The Stop Kony mission and the Kony 2012 video both achieved viral status this week after the likes of Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Nicole Richie, Jessie J and Stephen Fry -- who together have over 35 million followers -- set out on a social media campaign to shed light on the plight of the invisible children of Uganda. Celebrities retweeted the hashtags #StopKony and #Kony2012 to spread the word.
Stop Kony 2012 was named after Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, or the LRA. The Lord's Resistance Army is a feared and brutal insurgency attempting to overthrow the Ugandan government. Kony and his army continue to threaten regional stability and civilian safety.
The Stop Kony mission was established by the Invisible Children organization. A new 30-minute documentary entitled Kony 2012, made by Invisible Children, highlights the problems in Uganda. Its aim is to call for an international effort to arrest Joseph Kony, disarm the LRA and save the invisible children. We seek to rebuild schools, educate future leaders and provide jobs in Northern Uganda. We are the motivated misfits and masses redefining what it means to be an activist, reads a statement on the Invisible Children Web site.
However, Invisible Children has received some criticism as of late pertaining to its misuse of charitable funding, exaggerated claims and militaristic goals.
Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army
Kony formed the LRA in the 1980s as a sectarian military and religious group operating in Uganda with brute force. He claimed to be a prophet sent from God to purify the people of Uganda and to create a bastion of peace, according to globalsecurity.com. By putting emphasis on his religious powers, Kony has been able to convince many individuals who may be skeptical and his authority is hard to question, according to CNN.
The LRA teamed up with the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) and other rebel groups to begin a trail of violence and terror. The LRA committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children, reportsglobalsecurity.org. Since September 2008, the LRA has killed approximately 2,400 civilians and has abducted 3,400, according to the Human Rights Watch group and the U.N.
The kidnapping of children is one of the most troubling aspects of Kony's army. The Lord's Resistance Army is known for its abuse against children and use of forced child soldiers. The insurgency has abducted numerous youngsters and forced them into slavery, working as guards, concubines and soldiers, reports globalsecurity.org. Young girls were captured as sex and labor slaves, sold off, or given as gifts to arms dealers in Sudan.
Critics Speaks Out Against Invisible Children
Since the Stop Kony movement began to go viral, Invisible Children has faced scrutiny for its practices. Messages on social networking and news sites like Tumblr and Reddit have critiqued the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign.
The Council on Foreign Relations has critiqued Invisible Children and other organizations like it. In their campaigns, such organizations 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. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.
Chris Blattman made a pointed assessment of Invisible Children's filming, saying: The new IC film clip 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.
There's also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It's often not an accidental choice of words, even if it's unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man's Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.
Grant Oyston, a sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, posted a detailed explanation of his disapproval of the Kony 2012 campaign, citing practices by Invisible Children such as misuse of charitable funds and it emphasis on military intervention.
Oyston noted that last year Invisible Children spent over $8.5 million, with only 32 percent going to direct services. Much of the money reportedly went to staff salaries, travel, transport and film production. Charity Navigator rates Invisible Children's accountability and transparency as two out of four stars because it lacks an external audit committee. Oyston also said that the organization's main goal seems to be filmmaking and viral promotion, rather than the cause at hand.
Another issue Oyston noted with the Kony 2012 campaign was the group's emphasis on military intervention.
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.
Invisible Children Responds
In response to the influx of criticism, Invisible Children responded on its website.
We've done our utmost to be as inclusive, transparent, and factual as possible, the statement said. We built this organization with 'seeing is believing' in mind, and that's what why we are a media-based organization. We WANT you to see everything we are doing, because we are proud of it. Though we would no longer consider ourselves naive, we have always sought counsel from those who know much more. We have never claimed a desire to 'save Africa,' but, instead, an intent to inspire Western youth to 'do more than just watch.' And in Central Africa, focus on locally-led long-term development programs that enable children to take responsibility for their own futures and the futures of their countries.
Our programs are carefully researched and developed initiatives by incredible members of the local community that address the need for quality education, mentorship, the redevelopment of schools, resettlement from the camps, and rehabilitation from war - and if you know anyone who has been there to see it first hand, there is no doubt they will concur.