Like most connected people on this planet in the last week or so, my attention has been drawn to the Kony2012 social media campaign. Some students from our student council first brought it to my attention.
“Hey guys! As most of you would probably already know, a huge movement is being made by Invisible Children Inc in finding and arresting Joseph Kony, leader of a rebel army (the LRA) who abducts children during their sleep to be put into the army. This has been going on for 20 years but nothing has been done until this movement has been initiated by Invisible Children, and has reach it’s peak just yesterday. (link to those of you who do not know about this yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc). It already has a website where we are able to donate and help the cause. I think that we should have some sort of fundraiser at school, where the collected money will then be donated in “stopping Kony”. It’s main idea is to ensure that children all over the world are entitled to have a childhood, and I think that this is a cause worthy to support.”
KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.
“Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s something. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.”
Except, delve deeper into the issue and you can.
The San Franscisco Chronicle “Kony video quickly raises awareness, skepticism” tells us that in part the sudden popularity in the video was due to social-media stars like Justin Bieber into tweeting their support.
Never mind that Kony was indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, and last year President Obamasent 100 military advisers to central Africa in a bid to help stop the warlord. Inconvienient facts lik that have been ignored by Invisible Children who said a trial of Kony would set a precedent.
Along with sharing the movie online, Invisible Children’s call to action is to do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to donate.
1) The organization that produced the film, Invisible Children, is problematic.
- “Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production.” (source)
- “Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited.” (source)
- “In their campaigns, such organizations [as Invisible Children] have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders.” (source)
2) The solution proposed in the video won’t work.
- The video demands the arrest of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, but the situation is more complex. Arresting Kony will not have the dramatic impact the video creators propose.
- “It is no longer clear that the LRA represents a major threat to stability in the region.” (source)
- “The LRA is now reduced to about 200 fighters…. Rather than occupying villages, as the LRA did when they were stronger, they now primarily conduct 5-6 person raids on villages to steal food.” (source)
- “Finding Kony isn’t a simple thing to do. The areas in which he and his forces operate are dense jungle with little infrastructure.” (source)
- “Russell argues that the only entity that can find and arrest Kony is the Ugandan army. Given that the Ugandan army has been trying, off and on, since 1987 to find Kony, that seems like a troublesome strategy.” (source)
- “Kony continues to rely on child soldiers. That means that a military assault… would likely result in the death of abducted children.” (source)
- The big action they propose in the video, blanketing the cities of the world with Kony posters, supports this oversimplification of the problem. It proposes a fun and slightly deviant action, but in pursuit of an ultimate goal that has more symbolic than practical value for Ugandans.
3) The video and campaign are unintentionally racist.
- It robs Ugandans of agency. (source)
- Invisible Children has no Africans on its board of directors and collects money for itself rather than for Ugandan organizations. (source)
- The heroes of the film are white young people and adults from the US and Europe, particularly video narrator and campaigner Jason Russell.
- The victims are Ugandan children. Ugandan adults appear in the film to validate the work of Invisible Children, not to represent their own work.
- The video embodies the outdated idea of the “white man’s burden,” that white people improve the countries of the global south by intervening and enforcing their values, that the people who live in these countries cannot improve their countries alone.
All good reasons to dislike the campaign, however, the fact that young adults are willing to learn and debate about a world issue should be applauded, as The Age tells us in Jaded parents can learn from their teenagers’ idealism the trick is to channel the students energy into a positive direction. the kony video can be a force for good, and we can direct the students into greater critical thinking, into research other more worldly charities.
Let’s not allow the jaded cynicism to blind us to student activism.
After researching the topic our students at GJIS are putting together their own video, they are planning to have a day of action at school to raise money (all students may wear a red shirt to school and pay a donation) which they intend to donate towards UNICEF.
They believe that the ’cause’ of child exploitation remains worthy, and in the words of them “We don’t want to waste the opportunity to salvage something from the social media awareness of this issue” and perhaps they will rename their campaign to “Rethink Kony2012”.
We must be doing something right at GJIS!