White Noise: Hearing the Disaster

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Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign was lambasted in various corners as yet another incarnation of human rights as ‘white man's burden’ – or what the Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole calls the ‘White Savior Industrial Complex’ (Cole, 2012; see Mackey, 2012). There's no question that Kony 2012 smacks of missionary zeal and traffics in some tired tropes about Africa. But having worked in Rwanda several years after the genocide, I can't help thinking we should be less worried about the white man's burden and more worried about his indifference.

When my former boss at Human Rights Watch, Alison Des Forges, lobbied President Clinton's National Security Adviser to do more to halt Rwanda's genocide, he told her she needed to ‘make more noise’ (Power, 2002: 377). Only public pressure would influence the Administration's (pusillanimous) policymaking. The problem then, as now, is how to make noise that the public and politicians don't tune out as just more white noise.

Kony 2012 made a lot of noise. It prompted 100 million people and prominent US politicians to engage with an issue that had been crowded off the policy agenda and television screens by, frankly, more severe and pressing disasters (like Syria). How did that happen? Part of the answer lies in the way that Kony 2012 repackages humanitarianism as commodity activism, human rights militancy, and clicktivism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-474
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Human Rights Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

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