Some say humanitarian organization Invisible Children (IC) is not worthy of support. Since its 2005 founding, IC has worked to stop The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and help its surviving victims.
The world knows the LRA for terrorizing Ugandans and other central Africans for over two decades by abducting children and forcing them into sexual slavery, forcing them to kill their own families, and to fight with the LRA, among other atrocities; LRA leader Joseph Kony denied the charges.
This year, IC launched “Kony 2012” with the record-breaking viral video of the same name, a campaign to detain LRA leader Joseph Kony by raising awareness globally and in the United States. Public face of IC Jason Russell reasoned in the video that if Kony became a household name, people would pressure the U.S. to keep up its support of the Ugandan military’s effort to stop the LRA. In response, many viewers organized “Cover the Night” April 20, when they plastered their communities with references to “Kony 2012,” often using materials purchased through IC’s website.
What’s wrong with Kony 2012?
While other charity organizations asked what went right with IC’s social media campaign, critics asked what went wrong. Opponents of IC say most who watched the 30-minute video showed their support before understanding the full story. The video, spreading quickest among youth under 25, helped amass what Mahmood Mamdani called an “army of children” in a March 13 Daily Monitor article.
Professor Solomon Commissiong of University of Maryland College Park, critical media analysis expert and African studies scholar, who spoke Thursday, April 26 at SPSCC, said IC supporters had good intentions, but they thwarted Ugandan interests when they clicked too soon and shared the video.
According to Commissiong, IC supports a corrupt and violent Ugandan government, which is evidenced by the government letting IC have offices in the country.
IC wrote on its website that it has never given money to any government. IC also wrote that, although any foreign aid to the Ugandan government should come with accountability for its human rights violations, IC believed the most effective way to stop the LRA in Uganda is to work with the Ugandan government, a stance that reflects a Christian ethic of respect for authorities.
Rebekah Hutson, SPSCC student, said of the “Kony 2012” video, “It was all presented by white people, for white people. It had absolutely no input from the people of Uganda,” agreeing with Comissiong that IC represents neo-colonialism.
IC wrote on its website that over 95 percent of its staff in Uganda are Ugandan, and it included videos of Ugandan leaders urging U.S. support of Uganda and IC.
“We’ve been talking about it, but nobody listens to us, but as soon as a white person comes out with a video all of a sudden everybody wants to listen and jump on board,” said Hutson.
Novelist Teju Cole wrote in a March 21 article in The Atlantic titled “The White Saviour Industrial Complex,” “Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism [and] has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected.”
Cole wrote, “If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy.”
Supporting Uganda would mean supporting “the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict,” in the Congo, he wrote.
In direct response to IC’s requests, President Obama sent 100 military advisors to train and aid the Ugandan military in their pursuit of the LRA into The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and The Central African Republic (CAR).
Since 1986, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has detained millions of Ugandans in disease-ridden camps where sometimes thousands have died monthly, often burning their villages to get them into the camps, in the name of protecting the citizens from the LRA. The Ugandan military has also killed many in the CAR and the DRC while pursuing the LRA there.
“Killing Mr. Kony may remove him from the battlefield but it will not cure the conditions that have allowed him to thrive for so long,” wrote Angelo Izama in a March 20 New York Times article.
Why else would Invisible Children be there?
The “Kony 2012” video stated it aimed to make sure the U.S. maintained presence in Uganda, as IC feared the U.S. would withdraw for lack of public interest. However, Commissiong pointed out the U.S. now has a national interest in the area because large oil reserves were recently discovered in Uganda, and central Africa has many other valuable resources, like Coltan used for most electronics.
Prior to President Obama recently sending 100 military advisors, President George W. Bush sent 17 military advisors to Uganda.
Kurt Nimmo claimed on infowars.com IC may have received support from USAID, which Nimmo claimed has acted on behalf of the CIA to undermine governments throughout the world, offering no clear evidence.
“What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives,” wrote Cole about the Western “system built on pillage.”
“There is enough mineral wealth [in central Africa] for them all to be living prosperously,” yet the U.S. supports corrupt dictators who funnel that wealth to foreign interests, said Commissiong. He said most U.S. citizens are “so in love with the image of having a brown-skinned man in office” that they don’t care about real social justice.
What’s wrong with Invisible Children itself?
Commissiong said not only could IC unknowingly serve dangerous ends, it also has internal faults. He said most of the money IC raised did not make it to the Ugandans whom it supposedly served. Commissiong took issue with IC spending over $850,000 on transportation last year, about twelve percent of its budget. An IC representative has not commented on this expense in particular, but the organization publishes its audits on its website.
Commissiong claimed that IC “pushes religion” on people and supported the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill that included a death penalty for some serial homosexual acts. He offered no evidence for either claim.
IC responded on its website to accusations of anti-homosexuality and religious oppression that it opposes the bill, and that its staff includes people of many faiths, whose stories of personal motivation for the common goal of stopping the LRA IC welcomes.
A Ugandan nationalist, anticolonial fervor has fueled the bill lately in a country where the “homosexuality is not tolerated” according to Josh Kron’s Feb. 28 New York Times article.
Authorities arrested Russell March 15 for public intoxication, vandalism, and public masturbation. Commondreams.org reported IC CEO Ben Keesey commented that Russell had been under great stress over the past few weeks.
What’s the bottom line?
According to invisiblechildren.com, some of IC’s accomplishments in the DRC and the CAR where the LRA is most active now include: an early warning radio network for villages to communicate the LRA’s whereabouts; multi-lingual fliers and local radio messages encouraging combatants to defect and assuring their safety; and, a child trauma rehabilitation center.
IC’s work in Uganda has moved beyond damage control including: scholarships; school renovation and construction, and teacher/curriculum development; a handbag company and training program for women formerly abducted by the LRA; and, a village support program integrating savings and loans associations, water and sanitation, and adult literacy.
Amanda Frank, SPSCC student, said that would-be activists should start small and local to work on issues in their own communities first. She said, “We have our own third-world conditions here,” pointing out that only recently there was a campaign to replace outhouses with toilets in some parts of Alaska.
“Slavery is bigger today than it’s ever been in the United States, but nobody wants to care about that, and we want to go over to Uganda where there’s not even an issue and help them from themselves because they’re savages?” Hutson said, adding that the issue hurt her personally.
According to IC’s LRA Crisis Tracker, an almost real-time map of LRA-related incidents reported by those on the ground using the early warning radio system, there have been at least five civilian deaths, one injury, 19 abductions, 16 returnees, and ten lootings since Jan. 1.
Mamdani diminished the importance of the LRA, calling it a “raggedy bunch…poorly armed, poorly trained.” He wrote that the International Criminal Court (ICC) ignored the greater crimes of the Ugandan government in favor of pursuing the LRA. The ICC deemed the LRA worth pursuing first because of the extreme and heinous nature of its crimes.
IC and an ICC representative claimed the LRA repeatedly used peace talks to regroup and attack again, and they denied the way out the negotiators offered. Mamdani claimed that Joseph Kony and the LRA kept backing out of peace talks because the ICC would not grant amnesty.
Comparing the LRA to the cycle of domestic abuse, Mamdani wrote, “The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims – the civilian population of the area – trust neither the LRA nor government forces.”
According to Nicolas D. Kristof in a March 14 New York Times piece, race is the wrong reason to deny help to people in need. He compared a cautious approach based on “nuance” to the same caution that stalled U.S. attacks on Nazi Germany and intervention in the Rwandan, Bosnian and Armenian genocides.
Kristof wrote, ”The bottom line is: A young man devotes nine years of his life to fight murder, rape and mutilation, he produces a video that goes viral and galvanizes mostly young Americans to show concern for needy villagers abroad — and he’s vilified?”
Referring to the moment in the “Kony 2012” video when Russell showed his very young son a picture of Kony and explained the situation, Cole wrote, “I wondered how Russell’s little boy would develop a nuanced sense of the lives of others, particularly others of a different race from his own. How would that little boy come to understand that others have autonomy; that their right to life is not exclusive of a right to self-respect?”
“Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government,” Cole wrote.