Kony 2012: The latest cause célèbre that has most likely taken your Facebook newsfeed by storm. But while few would criticize putting indicted Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony in prison, the motives of the latest viral video campaign are less clear.
Go to the Invisible Children homepage, and the goal of Kony 2012 seems simple enough:
“KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”
Scroll down, and a list of movers, shakers and policy-makers ranging from Lady Gaga to Bill Clinton are laid out for the public to target.
On the surface, this is a simple black-and-white story: Joseph Kony, via the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has lead a violent campaign to set up a theocratic government at home, forcing enslaved child soldiers to commit unspeakable acts.
But dig a bit deeper, and one might want to think twice before donating to the Invisible Children charity.
For one, Invisible Children has blurred the line between charity and politics, advocating direct military action. They have also been accused of providing financial support to the Ugandan government’s military and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, both of which have regularly been charged with human rights abuses.
The group denies the claim, saying “none of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.”
The group has also been accused of being heavy on advocacy and weak on aid. Writing on the social media site tumblr.com, sociology and political science student Grant Oyston said, “As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32 per cent 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 real question is, why has Kony 2012 skyrocketed to the top of social media consciousness? Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, Uganda-based journalist Joshua Keating perhaps puts it best.
“It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality,” Keating writes.
Perhaps more alarmingly, Invisible Children’s viral media smash follows Barack Obama’s decision to deploy 100 troops to Uganda last October with the aim of “removing” Joseph Kony from the picture.
In fact, during a period of relative calm that has not been seen in years, Mark Kersten from Justice in Conflict says Uganda’s recently-discovered oil reserves, which “may produce between 2.5 billion to 6 billion barrels of oil…has been directly linked to the country’s security.”
While bringing Joseph Kony to justice would be commendable, it seems implausible his capture would do much to bring stability to conflict-ridden East Africa.
Just try telling that to the 27 million people who have watched Kony 2012 on YouTube and the millions more who will be posting and tweeting about it in the days to come.