women, and children. The villagers were marched several miles to a riverbank and all methodically executed.

Yet sometimes Bigombe sees glimmers of humanity, too. Once, one LRA commander grew pensive during a conversation. He wondered how his fellow northerners would perceive him after all the terrible things the LRA has done. He asked plaintively, “Can I ever go home again?”

Read her full story here, watch a video of Betty speaking here, as well as this recent interview with her on Enough Project.


4) Dayo Olopade
Support the Mundane March Towards Progress, Not Just Internet Sensationalism

As a fellow Nigerian, I was thrilled to see Dayo mentioned in this list of Africans commenting on the Kony 2012 campaign. She recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times about the gap between what the the Kony 2012 campaign suggests as a solution and what Ugandan people dealing with the daily impact of this conflict actually need. Here is an excerpt (edited for brevity):

In Kampala last month, I met Hadijah Nankanja, the local director of Women of Kireka, a collective of women touched by Kony’s marauding violence… Hadijah and I tried to come up with a way forward. Food production? Tailoring? Hair salons? And so forth. We didn’t come up with a concrete plan, but opening a small restaurant seemed to be the front-running proposition. Our informal brainstorming session took about the same time as does watching “Kony 2012.” I dare suggest that time spent marshaling such reserves of imagination, communion and capital to support jobs for displaced victims is far more helpful than this sort of advocacy. The kinds of problems Hadijah is trying to understand and solve are less sexy than the horror stories trailing behind Kony. But they are the nut worth cracking. The mundane march of progress in poor countries is what ‘awareness’ campaigns often miss. And when, as in this case, success is determined by action from outside the region, cries of a new imperialism should be taken seriously. Few international NGOs working in Africa define success properly — as putting themselves out of business. Invisible Children seems no better.”

Dayo is a Nigerian-American journalist covering global politics and development policy. She is writing a book about innovation in Africa. You can follow her at @madayo on Twitter.


5) Semhar Araia
Use Media to Amplify African Voices, Not Just Your Own

Semhar is the founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN), which “develops and supports talented women and girls of the African diaspora.”

In her opinion piece at the Christian Science Monitor, “Learn to Respect Africans,” Semhar refocuses the conversation on the impact of media on young people thirsty for information:

… young people’s minds are open and hungry. They should be inspired by knowing Africa is empowered, saving itself, and working with partners to remove Kony. That is the real story. Invisible Children must be willing to take their followers on a journey through the Africa that Africans know. They must be willing to inspire – but also to  manage – their followers’ expectations. They must be willing to use their media to amplify African voices, not simply their own.

It’s no wonder she started the twitter hashtag, #WhatILoveAboutAfrica. In response to negative portrayals of the continent put forth by western media, and most recently, through the Kony 2012 campaign, Semhar commands that we do more than just critique visions of Africa, but create them ourselves. Follow @Semhar and @DawnInc on Twitter.


So, that’s the word — African women have spoken. If you’re interested in supporting the people of Northern Uganda, but would like an alternative to donating to Invisible Children, consider supporting organizations such as Hope North Uganda and The Women of Kireka. In fact, Invisible Children has recently shared a list of other organizations working on the this issue in Uganda.

Finally, if you’re itching for a new video to share, share this one, make this one go viral. Viva Africa.

Saying No to Media Saviorism, Celebrating Africa’s Resistance

Dear Readers,

You may wonder where I’ve been for the past month. The answer: RESTING.

But, I’ve also been contributing to some of my favorite media outlets —, plus now, Gender Across Borders — working on a chapbook (so fun!), and finally, developing a fierce editorial advisory board for my new media project highlighting diaspora voices. It’s all been very exciting, but has kept me very busy (ok, ok — I totally lied about the resting). The head-first dive into the global media blogosphere has left me with thoughts. And you all know what happens when I get thoughts.

For Gender Across Borders, I just published my first intro piece, “Celebrating Africa’s Resistance.” I invite you to read, share with your networks, and of course, use the comment section to leave me your thoughts. I look forward to reading your own reflections on the state of media coverage of African, the global south, and people of color, in general. So excited to be back!

Warrior Love,

Say No to Media Saviorism: Celebrating Africa’s Resistance
Originally published at

When I hear “Gender Across Borders” the images that immediately come to mind are tragic: African women who face violence and sexual assault during times of war, groups of Afghan women in burqas shuffling through the unsettled dust of conflict resolution in silence, poor and starving African girls being nursed back to health for the premeditated purposes of child trafficking, and much worse. A quick google search for “gender justice” and “human rights” returns an inspiring list of organizations and websites (including this one) dedicated to addressing these issues in a myriad of ways: media coverage, non-profit direct service, volunteerism, advocacy, cause campaigning, etc. Yet, I found that as I clicked into each site, I was met with even more bad news, “shocking” reports, and yet, again, the same images: women being oppressed all over the non-western world.

As a daughter of Africa, who is currently based in the US, I wonder to myself if a time will finally come when cable networks will include coverage of Africa beyond the saviorist commercials that urge me to save poor and starving African children, if major news outlets will consider Africa’s resistance and self-liberation newsworthy enough for morning shows (not just “breaking news”), when independent blogs will consider amplifying more than just the “atrocious” acts that are often committed against us to also include our resilience — how African women continue to get back on their feet and march forward – every – single – time. Undoubtedly, many of these media organizations mean well and, despite the negative news coverage, are creating a positive impact by raising awareness; in my mind, the desire to bring to light the injustices that women face all over the world (given a white male-dominated media) is commendable. But, is oppression truly all that we can cover?

How about we — as global gender justice advocates — subvert the idea that women are perpetual victims by covering our collective resistance (at least much more often than, say, our male counterparts)? How about we more frequently discuss the kind of rebellion that may not necessarily inspire political protests as large in scale as the Arab Spring, but affirm brave acts that carve out new territory within the scope of women in government? How about we spend less time sharing negative news stories that go viral during major national crises, but focus on highlighting the slow and steady work of the underdog that is happening under the radar? How about we cut back on the sensationalism — the shock tactics and controversy we once deployed to get mainstream media to pay attention to issues important to us — and now spend time amassing an archive of positive happenings that could inspire legendary bed time stories of the many feminist heroes and heroines that have been paving the way to our liberation?

Just to clarify, I do not intend to create a hierarchy of media coverage (i.e. good media vs. better media) within the context of global gender justice; any coverage of women’s issues (whether positive or negative) is much-needed coverage of women’s issues. Organizations like Gender Across Borders, the Caribbean feminist collective, Code Red, Women, Action and the Media, South Africa’s LGBT news hub, Behind the Mask, the LGBT Asylum News online portal, and hundreds more doing similar work to raise marginalized voices within have already made considerable gains in this arena, and thus, granted me the right to be greedy — now, I want now to see women’s and gender equality issues covered more thoroughly; I want it all — the good, the bad, the ugly.

The desire for more coverage of women’s proactive, creative solutions to Africa’s problems in part from one of my Afrofeminist principles; namely, it is just as (if not more) important to live from a place of hope, than from a place of fear and constant criticism. But surely, I’m not the only one who’s craving more positive news. I can’t be the only African, LGBT activist, trans* person, immigrant etc who cringes at the thought of having my experience manifest as projected by public health reports and/or “cold hard facts.” (Apparently, as an African gender non-conforming person, I’m expected to live till the age of 35. I just turned 30, by the way).

There is obviously more discussion to be had about western media’s loyalty to third world suffering, its incessant feeding on plight of the global south, but that is not the focus of this post. I intend to explore this idea more fully in the future, but today, I’d like to focus on what I’m going to do about it. Today, I’d like to assure you of just one thing:

I will not be using my column on Gender Across Borders to talk about the plight of African women. Whereas, in the past, I’ve contributed my fare share of critique, one of my new year’s resolutions as an afrofeminist (more on that later) is to focus more on highlighting positive media (versus constantly reacting to negative news).

Instead, I’ll be covering women all around the world who use their art, performance, and media to raise awareness of critical issues and under-the-radar uprisings. I look forward to sharing my favorite musicians, artists, writers, and media organizations with you.

I want to cover LGBT Africa’s resistance — one that doesn’t place sexual violence, political warfare, and death at the focal point, but reiterates over and over again that every day citizens are standing fast against oppression, speaking up for each other in the face of the west’s infantilizing media.

I want to cover women’s movements happening around kitchen tables, in hair salons, within the sanctity of religious and spiritual spaces, and familiarity of traditional ceremonies. I want to give young people a chance to understand that real movements happen within the scope of every day, and not just within political discourse.

I want to show the world that Africa can — on its own — walk and run; that our continent has caught up (and, has already been leading) many parts of the world in various areas — social entrepreneurship, women’s political participation, innovation and technology, and more.

Due to my own background, there may be some initial focus on Africa, but I am determined to highlight acts of resistance as they are happening all across Asia, Latin America, and the Arab world, as well. As I will be contributing to GAB weekly, please feel free to send me any artists, performers, media and/or filmmakers, and organizations who are creating positive change (not just reacting to it) by commenting under this post, via my GAB email, or my Twitter handle @spectraspeaks.

If the work is creative, inspiring, and impacts women and/or gender justice, I want to hear about it. I want you to hear about it. The world must hear about it.

Viva Africa.

[ps — none of this negates the fact that I’m known for my ranting, and thus, will continue to do so, just in moderation]

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