Kony 2012 [More to the Story]

Let’s get one thing straight before I get into this. Joseph Kony is a terrible, terrible man. The atrocities that he has committed have earned him the #1 spot on the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list. Everyone can agree on this (except Rush Limbaugh apparently).

Tuesday night, I watched the Kony 2012 video and I was greatly affected by it. I was swept up by its message, the story, the emotional appeals, and the high production quality of the video. I reposted the video everywhere I could think of and even bought the action kit. I thought about participating in the Cover the Night event on 4/20.

Later Tuesday night, I had a really long phone conversation with Joey (ever the skeptic) that forced me to start turning a more critical eye towards the video. He raised some questions that I certainly couldn’t answer and he had gone beyond the video to read some other articles about the issue. I had to know more.

I spent far too much time Wednesday (when I should have been doing work, oops) reading everything I could find about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), its leader Joseph Kony, Uganda, the horror of child soldiers, Invisible Children, and the history of the United States’ involvement in the problem.

One thing became abundantly clear: this issue is not as simple as the folks over at Invisible Children would like us to believe. Not even close.

I’ve got two problems with the video. One is the gross oversimplification of the problem. I was left feeling like I could make an impact just by sharing this video. If everyone saw this surely something would be done! We couldn’t be ignored! But reality doesn’t work like that. Millions of people watching this video is certainly not bad…it is important to raise awareness. The problem is that millions of people are only watching this video. The Kony 2012 video simplified in an effort to make their message clear as a bell. Invisible Children, the group that put out the video, acknowledges this:

Invisible Children said that in its quest to garner wide support of a complicated issue, it tried to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format. It said that many nuances of a 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked in a half-hour film.[1]

The mission of the video, as I gather, was not to give everyone a detailed history of the issue and present all the complexities, but rather to get the name Joseph Kony out there, which clearly it did. The problem is, now everyone is running around with half-knowledge of the issue and thinking they understand the problem and how to solve it.

I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with a student from my school who spent some time in Uganda. I asked him what he thought about the oversimplification of the video and he had this to say:

Being in Uganda and living with Ugandan families showed me that there are a lot more pressing matters to the well-being on the nation. But these aren’t the people being heard. It’s people like IC who have the money and resources to make a video telling what they want to see happen in the situation.

Ugandans share my concerns as well:

…the video glosses over a complicated history that made it possible for Kony to rise to the notoriety he has today. They [Ugandans]  also lamented that the video does not inform viewers that Kony originally was waging war against Uganda’s army, whose human rights record has been condemned as brutal by independent observers. [2]

In their efforts to create a clear and concise video, Invisible Children left out a couple serious points. For example: the Ugandan government, which IC supports, has been accused of many of the same atrocities as Joseph Kony. In this November 2011 statement, the US Department of State expresses concern over the Ugandan government’s commitment to human rights. Here’s another source about questionable tactics of the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defense Force).

Ok, so besides the oversimplification problem, there’s another issue I have with this video. Namely, they way they portray the LRA today. The fact of the matter is that Joseph Kony and whatever is left of his army is no longer even in Uganda.

Kony is now thought to be hiding in the Central African Republic, where he fled before an aerial assault on his forested base in Congo in 2008. Ugandan officials say the LRA — with some 200 core fighters at most — is weakened and is merely trying to survive.[4]

Two-hundred core fighters? That’s not what I would have expected after watching the video. One redditor put it pretty simply:

The video’s argument is pretty weak “The US government is already helping but what if they stop?!”[5]

If IC really has played in instrumental role in eliciting US involvement, and that involvement is leading to change, why not say so? Celebrate how far we’ve come in terms of eliminating the LRA and frame the video by saying raising awareness will be the final nail in the coffin for Kony. Maybe it was just me, but the way the video put it, I thought Kony was still in Uganda with an enormous army wreaking havoc. That’s simply not the case.

The student I mentioned before also shared his perspective on the current state of Uganda:

 What Ugandans want more than anything is to break free from the restraints of poverty. Finding Kony will undoubtedly bring a peace of mind to many of those living in Northern Uganda. But, rather than supporting a military intervention that, also undoubtedly, would result in deaths; one could support one of the many local NGOs working in Gulu and the entire Northern Ugandan region as they work at the grassroots level to help those in need who are still effected by Kony’s time of terror. This is what they really need from us. They don’t need us to give money to a military intervention that will put their own countrymen in harm. They want to be able to ensure that their next harvest will be a good one, that they have clean water, and they have access to adequate health care.

So, those are my two problems with the video: it’s overly simplistic message and the misrepresentation of the current state in Uganda.

Onward.

One of the biggest criticisms Invisible Children is facing is about their financials. I’ve looked into this pretty extensively and honestly, I don’t really see what the big deal is (apart from one thing, which I’ll get to). Yes, about 32% of IC’s donations actually go to their efforts in Uganda, but IC is quick to say that they aren’t a typical NGO in that regard. In this interview with Piers Morgan, Jason Russell and Ben Keesey explain that IC’s mission encompasses a lot more than on the ground involvement.

I’m not saying you should or should not contribute to IC, but at the very least you need to understand what that money is going to. IC openly expresses their support of military action in Uganda [3] and they have other goals as well. If you don’t like where IC is putting their money, don’t donate to them. Simple.

A redditor criticized the salaries of both Russell and Keesey, which approach 90K. Really? I mean these guys are CEOs of a major organization, they clearly put a lot of time and effort into what they do, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable salary.

Charity Navigator does a pretty good analysis of IC, and their financial statements can be found here if you want to look into it yourself.

The one issue I do have with IC’s financial records, is their transparency. “A request from the Better Business Bureau, a voluntary accreditation for charities, has been met with passive resistance from Invisible Children, who have so far declined an evaluation, which the BBB says demonstrates ‘a lack of commitment to transparency’.” [6] You can see the Better Business Bureau’s page on IC here. If IC has nothing to hide, why not let the BBB do an analysis? That’s the only sketchy thing to my eye.

Alright, since this blog is reaching epic lengths, I’ll wrap it up.

Overall, honestly, I think this video is still doing more good than harm. It certainly has raised awareness and made Kony a household name, which is exactly what the video set out to do. Yes, I do wish more people would take the time to fully understand the issue, but there it is. Invisible Children may not be perfect, but they have good intentions. If you do support them, please understand what your money is going to.

And, for good measure, here’s an exhaustive list of links I used when researching for this blog post:

Visible Children

Black Star News

The Gauntlet

Charity Navigator

Religious Beliefs of the LRA – seriously interesting

Reddit

Luna Magazine

Texas in Africa 

I’m A Fan of Postcards

The Washington Post and again

CTV Montreal

The Council on Foreign Relations

Think Progress

The Huffington Post

And I’m done. Please, if you have an opinion, another article, or anything to share, do so. One of the best outcomes of this whole thing is people talking about the issue. If nothing else, this video proves how quickly an idea can spread and how much power we have, in the form of social media, at our disposal!

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About MMM

Resolving to write in 2011!
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4 Responses to Kony 2012 [More to the Story]

  1. Pingback: Kony 2012 | MMWords

  2. M – I am very impressed & appreciative of this post. I feel this offers some really valuable insights that people just simply don’t know about because they haven’t done the research. Well done & well written 🙂

  3. Julie Montinieri says:

    Excellent coverage of a complex issue. Thanks for all the links you provide. I will be checking them for further information.

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