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Irene Kyomuhangi

© Bertrand NOËL

© Bertrand NOËL

Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? In fact, in the 21st century, this statement should be common sense. But for some reason, the word ‘feminism’ has become a term that needs to be justified or defended. Anyone who identifies as a feminist, to many, will invoke images of bra-burning, angry, man-hating radicals who will rant to anyone who will listen about how unfair the world is to the female half of this glorious species. Let’s be clear, sexism does exist. This is a fact and, hey, it can go both ways, but let’s face it the brunt of this vice is borne by women. The fight for women’s rights has been going on for decades, and while the feminist movement has brought about significant social and legislative changes that protect women from exploitation and injustice, there is still a long way to go, and a lot more to learn.

It is interesting to observe the developments in feminist movements across the world, from protests in India against rape and other forms of violence against women to Malala advocating girls’ education in Pakistan. Then there is FEMEN. In case you haven’t heard, FEMEN is a feminist group out of Ukraine that strongly believes in ‘sextrimisim’ (a.k.a. getting naked in public and causing a ruckus) as a viable means of promoting women’s rights. You may have heard of them flashing Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel at the Hanover Trade Fair earlier this year, or crashing a number of fashion shows across Europe exposing their bare chests with political slogans in black ink painted across them.

While their methods are quite radical and arguably questionable, I am reluctant to throw stones just yet. Before we direct any judgment towards these ladies, let’s take a look at their ideologies, shall we? Firstly, it may or may not be important to note that this group was started by a man; Viktor Sviatsky. Initially, it is easy for skepticism to build over the legitimacy of a breast-baring feminist group based on the ideologies of a man, but bear with me.

(Officially) FEMEN was founded by Anna Hutsol in Ukraine 2008 after her eyes were opened to the sex trafficking of Ukrainian women. It all started as skimpy-dress protests but things quickly escalated into topless protests. Basically, FEMEN’s ideology is sextremism, atheism and feminism. The mission is ‘complete victory over patriarchy and all its forms which are dictatorship, religion and the sex industry.’ Their main aims are political deposition of governments that enforce political, social and economic environments hostile to women (for example those that promote Sharia law); criminalising prostitution, and banning religion from interfering in the civic, sex and reproductive lives of women. Their rationale behind going topless is that it destroys the patriarchal understanding of the meaning of female sexuality thus benefiting their revolutionary mission. These stances, naturally, will elicit debates which, at their core, pose philosophical questions.

But the more universal issues they aim to highlight are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Sex trafficking and slavery. According to recent estimates, 66000 women have undergone FGM and an additional 20000 girls under the age of 11 are at risk in the UK alone. Sex slavery is a billion dollar industry and most of the victims are women. These are real issues that need to be addressed, we can all agree on that. It’s easy to lose these important messages in the shock-factor and the media hype. Or maybe this highly aggressive form of provocation is moving people to do their research and understand these issues. Whether this later translates to actual change is up for debate.

It is true: FEMEN branches have staged a number of high-profile ‘sextremist’ acts targeting politicians, prominent religious leaders and fashion shows where they have not only exposed their sharpie-marked breasts but burnt Salafist flags and chain-sawed crucifixes whilst generally screaming at people. After effectively being driven out of Ukraine due to death threats and attacks, the organisation moved to Paris where they are now based and opened branches in 10 countries across Europe. FEMEN is now taking on the UK, calling for a radical feminist revolution on the other side of the English channel and urging British women to join the ‘naked army.’

So will British women answer their call? The British public is generally sensitive to women’s rights, at least officially. Let’s not forget the backlash that ensued from that now infamous ‘calm down dear’ gaffe by the beloved P.M. David Cameron. Due to the nature of the issues highlighted by FEMEN, there may be a number of recruits to this radical ideology but personally, I don’t believe FEMEN will be successful in the UK. Here’s why:

The political culture in the UK is very different to the political culture in Ukraine from which FEMEN was born. The avenues for expression and influencing change on these issues are a lot more accessible in the UK than in Ukraine, therefore the absolute need to take such extreme measures to prove a point is not present. The chances of affecting public opinion on women’s rights whilst topless and screaming at people on the streets of London are also pretty slim. Powerful organisations and government institutions have been set up to deal with FGM, human trafficking, domestic violence against women, and other issues. While these problems are still severe, work is being done. On the philosophical issues that affect the perception of women and their freedoms, the culture is changing, legislations in the UK have been passed to try and balance the scales. It is a matter of enforcement, perhaps law changing society. Social reforms are not going to happen overnight.

The UK is one of the most culturally diverse countries in Europe. FEMEN is not culturally diverse and doesn’t engage women from different cultural backgrounds. This is one of its greatest weaknesses. One moment they are preaching freedom for all women, but then proceed to tell Muslim women that they are oppressed and/or brainwashed if they choose to wear a Hijab. The UK is notorious for valuing political correctness. For better or worse, I seriously doubt such extreme views would ever take root here. FEMEN only recruit women that are willing to show their half-naked bodies to the world. What about those women (out of their own independent choice mind you) who are not? This is the fundamental problem with this movement. They are inadvertently defining the parameters of freedom based on their own subjective ideologies. This is why I think their movement is not going to stick with the UK majority. But hey, if they manage to get people talking about rights and fairness and justice, then that is positive news all round.

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi. © Photo Bertrand NOËL.

To see more photography from Bertrand NOËL, visit the links below.


To find out more about FEMEN visit femen.org



From the 21st-24th of September 2013 the world watched in horror as the tragic events of the Westgate attack unfolded in Nairobi, Kenya. For most people in Nairobi, the enormity of this tragedy hit so close to home that it will take a long time to wrap their heads around it.

Westgate is such a hub for residents and visitors to Nairobi, so much so that everyone who wasn’t at the mall that particular Saturday is thinking ‘That could have been me in there.’ I believe this was the point; that is why the militants chose Westgate. For a terrorist group that has lost ground significantly in the last few years, it’s one hell of a point to make.

Al-Shabaab (“The youth”) is a Somali-based Islamist militant group. It’s an off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Al-Quaeda backed group that rose to power in the 1990s and was later defeated in 2006 by a United States backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace ant Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT).

Al-Shabaab is thought to have members in the thousands with several hundred recruits from Middle Eastern countries and young recruits from Somali communities in the U.S.A and Europe. That said, they are fond of exaggerating their numbers and their ‘victories’ so who knows how many there actually are out there?

This is not the first such attack Al Shabaab has carried out in the region. This group has staged multiple major attacks within Somalia for years. In July 2010 they attacked two popular restaurants in Uganda as gatherings of people merrily watched the world cup final. More than 70 people were killed.

The Kenyan government suspected Al-Shabab of conducting a series of grenade attacks in two bus stations and a bar in Nairobi in 2011 and 2012. These incidents in Kenya and Uganda are apparently retribution for the role their troops have played in diminishing Al Shabab power in Somalia. Al Shabab demands Ugandan and Kenyan troops withdraw from Somaila. That is not likely to happen for very many reasons but here’s my pick of the winners:

Firstly, no government on earth wants to be seen to give in to terrorist demands. That’s just really bad PR. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” is the mainstay as far as political stands go. Kenya has a reputation for being tough, (at least in the region.) This country has been through a lot, the people as a whole are so resilient and they are not afraid to stand up. Kenya doesn’t get bullied (at least not in the region.)

Secondly, Somalia is the ‘most failed state in the world’ according to the Foreign Policy and Global Fund For Peace. Violence is rampant with military factions and international military forces constantly doing battle. Somalia suffers from extreme tribalism, fighting warlords, terrorists and hunger. The African Union has peacekeeping troops, a collection of military from African countries including Kenya and Uganda, which support a UN-backed Somali government.

Al-Shabaab’s animosity towards Kenya is mainly due to the fact that Kenyan troops, since establishing their role in the AU mission in 2011, have managed to drive the militants out of a key port Kisimayu which was their main base and essentially their lifeline. Since then the group has been faced with a major loss of resources and a brutal power struggle among top leaders.

Some have said this attack was a final kick by the rapidly failing terrorist group, or perhaps an attempt to retain and reunite disillusioned members. Perhaps the new leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, is trying to prove himself?

Al-Shabaab claims that the international military operations in Somalia have led to the loss of countless innocent Somalis and that this attack was punishment to Kenya for its role in this. While it is true that innocent Somalis have been lost in the crossfire, killing more innocent people is not the way to make this point. Furthermore, Al-Shabaab is guilty of carrying out systematic attacks on Somalis in Somalia itself. Forgive me if I don’t buy their proclaimed concern for their fellow countrymen.

There is no denying the sophistication it took to execute this attack, which leads to more speculation about possible help from their more experienced allies in terrorism a.k.a Al-Quaeda. Al-Quaeda bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998 killing about 200 people and injuring scores more.

Thirdly, their mission statement as of 2007 was “Seeking to establish an Islamic state along the lines of the Taliban-ruled, by-the-law-of-Allah in the land of Somalia; regards the rulers of the Muslim world today as branches of the international conspiracy against Islam, and thus they are to be regarded as infidels and overthrown; [and] seeks to expand the jihad to Somalia’s Christian neighbours, with the intent of driving the infidels out of the Horn of Africa, along the same lines as al-Qaeda has been striving to do under the slogan, ‘expelling the infidels out of the Arabian Peninsula.'” This point is pretty self-explanatory. The world ‘Lunacy’ has bee thrown around…

During the Westgate attack, Al-Shabab live tweeted: “The Mujahideen entered #Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the #Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf,” The reference is clear: they consider themselves participants of some sort of ‘holy war’ and they are specifically targeting ‘Kenyan Kuffar’ i.e. Kenyan Non-Muslims. Reports that the militants selected out Muslims during the attack and let them go while they killed non-Muslims reaffirm this fact.

Many prominent public figures in the Islamic community, ordinary Muslims and Kenyan-Somalis have stood up to denounce the attack. It is very easy to synonymise extremist with Muslim, given that the majority of acts of terrorism the world over are perpetuated by self-proclaimed ‘Mujahideen suffering for the cause of Islam’. Concerns over Islamist militants are growing; but let us not confuse the fight against extremists with a fight against Islam. That said, the need to address the issue of hardline Islamic views leading to extremism cannot be overstated.

There were initial fears of revenge attacks on Somalis living in Kenya. After the grenade attacks in 2011, many people took to the streets rioting and spreading negative messages against Somalis. What people forget is that Somalis, particularly those living in Somalia, have been by far the most victimised by Al Shabaab activity. Thankfully, Kenyans have steadily moved away from ethnic divides. Heaven knows they have learned from their past mistakes.

The issues leading up to this attack on Westage are complex. Of course with any story there are three sides, your side, their side, and the truth. When all is said and done, any normal (non-extremist) person can agree that attacks like this are never the solution. No doubt Al-Shabaad did this to provoke a response from the Kenyan government and the international community at large. What will actually be done about Al-Shabaab is yet to be revealed but we can be sure it will not be a white flag.

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi.

Image © UN Photo/Stuart Price
Caption: “Soldiers of the Somali National Army (SNA) walk at dusk under a rising crescent moon near the outskirts of Afgooye, a town to the west of Somali capital Mogadishu. On the third day of the SNA’s joint offensive with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), dubbed “Operation Free Shabelle”, troops have advanced to almost two kilometres outside the strategically important town, having captured along the way swathes of territory previously under the control of the Al Shabaab insurgent group.”

The issue of gay rights is a hotly debated subject all over the world. Some cultures are more tolerant than others to homosexuality. In the majority of African countries, homosexuality is illegal, therefore punishable by law.

Recently officials of the Ugandan government announced that as a ‘Christmas gift’ to the Ugandan public, parliament would pass a bill that seeks to prohibit the promotion of gay rights and punishes anyone who funds, sponsors or abets homosexuality. This bill carries a series of jail terms for ‘convicted homosexuals’ including life imprisonment. Before it was amended due to international pressure, this bill sought to introduce the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.

Uganda is perceived to be one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Homosexuality is considered not only ‘deeply immoral’ but a ‘condition’ that needs to be eradicated through punishment, rehabilitation and prayer. In 2010, a Ugandan newspaper published the names and addresses of 100 gay individuals with a banner alongside them saying ‘Hang them’. This lead to multiple attacks and deaths of a number of the victims. In addition to the marginalization, discrimination, harassment, detention, attack and murder of gay individuals, there are reported cases of ‘correctional rape’ of lesbians.

The government claims that this bill is what most Ugandans want. The jury is out on whether this is a statistical fact or not. Even if this claim is shown to be true, the question of majority verses minority groups in situations where right and wrong are clearly a matter of opinion, exposes a major weakness of democracy. This is nothing new; history is littered with tales of minority groups rising against their oppressors. Not too long ago, the gay community was also marginalised in the western world. The question now is will Uganda (and Africa as a whole) follow the west into recognition and even integration of gay rights into society? Should Uganda follow?

Western countries, particularly America and Canada, are now seriously pushing for gay rights to be recognised in Uganda (or at least decriminalisation of homosexuality) by using economic threats such as withdrawal of aid. This has been perceived as move towards neo-colonialism and an attack on the sovereignty of Uganda. Ugandans refuse to be ‘bullied’ into accepting ‘western values’. This is not just a rejection of homosexuality in Ugandan society; it is a rejection of western influence and an expression of the right to self-determination.

Before steps can be taken to change anti-gay sentiments in Uganda, it is important to understand why there is such a profound disdain for the gay community in this country.

Homosexuality is considered by many Ugandans (and other Africans) as wholly ‘unafrican’ and an import from the western world. It has been speculated that the whole idea of homosexuality threatens the heterosexist social order which maintains the patriarchy that is characteristic of traditional African culture. Gay men are a lot more hated than gay women because being a gay man challenges the masculinity, therefore superiority, of men. It is an abomination.

These claims that homosexuality is a foreign concept to Uganda are false because the history books reveal several accounts of the existence of gay individuals in Ugandan history. One of the major kingdoms in Uganda had a famously gay King. Gay individuals have been in Africa a long time but they were neither persecuted nor promoted. The issue was not a debate. So what changed?

Not only are the current laws that criminalise homosexuality a remnant of British Colonial times in Uganda, it is mainly western-based religious views, particularly U.S. evangelical Christian views have been a major driver of this intense homophobia in Uganda.

Uganda is a deeply religious country with the majority of the population Christian (about 85%) or Muslim (about 12%). Religion dominates most aspects of life there, at least publicly. Almost all schools are affiliated with a religious institution, most healthcare facilities are linked to a religious institution and many forms of aid to needy communities are implemented through religious institutions at a grass-root level. As a result religious leaders wield great power both socially and politically.

A number of American evangelists including Scott Lively, author of ‘The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party’ have travelled to Uganda and held conferences maligning the gay community and accusing them of planning to replace the marriage based society with a culture of sexual promiscuity. Mr Lively was recently sued by a gay activist group called Sexual Minorities Uganda. This group maintains that Mr Lively, along with politicians and religious leaders in Uganda conspired to incite anti-gay hysteria by claiming that the gay community was seeking to sodomize children and corrupt Ugandan culture.

The Muslim community in Uganda is also quite vocal about its position against homosexuality. Many politicians and religious leaders in Uganda perpetuate the misconceptions that gay people are deeply immoral, sexual predators, defile children, recruit them into this ‘evil’ lifestyle and infect them with HIV. This propaganda is what exacerbates the hatred of gay individuals in Uganda and as long as these are the beliefs held by the Ugandan population, the battle for gay rights will be lost. It’s really a shame that these religious leaders are completely misrepresenting the religions they claim to uphold by promoting such intolerance and hatred.

Several observers have pointed out that it is highly likely that this great debate over gay rights is not just a matter of ‘morals’ but it is a political move orchestrated by politicians to reclaim a disillusioned public’s faith. Perhaps the government ‘s attempt at convince people that this bill is what they want, then passing the bill, is an elaborate ploy to convince the Ugandan people that their government does deliver. Frankly it would be more impressive if these very politicians could deliver on decent healthcare for the people of Uganda, or better roads, or better schools, or a reasonable pay rise for public service men and women instead of persecuting a minority group simply because they do not agree with their lifestyle choices.

Nevertheless, this renewed controversy has pushed a previously taboo topic into conversation. So far this has had a profoundly negative effect on the gay community. It is hard to tell whether these sentiments will change any time soon or even with time. It remains to be seen if the ‘Christmas gift’ will be delivered by the end of the year and what its true impact on international relations for Uganda will be.

Twitter: @IrrizleK

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi.
Photographs © and courtesy of Kaytee Riek

africacuteIn England, ‘Black History Month’ is October. In America and Canada, it’s February. While I understand the sentiment behind it, it seems wrong to me that the history of an entire race is generally ignored (especially in schools) and then one month a year comments are made on The Civil Rights Movement and the end of slavery.

This month is supposed to to not only correct the spread of propaganda about Africans in the old days, but also highlight the journey of the African peoples.

The focus on the persecution of Africans by other races simply alienates people of other races. Who among us is willing to listen to a month-long lament about how their ancestors persecuted their friends’ ancestors? It’s hardly the brightest topic to bring up over lunch.

Don’t get me wrong, while these events were tragic and condemnable in every sense, they don’t define Africa. In the end they simply contribute to a wholly inaccurate image of Africans, and people of African decent, as eternally victimised or claiming to be. This in turn breeds hostility from all sides. I suggest that African history should be seen for what really is. When people think of where this continent has been, they should think of the greatness of the Empires that have come and gone.

They should think of the architecture ancient civilisations left us such as the Empire that was Kemet (aka Egypt), the Kingdom of Meroë and the Kingdom that was Great Zimbabwe. Of the evolution of African culture and of the diversity shown in the 3000 languages on this continent.

People should remember the advancement of knowledge in science, mathematics and medicine in the ancient Mali Kingdom, and marvel at the wealth of the West African Kingdoms (like Ghana) that were practically swimming in gold and other minerals.

We should also remember the crazy characters that ran some of these Kingdoms like Mansa Musa of Mali, or his brother who abdicated the throne and supposedly sailed to America. The world should never forget the incredible Kingdoms like Axum, a trade powerhouse that was amongst the first to mint its own currency and influenced trade routes between the Roman Empire, Asia and the Middle-East.

Of course, Africa has also had its fair share of blood-shed, pointless wars, inhumane behaviour, and questionable ideologies. We’re talking about thousands of years’ worth of history here…

Contrary to popular belief, slavery was already a practised trade in Africa, it was not introduced by the Western world. Europe simply catalysed its explosion to the biggest business for centuries. Towards the end of slavery came the ‘Scramble for Africa’ which was the advent of colonialism on this continent.

The colonialism of Africa was a gruesome, tragic, filthy period in human history. But after colonialism came independence, and Africa has been on the road to prosperity ever since. Progress may be slower in some countries than others but they are all heading the same direction.

There are so many unresolved issues from the past that still haunt Africa, and this continent of 3000 tribes is still figuring things out. One thing is for sure though, Africa’s past is greatness and its future is greatness too.

In Africa we don’t celebrate ‘Black History Month’ because, as Africans, African history is simply history. In the Western world, it’s slightly more complicated because of the immense diversity of people there. Nevertheless, the separation of Black history from the everybody else’s history doesn’t make the elimination of separatist and racist attitudes any easier.

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi. Photography © futureatlas.com

Twitter: @IrrizleK

America. The land of the free… In the last century America has engraved itself so deeply in the global consciousness that it’s hard to miss its influence. With the American Presidential elections coming up the world watches in anticipation because, like it or not, what happens in America affects the rest of us.

America has had an intriguing relationship with the rest of the world politically, economically and socially. This great nation has power likened to previous superpowers like the Roman Empire and Great Britain (back in its heyday). But empires come and go, so it’s not unnatural to wonder whether America will suffer the same fate.

It’s hard to imagine a world where America is no longer the giant. Politically, it’s a force to be reckoned with. When you consider its influence in the United Nations, the major platform for international political and economic relationships, it’s easy to see why this is the case.

America holds a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN. It also spends more money on its military than a number of governments have at their disposal. Not to mention the various alliances it’s made with other important players in world politics like the UK, France and Germany.

Countries that do not agree with, or even dare to oppose American policy, do it at their own peril. Presidents get ostracised (Paul Kagame, Robert Mugabe,) others get killed (Saddam Hussein.)

America’s made many enemies and has been involved in many high-profile wars over the years such as Vietnam, Japan, Afghanistan and Iraq. This has earned its respect, fear and derision from the world. It’s fair to say that during George Bush’s tenure as President, it was mostly derision, but now with Obama, the world is a lot less edgy about who America might attack next.

This country is famous for pushing its foreign policy agenda. No other country has its tentacles in as many political pots (so to speak) as America does. This is compounded by the substantive economic influence America has on the rest of the world.

This country practically invented foreign aid in the early-mid 20th century. Trillions of dollars later, many countries in the ‘developing’ world are more economically stable and forever indebted to America. Literally.

As much as America has helped these countries, what it requires (or demands) in return is often construed as classic manipulation. There are always strings attached. In fact, it’s gone as far as threatening withdrawal of aid unless policies and laws are introduced or removed by recipient countries. In the economic and political minds of many middle and low-income countries America is a pushy, preachy, self-righteous, arrogant and manipulative country.

Increasing numbers of African countries are now turning to Asia, particularly China, for economic and trade partnerships. Unlike America, China is not preachy and doesn’t really care about other countries’ political affairs (unless, of course it interferes with said trade.) What’s more, China does’nt care if you kiss its arse. China just wants a good business plan. Full stop.

In addition to this, emerging economies like Brazil and India are less dependent on foreign aid. As countries are becoming more economically independent, they are turning to eachother to do business. This has lead to the strengthening of regional economic structures that do not involve America and its allies, and that is bound to have an impact in coming years.

Furthermore, with America’s struggling economy, which has featured heavily in this year’s Presidential campaign, some parts of the world seems to be moving on quickly. Asia Pacific has now overtaken North America as the region with the most billionaires on earth.

Luckily, the biggest Advantage America has over its predecessors in world domination is social power. The American social ideology is its biggest international export. One word. Media.

The biggest factors here are Facebook, Twitter and Hollywood. As their T.V. shows and movies circulate all over the world, the American social construct is rapidly becoming the world’s social construct. America has shaped world opinions on everything from democracy, to gay rights, to romance, to Justin Beiber. The idea of the American dream has spilled over into the rest of the world and is now everyone’s dream.

A great deal of the reality of American life has been masked in movies, songs, ‘reality T.V’…so much so that people all over the world imagine an America that simply does not exist. But it is this glorified version of this great nation that draws people in. This is what keeps us interested, and as long as that interest is held, America will always be relevant.

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi.
Photography © Noel Y. Calingasan


kony2012 kony2012 2 kony 2012 3

A great number of movements started on YouTube. The clearest example is the ‘Beliebers’ who are responsible for catapulting Justin Beiber into a world of fortune and fame (or infamy, depending on what your position is.)

Granted it’s mostly teenage girls, still, never underestimate the power of millions of teenage girls. Facebook is another platform that has fuelled a great many movements which have had both local and global impact. Let’s not forget Twitter, where ideas explode but seem to disappear as fast as they came.

All in all, there is no question that these platforms have served as outlets for new ideas and have allowed anyone to have a voice. Many people and organisations have used this as a new avenue to bring awareness to various things that they are passionate about. Some tend to be heard a lot louder than others. Not least among these is the Kony 2012 video by an organisation called Invisible Children.

The video went viral and gained millions of viewers in a matter of hours, making it the most viral video of all time. It aims to shed light on the notorious war criminal Joseph Kony who’s been a problem for the past twenty-five years in the east and central African region. And what an explosion it was! Very few things have elicited such a polarised debate.

Many people were completely behind it, but just as many people were heavily against it. The point is, everyone heard about it. Everyone suddenly had a strong opinion on the issue even if very few actually knew the history of Kony and his movement.

Supporters posted the video on their Facebook walls and urged their friends to do the same, and because of the overwhelming momentum, talk of the video spread to newspapers, online articles and CNN.

There are many more videos on YouTube about important humanitarian efforts to protect human rights by a number of organisations including UNICEF, World Food Program, Oxfam and many others. But none of them have had anywhere near the success the Kony 2012 video has. So what’s the secret?

The Kony video targets, specifically, social media. The message has three key ingredients: Kony is bad, something should be done about it, and sharing this video ensures something is done about it. These points are presented in a very simple manner, with epic music in the background, vivid images and an innocent child to clarify the ‘simplicity’ of the choice. It’s a winning formula.

However, the critics will tell you that the Kony issue is not something you can summarise in thirty minutes. This is a complex, twenty-five year long situation, sometimes with no definitive clear line between the good guys and the bad guys.  Nevertheless, this video hit a nerve with people.

It stirred one of the most noble human traits- compassion. People have listened and are showing support, from global leaders in the UN, to the International Court of Justice, to Amnesty International, to the millions of individuals who have pledged their support. In an incredibly short amount of time, Kony went from being a little known war criminal to a very famous one.

So with endless images of poor starving African/Asian children, war torn countries, child soldiers, disease and disaster, in constant circulation in the media, is it possible that people have become desensitised to it? Has it become a matter of simply sharing a YouTube link to convince ourselves that we’ve done enough? Does it now take more shocking images to move us into action?

From humanitarian causes to political ones, social media has put a twist to the word ‘revolution’. You only have to look at the uprising in the Middle East to realise the real force social media can have. You could argue that these uprisings would have happened eventually, even without social media, but you cannot doubt that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube mobilised efforts at such a speed that the governments barely had time to react or intercept. Information could be sent and received by thousands in a number of seconds.

That said, not all speedy mobilisation of people leads to freedom and justice. You don’t have to look further than the London riots in 2011. Whilst many youths in the Middle East were on a mission to win freedom, their counterparts in London were looting stores and setting the city ablaze. Not a proud moment, but this event gained its momentum from social media. Some tactless youth even went as far as posting their pillage on Twitter!

Social media is a powerful tool. It is also a fast tool. So is this the new form of raising mass awareness? Definitely. But the implications of this are only beginning to emerge. Watch this space.

Written by Irene Kyomuhangi.
Photography (image 1) © Madalena aka ‘She was Anouk’ (www.flickr.com/photos/myfes)
Photography (image 2) © Dallas Backus aka ‘Jalopy Go Far’ (www.flickr.com/people/jalopygofar)
Photography (image 3) by No Borders Magazine

Twitter: @IrrizleK