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Opinion: Why Kony 2012 created the wrong buzz

By TMS Ruge, Special to CNN
updated 6:51 AM EDT, Wed March 14, 2012
  • Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" cemented the legitimacy of social media for global engagement, says TMS Ruge
  • But the World Bank social media strategist says the film created "wrong conversation and wrong buzz".
  • Film told same story about Africa and failed to empower locals to change the situation, argues TMS Ruge.
  • Ruge expects the Ugandans engaged in this conversation to realize that they have a right to exercise their agency.

Editor's note: TMS "Teddy" Ruge is lead social media strategist for the Connect4Climate campaign. In 2007, he cofounded Project Diaspora, an online platform for mobilizing, engaging and motivating members of Africa Diaspora to engage in matters important to the continent's development. A technology enthusiast, Ruge writes and speaks extensively on Africa's current renaissance driven by technology, youth and the Diaspora. He was born in Masindi, Uganda and grew up in Uganda, Kenya and the United States.

(CNN) -- Let's give praise where praise is due. Invisible Children's Kony 2012 viral video campaign has done what no other advocacy organization has been able to do until now: capture 29 minutes worth of attention from over 50 million people worldwide.

No amount of advertising genius from "Mad Men" could create that kind of buzz in a few days. In less than a week, Invisible Children (IC) has cemented the legitimacy of social media for global engagement if the Arab Spring hadn't already.

But the problem is, as many have pointed out, it is the wrong conversation and wrong buzz. Which is just too bad because this campaign has the makings of what could have been a truly transformational development communication experiment.

Social media strategist TMS Ruge
Social media strategist TMS Ruge

In two weeks, IC will have millions of dollars; you will have a t-shirt and bracelet; and Uganda and Central Africa will be left wondering what just happened. As we saw in the case of the Arab Spring social media-accelerated uprising, the agents of the conversation were those directly affected by the cause du jour - which at the time was to oust decades-long dictatorial rule.

Instead, what we have here is a narrowly-focused fund-raising campaign where one organization inserts itself as the agent of change to a foreign travesty against humanity. Once again, let me be clear, there's nothing wrong with bringing attention to the issue. It's how it was done that I lament. In a few weeks, this breathless enthusiasm will be for naught.

Read also: 'Kony 2012' viral video raises questions about filmmakers

Had we all more compassion, more empathy for global atrocities, the daily videos of sniper fire and innocents being killed from Syria would have moved us by now to say "do something." But they haven't. Why? Because no one has invaded our Facebook time line demanding we watch a 30-minute Hollywood production simplifying the issue for us. It is an indictment on what moves us to act.

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What does it say about our capacity to care when we are barely moved by video shot on shaky cellphone cameras of innocent people being slaughtered, but we suddenly get a collective conscious because of a slick Hollywood production documenting a 25-year-old issue on the decline.

More children die of malaria, diarrhea, and nodding disease in northern Uganda on a daily basis than the monthly average of Kony's 25 years of killing. Where's the slick viral video for those children?

The advent of social media brought so many unheard voices to the fore, and with that voice came self-actualization. Many communities realized that they have inherent agency to be their own saviors. Kony 2012 missed a grand opportunity to empower these voices to realize the power within themselves to change their situation and surroundings.

Instead, it trotted out the same tired line about Africa. Torture, rape, conscription; tent poles for the single, sad story on Africa that Western society has come to accept. But by God we are so much more than the sum of our failures.

Profile: Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world

The charity missed an opportunity to empower the many Ugandan and Central African voices newly visible with the advent of mobile technology and social media tools on the continent. Instead of enjoining us to work together to amplify pressure on our governing bodies to address security and development holes, IC has taken the initiative to proposition an outside agency to do it for us.

How are we ever going to awaken to our civil responsibility to demand more from our sitting governments if we are lulled into a dependency state for every civil service we should rightly expect from our governments?

The attention is on the wrong audience, for the wrong message, using the wrong messenger. I would have welcomed an opportunity for IC to partner with those of us visible and empowered to drive the conversation to its rightful audience, therein instilling a permanent sense of strong civic responsibility that is the basis of all modern societies.

If I can take anything good from this, it is that I hope this visibility provided by IC will usher those of us Ugandans engaged in this conversation to realize we have a right to exercise our agency when we are called to do so.

And when we do galvanize around an agenda that we set, that we are wise enough to partner with individuals that can accelerate that message.

The opinions expressed are solely those of TMS Ruge.

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