Editor’s Note: Due to the recent controversy over Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 campaign, we have two articles with differing perspectives for you. To read the other side, click here.
The recent viral video aimed at drawing attention to African war criminal Joseph Kony has drawn acclaim, but also harsh criticism. The video attempts to sum up, in half an hour, a 26-year conflict in Uganda and the surrounding regions of Africa – particularly the plight of child soldiers. None of this is a bad thing – it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Whatever criticisms one might level against Invisible Children’s administrative policies or approach, the hearts of the founders are clearly in the right place.
Watching the video initially, I was moved by its message – but uncomfortable with what appeared to be a blatant merchandizing effort near the end, when Invisible Children promotes its $30 “action kits,” a collection of posters, stickers and bracelets meant to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, in the hopes that increased attention would pressure US lawmakers to support Kony’s capture. Is wearing a Kony 2012 t-shirt really going to do anything to help end a war in Africa? Turns out, that’s only the tip of the increasingly problematic iceberg.
Accusations that the video is inaccurate
First of all, as Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy points out, Joseph Kony is not actually in Uganda. In fact, he hasn’t been active in the country for 6 years. Not only that, but the Lord’s Resistance Army is not the huge fighting force portrayed in the video: their numbers are in the hundreds at most. This is not to say that the LRA is not continuing to cause trouble in Africa, or that Kony shouldn’t be brought to justice – but it’s not right for Invisible Children to misinform people about the nature of the conflict in Uganda.
This is a sentiment echoed by Adam Branch, a Senior Research Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research – an expert, on the ground in Uganda. He describes the issues he’s had with Invisible Children’s videos and campaigns over the years, and questions Invisible Children’s promotion of US military presence as the answer to conflict in Uganda.
Some say the campaign ignores African voices
Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist and blogger, even posted a video response to Kony 2012, in which she describes her frustration with the simplistic way the video portrayed the conflict in Uganda and her feelings on the stories of actual Ugandans being ignored and glossed over by Invisible Children:
An article by Semhar Araia in the Christian Science Monitor also took Invisible Children to task for not using the stories and voices of actual Africans involved in the conflict, and for imposing the idea that Americans are more suited to solving Uganda’s problems than the citizens of the country themselves are. The Atlantic also addressed this issue, even going so far as to say the campaign does more harm than good.
Mike Pflanz, a Telegraph correspondent in Nairobi, traveled to Uganda to get the feedback of locals who’d seen Invisible Children’s video. What he found was frustration and anger over the mischaracterizations of Kony’s current activities in the video. Those he interviewed argued that increased attention might simply spur Kony to go on the offensive, kidnapping more children and harming more people. Some were frustrated at the suggestion that US military action was the answer to the problem. A Ugandan government official even advanced the cynical suggestion that the video was made simply to further Invisible Children’s own agenda and raise money, rather than actually helping capture Kony.
Questions about Invisible Children’s financial practices
That’s not all – Invisible Children has also been accused of having shady accounting practices, with less than 1/3 of their income actually going toward helping children in Africa. Interestingly enough, in their response to the criticism, IC hasn’t disputed this, instead emphasizing that their campaign involves a three-pronged approach, and that the other 2/3 of the money they raise goes to advocacy campaigns and awareness efforts. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with how they’re allocating funds – it’s not illegal, but it may be disappointing to potential donors to realize how little of their money is actually going to programs in Africa.
Other charity efforts to help child soldiers in Uganda
Overall, it seems that the Kony 2012 campaign is well-intentioned, and IC is passionate about bringing a war criminal to justice. The fact that they’re targeting their efforts toward Americans, rather than working with Africans who are actually affected by the issue is problematic. The fact that they spend so much of the money they raise on producing videos and spreading the word, rather than funding programs in Uganda, bothers me. The response of Ugandans to a video they consider patronizing, simplistic and misleading doesn’t exactly bolster my willingness to financially support the organization.
If you’re still moved by the video and want to help efforts to help former and present child soldiers, capture Kony and improve conditions in Uganda, but have been turned off by all the negative publicity surrounding Invisible Children, the Huffington Post has a great article detailing seven other charities dedicated to the cause.
What do Care2 readers make of the controversy surrounding Kony 2012? Are you going to participate in the April 20th campaign to spread awareness? Are you going to lobby your representatives and senators on the issue? I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts.
Photo credit: Chris Shultz