Something strange happened on Facebook and Twitter earlier this week. It started with the occasional post and then later my feed just completely exploded. The Kony 2012 documentary had gone massively viral in just under 24 hours.
I watched the thirty minute-long video, having absolutely no idea what it is was that I was going to watch. And when the video was over, I had absolutely no idea what the point was. To raise awareness of the atrocities that have happened and that are quite possibly still happening to children in Uganda? Done. Moving on. Well, not quite. This documentary left a bad taste in my mouth. It was cheesy to begin with, pulling on the heart’s strings and emboldening people into doing something and donate more money—an immediate red flag. I’m no stranger to the way film can manipulate and distort the truth. But most importantly, and most telling, was that this video lacked any clear statement about what the organization was going to do other than making a very bad man (more) famous.
Joseph Kony is an Ugandan warlord who throughout his tenure in Uganda brutalized the country enslaving around 30,000 children as soldiers and sex slaves. Kony refused peace in 2006 and his actions have placed him on the top of the International Criminal Court’s war criminals list compelling President Barack Obama to commit a hundred U.S advisors to help bring the man to justice.
The Invisible Children documentary claims that, with our donations, it can work with the U.S and Ugandan governments to very simply bring this man to justice. This raises the following question: are we going to go in there, guns blazing, shooting through a shield of children?
Clearly, Joseph Kony should be brought to justice as quickly as possible. I’m just skeptical of what effort is being put forth by Invisible Children.
The website Charity Navigator awarded Invisible Children three stars out of four, although their score is a underwhelming 51 percent and an even a lower percentage for “Transparency & Accountability” which begs the question, “what are they doing with their money?”
The organization’s founders claim that this is just about the number of board members it has, an issue that they will soon easily resolve. In context the numbers are inferior to organizations doing similar work in Haiti.
One thing is clear, Invisible Children spent money on film production and made an impressive documentary film.
What they intend to do with the money they receive from donations is to make Joseph Kony a household name so that our government will not lose interest in bringing him to justice. There is no clear information that says the U.S intends to abandon this cause—that part is just pure speculation. To make matters worse and perhaps shed some light on the U.S’s sudden involvement, Uganda is rich with oil and China is moving in. This isn’t a comment about U.S foreign policy so much as it is a comment about the insinuation that Invisible Children had a role in the U.S. governments involvement in the executive order, whether by lobbying or just by their campaign to make Kony famous. But if American Idol couldn’t make Clay Aiken famous, I’m not sure how this supposed grassroots organization with a net worth of just over 6 million dollars attends on doing it.
They claim that they will sell you a 30-dollar bracelet along with a few other supplies in their make Kony Famous Kit. It all sounds very hokey; very Livestrong but without the white guy. Unfortunately a critical piece of the puzzle has been left out. Kony hasn’t been in power for six years. According to an article by Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy, “following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic—where Kony himself is believed to be now. “
Also that alarming number of 30,000 children is misleading. Keating continues, “additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly thirty years.”
Unfortunately, that photo-op scene in the film of a father reunited with his long-lost soldier-child is going to play out a little differently. The documentary makes a very brief mention of his exodus from Uganda but doesn’t clarify whether he was fleeing or merely branching out. And as this campaign grows and becomes more recognized we are learning that Kony is actually irrelevant. It is all of these subtle details that raise red flags.
This is not to say that the people behind Invisible Children don’t care about the cause—because they clearly do. But they may be taking the focus away from the issues that really need to be addressed, disease, government corruption and genocide, just to name a few. The nation of Uganda is a complete mess at the moment and the self-aggrandizing Invisible Children organization seems to want to neglect those issues, turning to the more gimmicky lets-make-him-famous-send-us-your-money campaign.
Invisible Children might not be guilty of fraud, but it is certainly guilty of irresponsible filmmaking. In an interview with the Washington Post, Glenna Gordon, the photographer who captured the eerie photograph of the organization’s founders posing with weapons, states “The LRA isn’t even active in Uganda anymore, so we’re getting the issue to the spotlight with so much misinformation. I applaud efforts to bring humanitarian crises to the limelight, but if we do so with misinformation, we are sure to make mistakes. We need to do so with an eye toward accuracy and responsibility.”
She continues with commentary suggesting that Invisible Children isn’t really a respected organization on the ground in Uganda, that their members are acting like children and are more concerned with self-promotion. Clearly the question must be asked “If the people of Uganda, as well as seasoned foreign aid workers, can’t take these guys seriously, Why should we?