If you have checked your Facebook in the past 48 hours, you have likely seen dozens of reposts of Kony 2012 from a humanitarian group named Invisible Children. The video has been staggeringly popular, particularly on college campuses, gathering nearly 10 million views in a matter of days. At Wesleyan, lots of students are discussing the video, it’s been posted on the ACB, emails have been sent to this blog– Kony 2012 has arrived.
Kony 2012 describes the plight of Ugandans in the face of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent militant group led by Joseph Kony, who are known to commit horrible atrocities against civilians under a demented pseudo-Christian ideology. The video in particular addresses Kony’s abducting children and forcing them to fight in his army. While humanitarian activism is important and issues such as these deserve more coverage and awareness, the motives and solutions proposed by Invisible Children are dubious at best, with multiple sources pointing to the group’s being financially self-interested and irresponsible.
Charity Navigator, a website that rates the transparency, accountability, and financial score of charities, rates Invisible Children at 3 stars, noting that the group has not yet allowed independent accountants to audit their finances. Invisible Children admit that only 31% of the funds they raised in 2011 actually aided the cause they advanced. In the group’s expense reports, millions of dollars are spent annually on expenses such as “Compensation Costs,” “Fees and Licenses,” “Entertainment,” “Film Costs,” and $1,074,273 for just travel fees for the three filmmakers who head the organization. Altogether, just $2.8 million out of the $8.9 million they spent in 2011 made it to their charity program.
In an article published by Foreign Affairs on November 15, 2011, Invisible Children was listed along with several other humanitarian groups working in Uganda as culpable of simplifying the situation for suspect intentions:
“…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.”
The fact of the matter is that Invisible Children’s video, and overall message, simplifies intensely complicated issues in a manner that, regardless of their intentions, is misleading and impetuous. The organization calls for largely violent means of quelling of the LRA, working with the Ugandan Army, whose ethical track record is mired in similar atrocities to the ones committed by Kony and the LRA. Furthermore, the video maintains that the LRA is based in Uganda when, in fact, and Invisible Children has since backtracked to acknowledge this, they moved sometime around 2006 to Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This type of reckless advocacy has the potential to not aid Ugandans, but harm them, putting their lives in danger in the wake of retaliatory conflict spurred on by Invisible Children’s myopic policies.
Haley Baron ’12, who spent time in Uganda and Rwanda in the summer of 2010, informed me of a letter someone on her program wrote to Invisible Children regarding their practices. Haley’s friend had visited Gulu, Uganda, where Invisible Children is based, and interviewed people there about their opinions on the group. She found that many were wary of or offended by Invisible Children. Remarks included:
“They come here to make money and use us.”
“It makes us feel terrible to be presented as being so stupid and helpless.”
The entire impassioned and insightful post can be read here.
The issue of criticizing a humanitarian organization is a delicate one. The Kony 2012 campaign has built up a level of momentum and grassroots attention rare for a cause of this kind, and one worries that detracting from their claims might discourage inspired or charitable people from helping similar, more worthy aid organizations. While social media sites are incredibly effective proxies for spreading awareness for causes, it is undeniably important that we research and understand the issues and institutions that we have the ability to so easily support.
The opinions present in this post are those of the author.