Before You Repost Kony 2012…

Your charity dollars at work (EDIT: image/caption added by wieb$)

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.

These four alternative humanitarian organizations operating in Africa have received the highest rating from Charity Navigator: AMREF USAAFRICARECHILDREN OF THE NATIONSWATER.ORG.

For a bit more information read this, this, and this.

UPDATE: Informative Foreign Policy post specifically about Invisible Children.

The opinions present in this post are those of the author. 

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26 thoughts on “Before You Repost Kony 2012…

  1. Pingback: Invisible Children Screening of Kony 2012 – Wesleying

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  3. Xsimone_meex

    they are only trying to help you and ive been africa and i would hate any of what happened to jacob happen to me

  4. Pingback: Can’t Stop The Spring: Wesleying Takes a Breather – Wesleying

  5. Pwood7

    You know, you writers talk way over this simple mind of mine.  I don’t know exactly what you are saying against this organization, but I can say this, I never heard of this monester Kony.  I read this organizations story and how they are trying to make us aware of what’s happening.  Now I know.  What’s wrong with that?  I never once felt that the young man on the video was being insincere.  I may be wrong, but , at least, I am now aware of what these young kids are going through.  Isn’t that the most important part? 

  6. hmc

    I do not question the hearts of those who founded The Invisible Children movement. It has worked to shed light on the atrocities the LRA has committed against the people of eastern Africa for many years now (9 years). I question-Who else has brought attention to this as they have before now? No one. And, yes, as the article stated, Joseph Kony did move into the Republic of Congo from Uganda to avoid capture in the past; but the article does not point out that he now moves back and forth between the two countries torturing and murdering little children amongst other crimes. Every 21 hours the LRA attacks an innocent civilian. They have murdered over 100,000 Ugandans and other East African people since 1986. The US govt. just recently committed to sending military forces to help train east African military forces in techniques to hunt and capture Joseph Kony. This is why this issue is now receiving more media attention than it ever did before. Invisible Children has been attempting to tell the world about the murderous LRA for the last 9 years. Also, the Invisible Children website has its 2011 financial report accessible from its homepage.  37.14% of revenue went to their Central African programs (schools, counseling victims for reintroduction into former lives, etc, etc) and 25.98% to awareness programs.  By my count, that’s 63% going directly to forwarding their cause.  As far as the other 37% going to management, fundraising, awareness products, media and film creation-this seems absolutely reasonable.  Having been to Uganda on extended trips myself, being a part of a group who started a small feeding program there, having adopted children from Uganda, I cannot help but react strongly to this disgusting article.  I find this article, from an institution supposedly faith-based, in extreme dis-taste.  

  7. Liz

    And where else do you expect these people to get the money to fly to Africa and create films to bring attention to this issue? The video does tell the audience that the LRA has moved out of Uganda. I’d post the Kony 2012 video despite your claims.

  8. bearone7777

      Not one penny of money should be sent ot his group, for they are slaughtering children in the name of God, and they are at war trying to do something horrible. 

  9. McDaddyo

    From what I’ve seen, Kony 2012 isn’t presenting itself as a charity organization as much as an activist effort to find and arrest the man at the top of the most-wanted list of international criminals. I share your concerns about oversimplifying, but not to the extent that I can’t see the value in Kony 2012’s focus on action and accomplishment. 

          I’m confident that there are some good reasons, as well as bad ones, that Kony remains at large. But I’m also pretty sure that a great deal of good is almost certain to come from this effort, whatever foibles or ethical pecadillos may be encountered along the way…

  10. Karyn Weintraub

    An update to yesterday’s post….it did give us important information on this situation but I should have done more research on there mission. Thanks Irene and Michelle

  11. John

    Ahhh the ignorance of looking at raw data without comparables. Thank you once again for encouraging the ever optimistic pessimist. 

  12. Pingback: Thoughts on KONY 2012 | musings

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