So, like most people who saw the KONY 2012 link all over my social networks yesterday, I jumped straight on the bandwagon and shared the link, thinking it was a good cause and giving myself a pat on the back. Like most things though, it isn’t that simple.
When I watched the Stop Kony film I did find it a little jarring. For starters, its long. 30 minutes is a long time to keep anyone’s attention, but when you’re looking for a video to go viral, its probably counter-productive. I’d be surprised if the majority of people who shared the video actually watched the whole thing. Secondly, its more than a little bit self-centered. It felt to me like almost as much time was spent extolling the virtues of the filmmakers and Invisible Children as was depicting the plight of the victims and providing facts (as followers of this blog will know, we’re all a little self-important from time to time). On the whole, I agreed with the message: bring a war criminal (as indicted by the ICC) to justice, by applying pressure to politicians and policy makers to get things done.
As commenters on Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere have pointed out though, what Invisible Children have presented is only a small piece of a larger puzzle. For starters, the LRA isn’t actually in Uganda, having been hunted fairly effectively by the Ugandan army, ’til it fled to neighbouring countries. Invisible Children’s response to this is that encouraging the Ugandan army to continue chasing Kony and the LRA is the best option, as they are the best equipped in the region (some suggest the US Government shares this opinion). I’ll leave the finer points here to greater minds, but it strikes me that an army from one country crossing into another, is never simple and rarely a good idea. Others have mentioned that the LRA is only one of many militias, resistance groups and armies operating in the region, so stopping them is a drop in the ocean. If this is the case, I don’t see why it means nothing should be done about Kony and the LRA – perhaps just start with Kony, then look at the rest.
A big issue for many is the interventionist, take-Kony-out approach that IC appear to advocate in their material. How can we share a video which appears to suggest parachuting in US Special Forces to kill or capture a man, harming countless child bodyguards along the way, and at risk of massive reprisals to the local population? I’ll quote from IC themselves:
“The KONY 2012 campaign is calling for U.S. leadership to address both problems. It supports the deployment of U.S. advisors and the provision of intelligence and other support that can help locate and bring Kony to justice, but also increased diplomacy to hold regional governments accountable to their basic responsibilities to protect civilians from this kind of brutal violence. Importantly, the campaign also advocates for broader measures to help communities being affected by LRA attacks, such as increased funding for programs to help Kony’s abductees escape and return to their homes and families.”
So yes, IC are advocating the U.S. intervening in Africa, with advisors (read: soldiers), using the might of the U.S. to bring Kony to justice. For the international community to stand back and do nothing at all seems wrong, since on paper at least, we are capable of removing Kony, and it is possible that may help the situation. Truth is though, nobody knows what would happen if Kony were removed, and any mission to do so is likely to be very complicated, very expensive and unlikely to succeed. Most people are happy to recite examples of where intervening hasn’t worked, but nobody can be certain what would have happened if we’d stayed out. Again, this is a debate for greater minds. Personally I favour intervening politically to encourage regional Governments to care for their citizens, along with attempting to reduce corruption. Arresting Kony and putting him on trial at the ICC is desirable, but much less practical.
Invisible Children has also received a lot of criticism for its spending practices, in particular how much of the money it receives goes towards its programmes. Some say this is as low as 31%, IC themselves claim 80.46%. It comes down to how you define the programmes – IC consider filmmaking, marketing those films, touring the World and advocacy campaigns part of the programme, hence the 80% figure. Critics however, only consider spending directly on programmes in the affected areas to count. Personally I’d say its pretty obvious awareness is one of IC’s key aims, if not the primary aim, so much of that spending should be included. IC’s financials are published online, so you can make your own mind up there. It has been pointed out that they have a lower score on CharityNavigator than others ( 2 stars for Accountability/Transparency), which some take to mean that IC is shady or inferior. IC say they are working on the score, and it boils down to the lack of an independent board member. If you have difficulty believing them, don’t give them any money and wait for 6 months to see if the score improves.
One criticism that I don’t think is at all fair is the suggestion that awareness raising, use of social media, postering and lobbying won’t solve anything. These activities won’t directly solve the problem, but they are proven to show our Governments that we care (the 38 Degrees campaign group has influenced UK policy on a number of occasions). Its then up to Governments to work out how to act on this, seeking advice from experts, listening to people on the ground who are actually affected, ideally with a legal mandate. Cynics will perhaps scoff at this, citing self-interest, oil, past failings and I agree, but just because it failed before, doesn’t mean it can’t work this time.
To summarise then, I shared the KONY 2012 film, and I’m glad I did. I support the broad aims of the campaign – make Kony infamous, raise awareness of the situation in Central Africa and employ social media to help. There’s no denying IC have already achieved this – views across Vimeo and YouTube are now approaching 50 million. I haven’t donated to Invisible Children or TRI, because I don’t agree with all of their proposed methodology, but I don’t think all of the criticism they’ve received is well-founded. If you have the time to spare, I suggest you watch the film yourself, read one or two of the other views, and make up your own mind.
- Visible Children Tumblr: http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/
- Stop Kony, but don’t stop asking questions: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/03/07/stop-kony-yes-but-dont-stop-asking-questions/
- Invisible Children’s response to many recent criticisms: http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html
- http://ilto.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/the-visible-problem-with-invisible-children/ (as the author mentions at the top, this article is 5 years old. Much of the text refers to an earlier film by IC. It also refers to peace talks that all parties were apparently co-operating in at the time, but again, this was 5 years ago. Things didn’t pan out like that, and the LRA certainly haven’t surrendered. This piece also mentions supporting eMI, a charity which only works with other groups that spread the Christian gospel… something I despise).
- Foreign Affairs post, largely focuses on military intervention and published prior to Kony 2012: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra
- A heavily-biased and context-light post on The Daily What: http://thedailywh.at/2012/03/07/on-kony-2012-2/
- An epic summary by The Guardian