Somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one imagines that Joseph Kony got quite a shock when he last logged into Facebook on Wednesday. His wrath must have been a sight to behold when he found out that he was trending on Twitter. The vicious warlord must be terrified now that students across the globe are united in the cause of Invisible Children Inc. The decades of guerilla warfare against the forces of at least two states in Central Africa were nothing compared to the increased scrutiny of millions who spent twenty-seven minutes watching a toddler talk about the “bad guys” and, briefly, Star Wars. After all, in October 2001 when the first bumper stickers with Osama’s face appeared, it was only a matter of time before justice caught up with The Most Hated Man In The World©. God knows it was only a matter of “getting the word out there, man” that led to a team of elite Navy SEALS putting a bullet into his head.
Sarcasm comes easily in the face of such pleading earnestness in the form of the ‘Kony 2012’ video. The public reaction appears to be a split between the fervent support of the converts and the crossed-arms and upturned noses of the skeptic. The criticism of the latter group by the former is going to be swift and unfair: the Invisible Children are doing “something”, “something” is better than “nothing” and if you don’t want to tattoo the word KONY on your forehead then you must be a monster. Please, if you have researched the subject of the decades old conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa and feel what this shiny, slick and ‘cool’ activist group is doing is worthwhile, by all means change your profile picture and wear the bracelet. But in case you aren’t an expert in this subject, as most people including myself are not, you should be aware of a number of things.
Firstly, there are serious questions about the organization that at various times has been called “naïve” and “misleading”. Invisible Children publicly admits that only 31% of donations go to ‘direct action’, meaning schools and other ‘do-gooder’ projects. A look at their financial audits released for 2011 reveal that the three founders make eighty thousand dollars each. The figures quoted in the video are out of date, specifically regarding the numbers of child soldiers, which have seen a sizable drop since 2003. Not for one second am I saying that there is an acceptable amount of child combatants. But to deliberately mislead the public is shameful. As is unconditionally supporting the Ugandan national security forces, themselves repeatedly accused of killing, torture and rape.
No one can really dispute how well made and effective the video is. That’s precisely the problem though. Making such a complex issue into a very simplified video to spread virally is a double-edged sword. Watch the film again but replace Kony with Saddam and the issue of child soldiers with the use of chemical weapons on the Kurdish people. It seems on the surface to be a facetious analogy, but there are some parallels. How can those who were so quick to protest the Coalition’s march into Mesopotamia be so ready to accept a comparable action?
There needs to be a nuanced debate about this issue; by drawing the world’s attention to an underreported issue, Invisible Children should be applauded. No one should doubt Invisible Children’s intentions either. However, the KONY2012 campaign has the potential to do more harm than good. If a majority of people only accepts the information put to them by the video then they will be supporting an extremely worthwhile cause for the wrong reasons and drawing the wrong conclusions. This column can’t offer any better solutions other than to take a closer look at this issue and avoid blindly offering support to the loudest voices in the room.
We didn’t Make Poverty History. When everyone changed their photo on Facebook last year to a cartoon character, violence against children wasn’t halted. The easiest thing in the world would be to just climb aboard the Kony bandwagon and ride it straight to the moral high ground. It’s easy to post a status or watch a slick video. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and UNICEF all do admirable work with fewer of the flaws of the Invisible Children. If you want to do something today to help combat the evil in the world, donate to these or other reputable organizations. Or more importantly, ignore what I have to say and do a little careful research and make up your own minds. Which admittedly doesn’t make a great slogan to put on a bracelet, but it’s the truth.