Invisible Children, Joseph Kony & Complexity

(originally published at

Many of you have probably heard the hype by now. I’ve seen links to the cleverly marketed Kony 2012 video come through my feed from multiple unrelated sources. It’s come from men and women, young and old, and mostly white. If you haven’t yet seen it, my guess is that you’ll see it pretty soon.

I bring it up for a number of reasons – not least of which is because the issues raised by this video are intimately connected to our attitudes and approach to short-term missions.

Here’s why: Hype, a false sense of empowerment and simplistic answers can obscure the truth of the situation. 

Whether it’s a bunch of North Americans raising funds to travel and build a school in Central America or a gaggle of hipster kids trying to fix Africa by making the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army famous, in order to raise support for his arrest, there’s a common theme here.

On his blog today, Eric Ritskes sums up a significant part of the problem:

The problem? From the beginning to now, the goal [of Invisible Children] was premised on a White desire to save downtrodden Africa regardless of facts. The movies are premised on the idea that: North American (White) attention will save Africa.

Whether we’re talking about Short Term Missions, or the work of a tech and marketing savvy NGO, the conversation can tend towards a renewed colonialist attitude. Somehow, the logic goes, what poor people need, is for us to come and save them. Ritskes goes on to express the logic in this way:

White people only care about White people and the only way to save Black people is to get White people to care about them, so to save Black people we need to talk about White people.

In all of this, we have the tendency to place ourselves as the false centre. Whoever we are, if the solution we’re proposing is more about ourselves, our experience, our journey, or satisfying our cause mentality, we will leave behind the complex realities of what is really going on in Uganda.

These, of course, are things I have no authority to speak about.

But what I can speak about, and what we should consider before we get too caught up in the moment, is how we might find what Oliver Wendell Holmes terms “simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Writing enigmatically, Holmes shares:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Often times, what we are left with are the easy answers and simplistic solutions on this side of complexity. We don’t allow ourselves to wander through the complexity. We aren’t open to be corrected in our misperceptions or lack of understanding. In our youthful exuberance, we crave simple solutions. Our heroic cause mentality wants to fix the problems.

And yet, solutions aren’t as simple as we’d wish.

As Musa Okwonga writes this week in the Independent, Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions.


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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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