A Digression: Kony 2012

by The Editor

The bandwagoning of youth by Invisible Children is perhaps the most decisive show of strength perpetuated across the social media networks of the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, and those around the world. It is more spontaneous that the uprisings of the Occupy movement, more diverse and widespread than the organization of Arab Spring protests, and more rapidly developed than the uncontrollable London riots of 2011. Students at high schools and colleges quickly curated their corner of the movement in an impetuous decision blind to the ultimate goals of the rebellion. Already, Facebook events are spontaneously posted to support the cause, like political yard signs quickly posted during a campaign. The enemy, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a well documented target. But with whom are the activists fighting?

In the spring of 2003, three filmmakers traveled to Africa for the creation of a documentary. Jason, Laren, and Bobby, tall men with the resemblance of young Californian surfers, filmed their story on unstable cameras, roaming around villages to film their journey. Two years later, the group produced a documentary and watched it go viral.  In 2006, Invisible Children, Inc., formed as a non-profit organization. The group, headquartered in San Diego, claims to work in Central Africa. The truth behind their work is more disturbing.

Terraced fields in southwestern Uganda. Credit: National Geographic

The prevalent claim that Invisible Children spread the story of the Lord’s Resistance Army is largely disproved by recent history. Two years before the existence of the group and one year before the creation of its first documentary, President George W. Bush placed the LRA on the list of groups prohibited from entering the United States. Then, from November 2008 to November 2011, the United States government continued to fund the effort to capture Kony with forty million dollars. The public financial statements for Invisible Children indicate that in 2011, of the organization’s thirteen million dollars in revenue, the organization spent eight million six hundred thousand dollars. Of this, only thirty-two per cent went to direct services. The amount spent by the U.S. government dwarfs the amount that Invisible Children has in reserve or is willing to spend.

“[The video] feels much the same, laced with more macho bravado. The movie feels like it’s about the filmmakers, and not the cause. There might be something to the argument that American teenagers are more likely to relate to an issue through the eyes of a peer.  -Prof. Chris Blattman, Yale University

Children aren’t the only invisible part of this group— count in financial records.  Charity Navigator, a non-profit group that evaluates American non-profit organizations, gives Invisible Children two out of four stars for transparency. Case and point: the Better Business Bureau reports, “[Invisible Children] did not provide requested information. As a result, the Better Business Bureau cannot determine if it meets standards.” When looking at the palpable aspects of the group, the humility continues.

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict. — Council on Foreign Relations

In late 2011, President Obama committed to deploy one hundred armed U.S. military advisors to assist local troops in the dismantling of the LRA. The Council on Foreign Relations reports, “Greater numbers of surveillance flights over LRA-afflicted areas are said to have pinpointed Kony’s position in the Central African Republic.” Invisible Children claims to hold offices in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thus, the group is one or two countries displaced from the actual location of the guy.

In other words, the U.S. government has accomplished more tasks than Invisible Children ever had the capability of doing. Activism is welcomed, but more so from groups that have a record of creating progress. Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are three highly respected groups with transparent records of actions and results. And no, they won’t waste your time on something that already has a solution. Join a respectable organization and make a difference, but don’t toss your mind into a tide of public amusement.

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