Since yesterday afternoon my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with links to Invisible Children Inc’s Kony 2012 campaign video (see below), all of them insistent that I must support this cause.
If you don’t have time/desire to watch the video then these are the campaign basics: Invisible Children was a charity founded in 2004 to raise awareness and protect the interests of Ugandan children who were being kidnapped by Joseph Kony and his rebel force Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and the LRA forced young boys to become child soldiers and the girls into sex slavery. Kony is
considered to be one of the world’s worst criminals by the International Criminal Court who indicted him in 2005 for 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 war crimes. The Invisible Children campaign is calling for people to rise up and raise awareness of Kony’s terrible crimes so that the U.S. government will continue to provide assistance to the Ugandan army (UPDF) in their hunt to arrest Kony.
The above video has been a viral hit across the internet. I’m not particularly a fan of viral campaigns because most of the time either the intended humour falls completely flat or they play on peoples’ ignorance to promote them. In this case it’s the latter. I think some people, especially young people, have been taken in far too easily with the slick style of video. Personally, the “belong, connect” theme reminded me of a bad mobile phone network advert. Moreover, Invisible Children clearly used every tactic possible to get sympathy; from his cute kid who assumed that the bad guys were from Star Wars, to putting a Mumford & Sons song in there. I’m not the kind of person who cries at these kind of play-on-your-heartstrings campaign videos, but it seems to have worked on many of my Facebook friends. There’s nothing wrong with these kind of marketing techniques in themselves but people should question the information behind them.
Instead, people have been like sheep when re-posting this video. Anyone can become a political activist on Facebook in just a couple of minutes by liking, re-posting, joining a group/event and changing their profile picture. I think that too many people have promoted this campaign without even bothering to do a bit of research. I will admit I knew very little about the history of Uganda or Invisible Children either, but I chose to look it up.
The truth is there has been ongoing criticismabout Invisible Children that started well before the Kony 2012 campaign appeared all
over the internet. For example I found this blog post at ilto.wordpress.com from back in 2006, and this one from tnsonsofofliberty.blogspot.com in 2010. One of the main objections to the charity itself seems to be its financial status. It’s been suggested that as little as 32% of their expenses went on direct services and that the charity lacks accountability because they don’t have enough independent members on their board or an external audit of their finances (this is explained more fully at visiblechildren.tumblr.com). Invisible Children denies this. Furthermore, many people have raised concerns about how far the charity is willing to collaborate with the military, after all they’re pushing for intervention. This hasn’t been helped by the circulation of a photo of the founders of the charity posing with guns with soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
This is closely related to the criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign itself. The idea is that the U.S. soldiers just “assist” the UPDF to find Kony in the African jungle. The definition of assistance seems a bit loose in this context to me. The soldiers were deployed there in the interests of U.S. national security and foreign policy, there was no explicit mention of the interests of Uganda or any other African nations. It has been suggested that behind all this is an economic motive of oil and uranium in Uganda. American military intervention also brings back fears of yet another Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as the idea of neo-colonialism in Africa. But the real issue here is that intervention by the U.S. military is being portrayed as something new, when in fact there have been several failed operations against Kony and the LAR, going back to the late 80s.
The collaboration with the UPDF also raises questions. Firstly, is the campaign out of date? The LAR is no longer present in Uganda, it has moved its conflict to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR). However, Invisible Children maintain that the UPDF is better equipped to deal with the difficult task of tracking down Kony and the LAR so in past years they have been allowed into the DRC and the CAR, but not without controversy. The DRC has attempted to sue Uganda and the CAR has accused the UPDF of not wanting to get rid of the LRA because then they would lose out on funding and the opportunity to invade neighbouring states. This is just a part of the widespread accusations of corruption in the UPDF, a force which includes “ex-rebels” from the LAR. The most worrying of which is that these soldiers have been involved in the rape and sexual exploitation of girls, which is exactly what Invisible Children is supposed to be campaigning against. How can you fight evil with evil?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t stop Kony, he’s an absolute monster. But this campaign is ignoring the wider issues and what is at stake for Uganda and other African nations involved. Stopping Kony won’t solve the problem. Army generals tend to have deputies and then what can we do about the LRA? There is an ongoing debate in Uganda as to whether these soldiers are “victims” or “perpetrators” as they are the children of Uganda who were kidnapped and brainwashed by Kony. It also won’t solve the other ongoing issues in Uganda, a country controlled by 2011’s 3rd most corrupt government, such as the economic situation and arms trading.
To clarify my own position, I don’t think what Invisible Children are doing is a scam, just that they are giving out misinformation, whether intentionally or not. Of course, they definitely have genuine reason to campaign against Kony. However, I believe that their approach is out-of-date, narrow and too close to the corruption. So I will not be supporting the Kony 2012 campaign.
Obviously that’s only my opinion. If people read all the above information, do their own research and then continue to support the Kony 2012 campaign as the only possibility to get rid of a terrible criminal, then fair enough. But don’t just watch the video and accept it as the whole truth. I’ll finish with the most important perspective to consider here: the Ugandan one.