Why I’m not supporting the Kony 2012 campaign

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

Joseph Kony - news.bbc.co.uk

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

The founders of Invisible Children posing with guns and the SPLA - 4.bp.blogspot.com

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.

KONY 2012 campaign banner from Invisible Children - rickey.org

Related articles:

Black Star News: How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act

The Buzz – UCL: Kony2012: A Humanitarian Fad

Earthly Differential: Kony 2012 vs. Invisible Children

Kings of War: Joseph Kony and Crowdsourced Intervention

Modern Ghana: KONY 2012, the “good intentions vs. the real intentions”

PapaGUnit: Skepticism about KONY 2012

Socialist Revolution: Kony 2012: US bombs won’t save child soldiers – but we can


  1. […] Why I’m not supporting the Kony 2012 campaign (hotforeignaffairs.wordpress.com) […]

  2. “A MAN ALWAYS HAS TWO REASONS FOR DOING ANYTHING- THE ‘GOOD REASON’ AND THE ‘REAL REASON’”, (J.P. Morgan). This is why any such US proposed military intervention must be critically examined especially when it may lead to the establishment of a US military base (AFRICOM) in the country and the possible use of depleted Uranium which equally has devastating consequences. Our experience in Iraq is still fresh in our memories. As we look forward to “get rid of” these terrorists, let us always be guided by the Iraqi experience. The US went to Iraq (and Afghanistan) with the promise to get rid of Al-Qaeda. Today, although Bin Laden “is dead” together with Al-Zawahiri and about 1.2million Iraqis, Al-CIAda is still hanging around in the Middle East and Libya with more sophisticated weapons. Yet, the military contractors made billions of money in these wars. Perhaps the bitter part of this reality is that Al-Qaeda today has grown beyond mere terrorist attacks to a much bigger role of overthrowing governments labelled as evil.
    J.F Kennedy, once said: “Things do not just happen. Things are made to happen”. Therefore one wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that some of these developments might not be happening by accident, but a well-planned event. Wake up! The US wants to re-colonize Africa and plunder our resources!!

    1. Thanks for the link, this is exactly what I worry about with US military intervention, I’ll add it to the article.

  3. I’m going to be revamping my blogroll soon and I’m adding your site to it. Keep up the great work!

    1. Ah thank you!🙂 I really need to get one of those things started at some point.

  4. Hi,

    I read your article and it was well written with some excellent points, but there are will always be a reason to criticise what they do and how they do it. What this video has done is not only recognise the crimes of Joseph Kony and the LRA but makes the larger public aware of other conflicts and troubles that exist outside of the of our immediate concerns such as Iran, Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

    The slick video makes it an easier watch to the mass public who would probably never watch the entire episode if it was not presented in a certain way, and as for using his child was just emphasising the point, that Kony uses child soldiers to kill people. I’m sure if you studied the entire history of any country or conflict it can be complex but this is a snapshot of one person at one period in time. To try and give the entire history of Uganda would not bring about the desired affect.

    Essentially this is a marketing campaign used just like any other organisation or charity, but has used the power of Facebook and You tube to go viral. All charities essentially market themselves to the ‘consumer’ because there are only a certain amount of charity dollars to go round and what the film maker has done is to use his skills to ‘differentiate’ himself from the crowd.

    1. I agree that marketing campaigns do need to summarise, and that of course the history of Uganda is too complicated. Maybe I was harsh. But the fact of the matter is that the Kony 2012 campaign has not been supported in Uganda, the country that Invisible Children is claiming to be helping. The Ugandan government have had other ways of tackling the LRA and the people also feel that their perspective has not been shown in this video.
      Moreover, stopping Kony won’t stop the LRA and solve all the problems in Uganda. I also have doubts about the credibility of the UPDF.
      So although I would be willing to concede that they have done exceptionally well in raising awareness whatever marketing techniques employed, I believe that the video has now had over 70 million views. I cannot justify supporting the Kony 2012 campaign.

  5. […] di informazione nemmeno lontanamente paragonabili a questo. Evgeny Morozov ha parlato di ennesimo esempio di slacktivism, l’attivismo basato sul traffico nei socialmedia e, nel migliore dei casi, in un assegno per […]

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