Those of you who have not seen the Kony 2012 video have probably at least heard about it from someone; my friends at Invisible Children estimated that the video has been viewed at least 50 million times between the main link and the YouTube clips of it. Filmmaker and I.C. founder Jason Russell made the 30-minute video as a way to catch attention and gain support for a campaign that aims to make a war criminal famous. By making him famous, the idea is to keep the pressure on governments - particularly ours - to maintain their support in efforts by several African militias to capture Joseph Kony.
Kony, by the way, has a very long history of leading a rebellion against the Ugandan government, although six years ago his shrinking ranks fled and began to cause problems in several other African countries. Because the general population ceased to support his cause long ago, Kony took to abducting young boys and forcing them to fight in his army. Girls are captured as sex slaves, and thousands of adults and children have been slaughtered in the conflict, despite Kony's claims of being a Christian fighting for his people.
(Disclaimer: this was a short explanation, not a substitution for a history lesson about the conflict!)
Plenty of support and plenty of concerns alike emerged in light of the video going viral. I have a couple of links for you if you care to look into these further:
*Aljazeera's summary of the trending topic, from the video's posting to the concerns
*A Washington Post blog post that discusses and refutes the concerns about I.C., especially its financial policies, its rating on Charity Navigator, and supposed support of a corrupt government
*A Newsy video discussing the campaign
*I.C.'s direct response to the critiques; this page includes in depth discussion about its other programs, which demonstrate that I.C. is doing tremendous amounts of work on ground zero and not ignoring the needs of the people in Uganda
*A YouTube video made by Jolly Okot, the same woman who housed our founders when they visited the country in 2003 and who has been on their journey every step of the way
*A political science student's Tumblr, which has been the most shared link regarding critiques of I.C.
Now, for my take on this issue -
Concerns about the cause, which have mostly stemmed from small blogs and a shared Tumblr post, include but are not limited to:
-manipulation of facts about the conflict
-over-simplification of the history of the conflict
-the founders support a militia and government that has committed crimes as serious as Kony's
In response to these claims, supporters point out that I.C. uses the same facts and statistics that human rights watch groups use; that any viewer is welcome to do more research and a 30-minute film naturally cannot cover the conflict in depth (in fact many I.C. documentaries are 60 or even 90 minutes long; this is the first one to go viral, and the length being so short is probably a huge contributing factor to this); and that the group does not support the Ugandan government but if they refused to work with corruption organizations, nothing would ever get done in Africa.
Others have pointed out that the documentary reeks of "white man's burden." I understand this critique completely, but considering that Invisible Children has:
-rebuilt schools and offers scholarships to hundreds of students who would otherwise never be able to afford the tuition, uniforms, and books required for secondary and university schooling (note: since many people in armies on both sides had no education, they could never find jobs outside of the armies and thus had nowhere else to go, contributing to the problems that started the conflict in the first place; these scholarships are an attempt to change this and allow new leaders to make their way into the government)
-built a radio network that alerts the people in central Africa to any possible attack
-created jobs for victims of the war that live in a country that one, uses rape as a common war tactic due to cultural beliefs about it, and two, once primarily relied on farming (and of course since the war began people lost their land, money, resources, everything)
...and more, I still support them despite the concerns that began to emerge in 2009, when they proposed military intervention by the U.S.
This is an important note, and this is the reason I continue to support them: I.C. hires Ugandan leaders to run these programs. While the financial aid comes from donors worldwide, the work and empowerment is entirely local on a local level, meaning leaders and students can continue to discuss ways to address the issues that plague them as a people and imagine long-term solutions to said issue.
The organization also keeps all of its funding within its ranks and does not give any of it to a middle man, like the corrupt Ugandan government. And again, addressing concerns about working with said government: in the words of an I.C. staff member, "There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa. If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn’t partner with anyone.”
This is a very, very short response and explanation of this trending topic. I could, and I have, talked for hours about all of this, and if anyone has questions for the comment section, I will continue to discuss this. For now, I want to end with this:
I understand that watching a video does not directly make a difference. And no one involved in this issue is naive enough to think the problems we face will end with Kony's capture.
But on the other hand, none of the activists in the world could ever have gotten involved in their cause unless they knew about it first. I never would have moved to a point in my life where I work with people in my community directly to solve problems if I didn't watch one documentary five year's ago - Invisible Children's first film, in fact - that opened my mind to the possibilities of people who want to join hands and think of solutions to problems together.
Awareness is simply a first step in problem solving. It shouldn't be elevated as more than that, but it should never be ignored or condemned. Putting awareness down as useless and pointless is denying its importance in the problem-solving process. After all, a problem cannot be solved unless it's addressed. And nothing can be addressed if no one knows what to talk about.
The Kony 2012 video has opened a dialogue about this conflict. That has always been one of our biggest goals as volunteers and activists. And while capturing Kony is our biggest priority and is acknowledged by human rights organizations as the most important step we can take in this exact moment in time if we want to address the problems these central African countries face, we know that the work will go on long after the conflict ends. And until then, we will continue to make our voices heard.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for joining our dialogue.