Weighing in on Kony 2012

*** If you already know all about the Kony 2012 campaign, you can skip to the bottom to read my indubitably insightful opinion.

I feel a little nervous weighing on such a serious issue, but I don’t think this is something that can be summed up in a facebook post or a Tweet.  Also, as a devout English major, I don’t think I’ll be able to come to any real conclusions for myself unless I carefully flesh this out in a post. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign.  Let me first sum up what this is all about, and then I’ll present you with the gift of my indubitably insightful opinion.

The Situation

Joseph Kony is the leader of a cult-like  rebel military group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (reminds me of certain characters in Glauber Rocha’s “Black God, White Devil” for you cinephiles). They began their activity in the 80’s. Joseph Kony has been indicted as a war criminal. His group is currently active in their native Uganda as well as The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and The Central African Republic.

According to The Washington Post

“Since its creation in 1987, the group has engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government and committed an extraordinary number of human rights violations. Most notably, his troops enter a village, killing the adults and kidnapping the children. The boys are enscripted into the army and the girls are taken as ‘bush wives.’”

The Post also quotes Obama as writing that the LRA has

“murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa” and “continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”

The most horrific image that has emerged from the cruelty of the LRA is that of children as young as four and five being abducted. The boys are forced to carry guns, fight, and kill their own families. The girls are raped and kept essentially as sex slaves.

The Human Rights Watch says that

“The LRA is not large — an estimated 200 to 250 seasoned Ugandan combatants, plus at least several hundred abductees — but as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently told me, Uganda lacks the special forces, expert intelligence, and rapid-deployment capacity needed to stamp out this enemy.”

The Opinions

1) The OrganizationInvisible Children is an organization working to expose and end the actions of the Joseph Kony and the LRA in Uganda. They have been a 501(c)3 non-profit since 2006. The movement began when the three founders went to Uganda as filmakers. They are dedicated to ending the LRA and it’s terrible effects on its victims by raising awareness through grassroots/ guerrilla marketing tactics that echo the unprecedented techniques of the Obama campaign in ’08.

According to their website:

In Central Africa, all of our programming is a partnership between Invisible Children and LRA-affected communities. We focus on long-term goals that enable children to take responsibility for their futures and the futures of their countries. Our programs are carefully developed initiatives that address the need for quality education, mentorships, the redevelopment of schools, and financial stability. In areas where the LRA is still active, we focus on civilian protection and rehabilitation.

Our work in the United States focuses on advocacy and inspiring America’s youth to “do more than just watch.” We believe that by uniting our voices we can use the systems, influence, and resources of the United States to expedite an end to the conflict.

You can watch their newly released documentary/call to action in order to hear their message. If nothing else, it’s visionary filmaking. 

2) The Critics

Here’s a great article that sums up a lot of the criticism of Invisible Children and includes the response of Jedediah Jenkins, director of idea development for Invisible Children: Invisible Children Responds to Criticism.

Grant Oyston has gotten a lot of his attention for his tumbler blog Visible Children, which criticizes the Invisible Children organization.

Another criticism is that awareness won’t actually help anything.

If you are a numbers person, you can read their audit here to see their income/profits etc first hand.

3) Ezra’s Opinion

Forgive me if I’ve glazed over the criticism, but you can read it for yourself, and I really just want to get to my point. Kenneth Roth, executive director of the Human Rights Watch, believes that

“President Obama needs to put [the principle of justification of force in instances of human rights violations] into practice, and there is no better case for the humanitarian use of force than the urgent need to arrest Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and protect the civilians who are his prey.”

As far as general support and advancement of the viral message goes (although since I started writing this post a couple days ago, it seems it had the typical 15 min fame of an viral video and is already sliding off the radar), no harm can be done. Whether Invisible Children is using their money wisely or not, what they are saying about Kony is true. Why not use the internet to bring to light crimes against humanity before they can become a worldwide problem (Hitler, cough, cough).

The other potential problem is how they are using their money. Accusations are being made that huge amounts of it are being used for marketing. But this isn’t a secret. They say it on the website that awareness is one of their biggest goals. I think the worst that can really happen is that young Americans spend some of their money on a cause, something that they believe in. Even if that money isn’t going anywhere, it’s better spent than the money they spend on shoes/clothes/accessories  that they told are going to create happiness in their lives. See what I’m saying? So facebook-ers spread a message that is actually relevant to the real world and isn’t lol-worthy? I think that’s a plus.

Not to mention, this is a grand experiment in new ways to change the world. What if every non-profit and humanitarian organization started getting their messages to go viral? What it we could transform the way Americans can easily remain ignorant about the social woes in other countries and even in their backyards? Are you willing to be part of the wave of cynics who refuses to allow creative global problem solving to interrupt your  hot girl stalking, 9gag lol-ing, farmville playing world?

In my (extremely large) mind, the benefits outweigh any potential harm. KONY 2012. Let’s make him famous.

I genuinely want to know what you think. Is this going to help? Chime in via comments!

3/13/12 Update

This video was just released. It’s a pretty good explanation of the financials of Invisible Children. If you have doubts about them, I would watch this. I am becoming more and more convinced that whether you agree with their strategy or not, the organization as a whole has laudable intentions, and I think they have earned the right to our support.

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8 thoughts on “Weighing in on Kony 2012

  1. i dont think im on board with KONY2012, yes, i know kidnapping children is wrong, but it wasnt after i heard about joseph kony and thought, please this has been happing for so many years, why now? personally i wouldnt go straight with “lets help the ugandans…” but instead help those in Myanmar also known as Burma. this following clip is a little bruttal, but this is what makes me go, “oh man, we should help villagers in Myanmar more, because they dont get to see another day, those in uganda do, surely the girls get raped and its bad, but they get to see another day. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktcXN7fKiQs]

  2. Pingback: Getting Down & Dirty With Pop-Culture « Ezra Won't Shut Up

  3. I liked how you provided context prior to expressing your opinion. This makes your opinion much more believable or at least easier to decide whether I agree/disagree with it. It would be interesting to see a post similar to this a week or two from now, showing how the movement has progressed and if your opinion has changed over time.

  4. I’m inclined to agree with steven in saying KONY comes too late. This letter really put things into perspective…and it’s a short read.

    http://www.acholitimes.com/index.php/perspectives/opinion/15-open-letter-to-jason-russell-ceo-of-invisible-children-inc-on-kony2012

    I’m definitely not against what he’s trying to do. You’re right, raising awareness is key to a lot of humanitarian issues. But I’m not sure if that’s his only motive (although I do hate to be so cynical).

    • Hmm that’s very interesting. I’m glad people are chiming in. If we don’t talk about what this is or isn’t doing, that’s where the damage occurs. My hope is that no matter the legitimacy of Invisible Children, questions will be raised about what is being done to help African countries dealing with corrupt governments and senseless violence. If this isn’t the way to help, then we must come up with better solutions. The bottom line is, we have to talk about what’s going on in the world, and we have to come up with creative answers. This may not be one of the good ones, but hopefully the debate will create a whole new conversation about humanitarian aid.

  5. I think this was very well said, although a bit long. I can tell you did a lot of research and feel passionately about this subject. I agree that issues such as this deserve much more attention than reality TV or some people’s ever-changing relationship status. I have not done too much research on the subject, but I know enough to know that this guy needs to be stopped. You did an excellent job comparing this sensitive subject with the current controversies.

    Well written! (Maybe you should be a guest-blogger for me. Let’s talk!)

  6. Maybe I’m just cynical and not prone to follow any trending issue but I think the whole Kony 2012 thing is a waste of people’s time, money and attention span. It comes too late and hopefully won’t influence future nonprofits.

    Kony is already on the run and has been since 2003. He was indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court. In 2008 President Bush sent 17 advisors to assist the Ugandan government. In 2010 President Obama signed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law. In November 2010 he asked Congress for more funds to stop the LRA and has sent 100 troops to Uganda as of October of last year. All of this before Kony 2012 was trending. Countries around the world are already putting serious resources and effort to stop Kony and have been for years with no signs of stopping. Why exactly do we need a whole campaign to bring attention to the issue when it’s already being handled? Why are we chanting for more support when it’s been going on for years and most importantly why do we think Americans are the ones to solve Uganda’s problems. Yes, we don’t want another Rwanda but we also don’t want another Black Hawk Down that could limit our ability to help in more meaningful ways in the future.

    This leads into the bigger issue at hand. While the campaign focuses on Kony it completely ignores the underlying problems that allowed someone like Kony in the first place. Kony is not the first brutal war lord and no matter what happens to him he won’t be the last. He’s not even the first to build a child army or have his troops rape and burn entire villages. These sorts of atrocities happen with alarming frequency in African countries. If America wants to help Africa we can’t do it by plucking one guy at a time. We can provide serious resources to help stabilize the nations but ultimately it’s in the hand of the African nations to end the violence. And considering how unstable countries like Uganda are, arming their troops to stop one man could mean we’re arming a future enemy.

    Finally the idea of viral support being the new way for nonprofits to work has potential consequences of it’s own. Let’s think about what makes a viral video. They’re easy to digest, spread quickly and are forgotten about. There’s also millions of potential ones competing for attention. This format is not the way to get people involved in complex issues that have developed over decades and will take years of determination and focus to fix. And there’s a limit to how much people can take, how much they can be actively involved in. Fatigue would eventually set in if every NPO started making hip videos to get support. Or people would accept every video and eventually you have everyone posting about it on Facebook and buying bracelets and tshirts, but no one’s actually paying attention to what’s happening. There’s also the issue of authenticity that comes along with everything online. How can people tell if a cause is legitimate or a ruse? It’s not hard to imagine some flashy video that lures people in, takes their money, and then turns out to be totally fabricated or misinformed.

    Some may argue that at the very least it’s not doing harm, but if something is this big, is that all we really want to be able to say about it? That it’s a harmless act of faux-activism. That it only took away money that would have otherwise been spend on jeans or iTunes? All the time and money spent on Kony 2012 could have been put to better use. While that’s certainly not to say that people would be spending that time working on a serious issue instead of watching Jersey Shore, it creates a precedent of low involvement mixed with high self-gratitude. Not exactly characteristics that go into getting people to get off their computers and actually do something.

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