I’ll admit that I instinctively hated the Kony 2012 video long before I ever pressed play, since no less than thirteen of my Facebook friends had posted the video onto their walls. Fine, I thought, clicking play and wondering why all of my friends had suddenly started to care about Ugandan Children. But not even fifteen seconds in, I was bored and really embarrassed by the film’s sense of superficial grandeur. But, as I learned, there are more reasons to feel uncomfortable about the campaign that go way beyond the video’s self-centered ethos.
Sure, the people behind the Kony 2012 campaign probably have great intentions, and Kony is unequivocally evil. However, the group behind the campaign, Invisible Children, are not the bright and shiny hippy children of the revolution the video says they are. If you’re already bored and are more of a visual learner, check out this photo of Invisible Children members holding weapons next to members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
According to Grant Oyston, author of Visible Children ‘Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee.’
Yale Professor Chris Blattman (who pens a STELLAR blog, btw) continues with Grant’s criticisms and says 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. That’s the argument that was made after the first film…there are a few things that are troubling. It’s questionable whether one should be showing the faces of child soldiers on film. And watching the film one gets the sense that the US and IC were instrumental in getting the peace talks to happen. These things diminish credibility more than anything.’
I don’t think there’s much I can say right now that won’t make me look like a hater. All I’m saying is that you should support the cause, not the campaign itself. It took me a few Google searches to find out more about this charity than what the charity wanted to tell me. And as much as the film’s slick editing and woeful indie-ness wanted me to, I didn’t bite the biscuit and snag a swank new bracelet for myself. Honestly, it’s cool to see the world care and take notice, but it’s a little unnerving to hear that my friends are now ‘empowered’ or ‘informed’ by sharing the video. When real charity and support isn’t really about feeling empowered or informed. Nor is it about being a more proactive consumer. I feel the same way about this campaign as I do about TOMS or the Gap (RED) causes; it’s a great way for the consumer to feel good about themselves, without actually doing anything.
I wish I knew more about what was going on in Uganda. And one thing this campaign has taught me is to not be so ignorant about Joseph Kony, or anyone. There are plenty of people out there who do evil things in obscurity. But there are also plenty of people who do great things and never get noticed. And if you really care, you’ll take the time out to really dig these people up and bring their actions - good or bad - to light.
Blattman received incredible criticism last week after writing ‘One consequence, whether it’s IC or Save Darfur, is a lot of dangerously ill-prepared young people embarking on missions to save the children of this or that war zone. At best it’s hubris and egocentric. More often, though, it leads to bad programs, misallocated resources, or ill-conceived military adventures. There’s lots of room for intelligent advocacy.’ I agree, and if Kony 2012 inspired you to take action or donate money, check out these charities, all of which received four-star ratings on Charity Navigator: Water.org, AMREF USA, and Doctors Without Borders.