Stop Kony: The cheers and jeers

There’s a lot of noise about the Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony.

The blogosphere is clogged and the Twittertown is congested with Kony-related posts and tweets. The hashtags #Kony, #stopkony and #kony2012 has been talk of the Twittertown. The 30-minute video about Kony made by the charity organisation Invisible Children calling people to campaign for Kony’s arrest has had millions of views on YouTube.

I watched the video too. But it wasn’t the first time I had heard about Kony or Invisible Children. When I first came to know during my senior year in 2009, the organisation was invisible, literally. But today, after yesterday’s viral video, I assume half of the Internetworld knows about Invisible Children and Joseph Kony.

It makes you angry when you first watch the video and as citizens of the Internet world, you sort of feel obligated to spread the world. I did too. I think it’s the human emotions attached to the video and the issues it addresses that you don’t want to get sceptical or overanalyse though the “kit” to spread the word, if you are ready to buy and donate to the charity, is over $200.

As I watched the video yesterday and “spread the word,” I was only waiting for some critical response.

First came the facts from a Foreign Policy blog by Michael Wikerson, a freelance journalist and a Ph.D candidate at Oxford who has lived and reported from Uganda:

Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years

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.

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 30 years.

Then came the figures of the finances of Invisible Children accusing them of spending a substantial amount of the funds in travelling and filming.

A post by Grant Oyston, a sociology and political science student, writes in the website of Visible Children, which critically views Kony 2012:

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. But it goes way deeper than that.

The Atlantic magazine’s the Atlantic Wire also points on “The problems with Stop Kony.” It’s an interesting read.

But Invisible Children responded quickly with clarifications on their finances and their objectives in its blog:

As you will see, we spend roughly one third of our money on each of these three goals. This three-prong approach is what makes Invisible Children unique. Some organizations focus exclusively on documenting human rights abuses, some focus exclusively on international advocacy or awareness, and some focus exclusively on on-the-ground development. We do all three. At the same time. This comprehensive model is intentional and has proven to be very effective.

We are committed, and always have been, to be 100% financially transparent and to communicate in plain language the mission of the organization so that everyone can make an informed decision about whether they want to support our strategy.

While the media scrutinised Invisible Children’s motive (and it should),despite its good motives, a blog post in the United Nations News & Commentary forum had an article titled Invisible Children: Saviors or Sensationalist? 

One of the writers, Mark, quotes the Laura Seay, political scientist at Morehouse College: “My basic premise is that the awareness of American college students is NOT a necessary condition for conflict resolution in Africa.”

Agreeing to this, Mark writes:

In the short term, she is probably right. Over the long run, though, awareness of American college students can be one part of a larger effort to build a movement to empower our own government and governments around the world to invest in conflict prevention tools.

Campaigns like Invisible Children have an important role to play in this process.

Ask me, what do I think?

I think both Invisible Children and its critics are creating a discourse, and the social media platform has been generous to host and amplify it, making thousands of people aware of the issue and also getting a critical view of it.

The social media has played a huge role for garnering support for a cause and also creating awareness. And the mainstream media has always been (and it should be) responsible to highlight the fallacies and inaccuracies and look at the issues from a critical and analytical point.

For many, who like liking a page or status on Facebook or follow the feeds on Twitter, #stopkony is an opportunity to at least know an issue that they might have not known or come across otherwise.

I don’t know if this form of activism is going to change anything but what I believe is in the value of education and awareness that it beings along. If nothing, Invisible Children has been able to create a discourse; it has at least highlighted the issue among millions of netizens.

As Nancy Lublin, chief executive officer of the youth volunteerism and activism site Do Something writes in a May 2010 article:

We shouldn’t judge any activism – online or off, old-fashioned or newfangled – by its medium or by how much it requires of us. Instead, it should be the results that matter. If we really could save the world with a few clicks of the mouse, then only a fool would protest.

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2 thoughts on “Stop Kony: The cheers and jeers

  1. maxmichel says:

    I saw the documentary yesterday too, and even though its tone is not appealing to me personally, I feel that critiquing it is void of purpose. And, as the maker says in the beginning of the film, it is an experiment; one that might well work in todays world of social networking activism.

    Good article!

  2. Really great post. The Invisible Children film made me emotional and frustrated at the same time, by its cause and its execution. It inspires action, which is great. But it also demonstrates that citizen journalism is only a snapshot of a bigger, more complicated picture. Although it raises awareness, which can only be a good thing, people also need to be aware of the facts.

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