‘Saving’ Uganda

This is the last in a three part series about Ugandan politics and the “Kony 2012″ campaign.

Up until now I have mentioned little about Invisible Children – the nonprofit that produced the “Kony 2012” video, and is poised to release a sequel this week. I hope the second video provides more context than the first, but I’m skeptical. The campaign does open a window to examine issues that are too often unexamined and never taken to their logical conclusions.

Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole founded invisible Children in 2004 to bring awareness of the war crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The nonprofit has always claimed a focus on making and distributing films that depict the plight of abducted children. In early March 2012, the nonprofit launched the now famous “Kony 2012” video.

Their strategic approach is inherently flawed: Invisible Children lobbies for the capture of Joseph Kony via U.S. military intervention. Congress and President Obama authorized this very strategy in 2010 through the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Shortly thereafter, 100 U.S. troops were deployed to capture or kill Joseph Kony. If it is easier to shoot than to capture Kony, it no doubt will happen. This is not real justice. The International Criminal Court should try Kony, giving Ugandans the opportunity to bear witness to his crimes.

Invisible Children has forged troubling alliances. It expressed support for armies that are actively looking for Kony, such as Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). This former South Sudanese rebel group, much like the LRA, used child soldiers until recently. In their video, Invisible Children also expressed support for the current Ugandan Army – a reincarnation of the National’s Resistance Army, which seized power in the 1980s and has a history of human rights violations. NRA had its own army of 3,000 child soldiers. I guess the makers of “Kony 2012” missed the irony.

I’m not alone in my criticism. The Council on Foreign Relations accused Invisible Children of “manipulate(ing) facts for strategic purposes” and “exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders.” Colorlines writer Jamilah King points out “the campaign is still taking heat over its portrayal of Africans as victims whose only hope lay in the actions — and wallets — of white saviors.” King raises poignant questions: “Must nuanced political issues be narrowed down to their simplest forms in order for the public to digest them? Can that issue work without perpetuating deeply problematic caricatures about race?” King highlights the missing perspective of Africans in Western discourse on Kony. Ugandans should be our primary source about Ugandan problems – not tourists with video cameras.

Invisible Children’s finances have also generated scrutiny. According to King’s research, roughly 32 percent of IC’s $10.3 million budget goes to salaries, travel expenses and film production. IC defends the expenses in a video featuring CEO Ben Keesey, saying the bulk of the money funds international advocacy tours free with movie screenings and visits with LRA survivors. IC also posted a document on their website to combat the criticism.

Who gives IC money is just as important as how IC spends money. One of the biggest news stories to come out of Uganda recently is the government’s effort to criminalize homosexuality with a maximum penalty of death if convicted. It’s concerning to learn that that right-wing, anti-LGBT groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Caster Family Foundation have funded Invisible Children. Queerty reported Invisible Children has some of the same donors as evangelist Ed Silvoso, who helped push Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill. Under this draconian bill, citizens would be required to notify authorities if they are aware of someone being homosexual or face prosecution themselves.

As someone who has been involved in the fight against injustice, I felt encouraged to see millions of people show, at least in the most basic level, that they care. But real change will never come from a viral video; especially from one that is six years too late. Real change cannot come from military interventions. Complicated issues – such as child abductions, murder, torture and mass displacement that involve illegitimate governments, armies and foreign military interests – should never be reduced to issues of black-and-white. IC capitalized on a horrendous situation. Sadly for too many people, the 15 minutes of awareness that “Kony 2012” brought are now just status updates on forgotten Facebook timelines.

There is still a lot of work to be done in Uganda. And you can help – by keeping yourself informed on current events in the country and supporting those who are working to change Uganda. Remember to choose where you spend your money wisely and donate to credible charities like UNICEF.

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Joe Deras
Joe Deras has contributed to The Metropolitan as a blogger since Spring 2012. His blog, "The Laughing Heart," explores social justice issues.
Joe Deras

Joe Deras has contributed to The Metropolitan as a blogger since Spring 2012. His blog, "The Laughing Heart," explores social justice issues.

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One Comment;

  1. Bruce Wilson said:

    Joe – Great piece. You’re one of a handful of people to have noticed that IC supports the SPLA, which has long used child soldiers.

    As an addition to the whole saga, I’ve just released a 7,000 word report on Invisible Children’s extensive social and institutional ties the The Family:


    In addition, Truth Wins Out has just released audio in which Jason Russell states that IC is a “Trojan Horse” for evangelizing in schools:


    Bruce Wilson

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