A campaign video by the activist group ‘Invisible Children’ went viral this week. The half-hour film, titled ‘Kony 2012’, aimed to raise awareness of the crimes of the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony by making him “famous”. However, the video divided opinions by generating both optimism and criticism. So Impact posed the question: is the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign a good idea?
I’m sure by now everyone has heard the hundreds of counter arguments and blogs critiquing the Kony 2012 campaign and, more harshly, the charity itself. There have been rumours about everything from their finances to whether they are supporting other military operations. But for me, the most important thing here is the awareness.
This is a conflict that has been continuing for over 30 years off our radars. The formation of the Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) can be dated to 1986, after Yoweri Museveni became president of Uganda, yet few of us have heard about Kony until now. Not many of us would have known that the LRA abducts men, women and children from their homes and forces them to kill or become sex slaves, under the threat of their own or others’ lives.
And this is not just an Ugandan issue; it has not been for a long time. Kony is supposedly no longer in Uganda, yet since he left in 2006 the LRA has been moving through South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And wherever they go, they leave behind a trail of brutal destruction. Kony, who is a ‘Christian mystic’, claims to want a theocratic rule. In one of his very few interviews he claimed that he was a “freedom fighter”, but in recent years he doesn’t seem to be pursuing any political agenda, at least not on a national scale.
As of 2005, Kony has been wanted on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only this year there have been over 20 confirmed attacks through the Orientale province in the Congo. The LRA crisis tracker has reported four civilian deaths this year and there have been many more abductions.
We should be celebrating the power of this video – from just a few people who went to Africa to make a film, to getting support from government, to a worldwide phenomenon. Through whatever means, the film has highlighted so much. It may have been a little simplistic, but I hope that it motivated people to go and find the real truth about what is happening in the areas of central Africa, as it did me. This should encourage deeper questions into the issues and if it’s made you feel something, it succeeded and maybe you should do something.
Our attention can only be split in so many ways. There is no denying that there are other, maybe more important issues in the world right now, but the power of social networking should be noted. An issue that the world has not been focused on for some time can again come under the spotlight. Whether you agree with the tactics or not, at the very least now you know.
Allow us to clarify something before we express our views on this polemical issue. Joseph Kony is an evil man, and there are many well intentioned people working to end the exploitation of children in Uganda by rebel forces such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A), which is directed by Kony himself. However, the ‘Stop Kony Campaign,’ orchestrated by the organisation Invisible Children, is hiding a number of significant issues.
Firstly, Invisible Children petitioned the U.S. Government for the passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act which allows the American military to legally occupy Uganda in the name of humanitarian efforts. Such petitioning is prohibited and should not have taken place. IC has a tax exempt status which not only forbids political lobbying; it also means that they are not truly independent and so their finances are not properly audited.
The IC has been criticised by various parties such as the Better Business Bureau who have revealed that the organisation, “declined to be evaluated in relation to the Alliance’s Standards for Charity Accountability”. IC’s financial reports reveal that the organization’s three co-founders received a combined pay of around 3% of the IC’s total expenses in 2010. Of the $8,894,632 spent by IC in 2010/11, only 32% was spent on Direct services; with the IC being in favour of direct military intervention, much was donated to the Ugandan army, which itself has been accused of numerous war crimes. In addition, almost $2,000,000 was spent on travel, film-making and, ‘entertainment.’
The fact that just a few years ago, an abundance of oil was discovered in Uganda, does not seem entirely unrelated to this deployment of troops. A journalist for New Vision, a leading Ugandan news publication has stated that, “the only reason that America seems to be coming up strongly to offer troops to help in fighting Kony when they did not when he was killing people here before is because of the oil.”
The entire campaign casts a much greater shadow over the growing trend of “slactivism” (slacker + activism) and Facebook awareness campaigns. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect a typical, 18-34 Facebook user to make a monumental, positive change in the world single-handedly. We are, of course, stronger together, and new-media campaigns like this are a phenomenal way of raising short-term awareness. Are they worth it though when such campaigns have little lasting impact and effect? Particularly when people fail to look beyond the surface and perpetuate an unethical, unaccountable organisation?
We live in a one-click world and people are forgetting that not everything is served on a plate; the first world has grown lazy. The middle-class’ obsessive relationship with the internet is epitomised in a campaign like this, and pressing that “share” button makes us feel like a humanitarian. It feeds our self-righteousness and self-described morality, falling into the bigger Bono-esque category of the “white man’s burden” to save Africa.
The fact we need to have Western persons creating short films that pull at our heartstrings, which we more than happily lap up, illustrates our spoon-fed society today. We never look at the issues behind the lens, in this case, the charity’s questionable status. We could instead be supporting Ugandan-led reconstruction efforts who understand the situation much more than we ever will. As one Ugandan blogger wrote: “While raising awareness is a good thing, I think this is just taking things a little too far; better you help us to help ourselves and stop seeing us as charity cases.”
We can make a difference – we just need to funnel our resources and brains into ethical organisations and not be swept along in a viral wave of celebrity and social media frenzy. Using the digital frontier to promote charity awareness is perfect in theory, but when “slactivism” is made up 99% of “slacker”, it’s creating a problem.
Grace Fleming and Isabel Davies