I heard about Invisible Children a long time ago when it became popular amongst my friends in high school. Something felt strange about IC, and while I couldn’t really articulate it then, I didn’t get into their cause. It felt uncomfortable that they commercialized poverty to sell wristbands & t-shirts. It seemed strange to send culturally ignorant people with cameras out to invade the lives of struggling people in the name of “helping” them. While Invisible Children appeared “trendy”, I couldn’t get into it.
When this viral video came out, it had FISHY written all over it. I was like – woah, since when do people actually care about social ills? Imagine if people always became so passionate OVER NIGHT about widespread problems! Lol.
Since it hit, I have been investigating Invisible Children, the film, and all the resources around it. The debate around it is confusing. Using the facts, trustworthy sources, some Ugandan history 101, and my own social analysis, I am going to give you my current thoughts on the matter.
By my current research, Invisible Children and “Kony 2012″ are doing more harm than good. I do not support the Kony “campaign”. Here are my reasons.
(1) Violent Intervention
A statement by Invisible Children’s Director of Communications has indicated that Invisible Children is now working with the Ugandan Army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army, both of which are violent forms of intervention. I understand that sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, but as I will discuss in sections 2, 5, and 6: violent military intervention is not necessary or even justifiable in this case.
Additionally, the Ugandan military & SPLA have wreaked havoc on its people, including raping them and stealing from them.
Here is a picture of the founders of IC posing with weapons and the SPLA.
Nice one, IC….
(2) Ugandan Protest
Ugandans (yknow…the people who actually live there) are expressing their alarm with the viral film. Ugandan community organizers & activists have spoken out against “Stop Kony”, saying:
“What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us,”
“There has not been a single soul from the LRA here since 2006. Now we have peace, people are back in their homes, they are planting their fields, they are starting their businesses. That is what people should help us with.”
-Dr Beatrice Mpora, director of Kairos, a community health organisation in Gulu, a town that was once the centre of Kony’s activities
“Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong.”
“Have they thought of the consequences? Making Kony ‘famous’ could make him stronger. Arguing for more US troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive.”
-Javie Ssozi, influential Ugandan blogger
“This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible”.
-Rosebell Kagumire, Ugandan peace & conflict journalist
“To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era.”
“Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.”
-Angelo Izama, Ugandan journalist
(3) White Savior
To hold the solutions of 3 American filmmakers above the African activists who have lived and worked in the affected communities their whole lives stinks of imperialism and colonialism. This happens so often that the phenomenon has been coined “white savior”.
“White savior” refers to western people going in to “fix” the problems of struggling nations or people of color without understanding their history, needs, or the region’s current state of affairs. This sort of “activism” is presumptuous, arrogant, and typically causes more problems for the native people than if they had been left alone. Blind to their nuisance, “white saviors” walk away from their work feeling good about themselves for no reason.
“Kony 2012″ is a white savior film in a purest sense: 3 westernized white guys with cameras come in, make an emotionally moving film which goes viral, creates alarm in the community, and has little to no effective value because it is not an accurate reflection of the real problem. “Kony 2012″ is a white savior film because it is detached from Uganda itself, its communities, and Ugandan voices.
(4) Shady Finances
“I suspect that if that’s the impression they are making, they are doing it only to garner increasing financial resources for their own agenda.”
-Fred Opolot, spokesman for the Ugandan government
Because the government is tied to the violent military, it’s worth being skeptical of Opolot’s claims. However, the evidence suggests that he is correct. When they aren’t spending money on the military, IC only spends 31% of its funds on direct aid.
Where is all the money going? We can’t know for sure. The Better Business Bureau has indicated that Invisible Children won’t allow their financials to be audited. Charity watchdogs have given IC a low accountability rating for its shady financials.
Alas, IC are filmmakers (obviously powerful filmmakers at that), and millions of dollars in donations go toward their white savior films. These films hold little to no practical value except to sell wristbands, t-shirts, and other crap that makes people feel like they’ve done their social justice deed of the year.
(5) Manipulating the Truth
On the approach of Invisible Children in addressing Kony and the LRA, the Council on Foreign Affairs has stated:
“In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”
IC has for awhile been the subject of criticism by scholars, having been described as “naive”, “misleading”, and “dangerous”.
Since the film was released, better educated folks have come forward about the misleading nature of “Kony 2012″. For Foreign Policy, Michael Wilkerson, an Oxford PhD candidate who has lived and reported from Uganda, writes:
“But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.
First, the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (and several big screw-ups).
…Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.”
Michael brings to light something “Kony 2012″ conveniently ignores: reality.
(6) False Solutions & Faux-activism
Do not get me wrong, I want this Kony asshole caught as much as the next person. I would never condone or support such inhumanity. I hope this would be obvious.
However, the solutions proposed by IC to catch Kony are strange. The film sets out to make Kony famous. This operates so that Obama will keep pressure on Uganda with American advisors until Kony is either captured or dead. Fine – but I can’t find anything saying that Obama/America will pull out. So uh…..what is prompting all the urgent “save the world now” “put posters everywhere” crap? 0 effective value.
Further, the proposed military solution is oversimplified. To quote Wilkerson:
“One of the biggest issues with a simplistic “Stop Kony” message is that discussions of Navy Seals or drone strikes are inevitable when patience runs out with Ugandan-led efforts . But what about the dozens or hundreds of abducted and brainwashed kids? Should we bomb [the kids too]? Will they actually stop fighting after Kony is gone? What if they shoot back?”
So….KILL KONY! (?) AND ALL THE KIDS TOO!! (?) OR….JUST MAKE SURE YOU DON’T HIT THEM WITH YOUR BULLETS! Right? Or what? How can so many people support a goal that is so vague & unclear?
“Coming back to the ‘Kony 2012′ video and its celebrity endorsements, what are the consequences of unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts? Defining Uganda in the international conversation by issues that are either geographical misfires (Save northern Uganda!) or an intentional attempt to distract the international community (Death to the gays!), do a disservice to the many critical problems Uganda has.”
This brings me full circle to my frustration with people becoming so “passionate” over something they know nothing about while constantly turning a blind eye to the issues informed activists try to bring to light every damn day.
This could speak to how easily manipulated people are….and/or to how the obvious medium for social change is (you got it):
All signs point to Invisible Children being a farce. The evidence suggests that “Kony 2012″ is an emotional propaganda film that is factually questionable, stinks of white savior, will cause more violence and/or incoherence, and goes against the solutions of actual Ugandan people. This happens while conveniently making Invisible Children a shitload of money to fund more useless emotional blackmail and while fauxtivists on Facebook falsely believe they’ve done something helpful. Now what?
If we have in fact been mislead, which is what it looks like, it’s never too late to change lines of support. Here are alternatives to Invisible Children that do similar work, have high ratings, good financials, external audits that are made public, and positive outcomes:
Here’s to practical, culturally sensitive, humane, and informed solutions to finding Kony.