Thursday, March 8, 2012

Think Twice before Donating to Kony 2012

I have a lot to say on this whole "Kony2012" movement that's been going viral over the Internet for the last 24 hours alone (particularly with regards to how we selfishly select one group of people over another to help them fight for their rights), but I really like this article that I'm pasting below, and I hope it'll remind us to be critical of what we view and what's forced our way. I'm not saying don't support human rights, I'm not saying that Kony is not an evil person, but I'm simply suggesting that we be critical of everything that becomes a trend, that there must be a reason why this video is going viral, that there's a reason why other people around the world who are going through very similar (if not worse) horrors but are still being neglected. Support Kony 2012 all you want, as long as you know your facts, as long as your decision to do so is made upon thorough research of the history - the past and the present - as well as about what the Ugandan people themselves are doing to help themselves achieve a better future (note that one of the things that film suggests is that the Ugandans are completely helpless, can't do anything on their own, and we MUST intrude -- that without us, they're nothing).

I admit that I instinctively hated the Kony 2012 Campaign as soon as I watched 15 seconds of the effort's new viral video, produced by non-profit Invisible Children, which pledges to make extremely evil Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony famous, "not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice."
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I was skeptical before I even pressed play, since no less than 15 of my Facebook friends had posted about the video, beseeching everyone to "stop tweeting" and pay attention to the video's 30 minute message. Fine, I thought, clicking on the video and wondering why the people who usually bombarded me with cat memes and status updates about getting high and eating McDonalds were suddenly fervent supporters of Ugandan children.
"Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come," proclaims the video, which was uploaded yesterday and already has over four million views on YouTube. That idea is to make Kony, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, into a household name. The video profiles Jacob, a Ugandan boy whose brother was killed by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, which routinely abducts children and turns them into soldiers — but it also cuts away from his story to scenes of non-profit members showing adorable blonde kids photos of "the bad guy" to make sure Americans don't get too bored with the facts.
The video is upfront about being an experiment in viral media — the directors are actively taking advantage of the fact that "there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago" and that "humanity's greatest desire is to belong and connect." But the self-satisfied voiceover and slick editing reminded me of the most obnoxious Kickstarter-funded documentaries I've been asked to support. Is that truly a reason not to get behind a worthy cause? Not really. Still, I was glad to learn that I'm not the only person who wanted to understand the issue more thoroughly before donating to the non-profit or even sharing the video around. Invisible Children's critics — all of whom are, thankfully, more informed than I am about Kony and the LRA — all agree that Kony is an evil man and that those involved with Invisible Children have good intentions. But here are some reasons to be skeptical that go beyond hating the video's conceit:
Dubious Finances
From "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, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven't had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that.
Exaggerated Claims
From Foreign Affairs magazine:
In their campaigns, such organizations [as Invisible Children] 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.
Support for Military Intervention
From "Visible Children:"
The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government's army and various other military forces. Here's a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People's Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is "better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries", although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn't been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.
Marketing Tactics
From Yale Professor Chris Blattman:
"[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. It's not entirely convincing, especially given the distinctly non-teenage political influence IC now has. The cavalier first film did the trick. Maybe now it's time to start acting like grownups.

There are a few other 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.
"Invisible Children is staffed by douchebags" (A woman after my own heart.)
From Vice:
"Now when I first watched the Kony 2012 video, there was a horrible pang of self-knowledge as I finally grasped quite how shallow I am. I found it impossible to completely overlook the smug indie-ness of it all. It reminded me of a manipulative technology advert, or the Kings of Leon video where they party with black families, or the 30 Seconds to Mars video where all the kids talk about how Jared Leto's music saved their lives. I mean, watch the first few seconds of this again. It's pompous twaddle with no relevance to fucking anything."
Look: I wish I knew more about what's going on in Uganda, and I don't want to hate on Kony 2012 just because I'm a cynic. But it took me about the same amount of time to read up on this criticism as it took me to watch the video itself. That's still under an hour, about the same time it takes to watch an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I recommend doing the same before you get behind any cause. It's awesome to hear my Facebook friends say they feel "empowered" by sharing the video — but remember that charity isn't really about you feeling empowered, is it?
If Kony 2012 inspired you to donate money to the region, check out these charities, all of which received four star ratings on Charity Navigator: AMREF USA, Doctors Without Borders, and

SOURCE: Think Twice before Donating to Kony2012

The following are also worth a read:
- Stop Kony, yes. But don't stop asking questions.
- We Got Trouble.
"Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem."- from "We Got Trouble"


  1. I'd like to thank you for this post and for being sceptical. Just thank you.

  2. You're absolutely welcome, EY! Thank you for being critical yourself! It's really sad how popular it became and few have bothered questioning it.

  3. Shukar De! - Lol Kasam de che My friends and I are seen as enemies of humanity for not falling for that awfully rhetorical viral video. The problem with the masses is that they can't get enough of these bad guys, Hitler Stalin OBL Kony it doesn't matter who as long as they have bad guys that they can fight against (together) and bring triumph to the forces of good.

    The problem with focusing on personalities instead of the ideologies they represent is that people are just vessels for different ideas you kill one another pops up? Did Terrorism die with Osama? Did Nazi-ism die after Hitler? Did Communist party rule dissipate, wither and die after the fall of the soviet union? The answer to all of these questions is no. The moment I saw a five year old pointing to him and declaring he was a "Bad man" I wanted to throw up - then I decided to wait, I thought perhaps they'd enlighten us about the oppressive Ugandan government who are probably as criminal in their actions as this Kony fellow but No all we were given was an extended sob story followed by a call to become the new planeteers and summon captain planet.

    Ma la ghusa raazi che this is all it takes to turn people into self righteous heroes.

  4. The moment I discovered they're distributing wrist bands, I lost my cool.


Dare to opine :)

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