Monday, April 2, 2012

Kony 2012 in Prague

Uncovering the real story behind the Kony 2012 campaign 

By Danijela Demarin

April 20. That is when the streets and walls of Prague will be covered with the name of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.

Is that the right way to imprison this criminal? Are we being manipulated by Hollywood-style campaigning, or helpful to a rare ethical cause in the modern world?

After Jason Russell’s video about child abduction by Kony was posted on March 5, it went viral within days. By the end of the first week, millions of people found out who Kony is and what his organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army, does.

Horrifying crimes leave
children mentally damaged
Although the video, published by the organization Invisible Children, was undoubtedly made with good intentions, it did not take long for the first criticisms to arrive. The spirit of doubt was awakened, uncovering a great story behind the 30-minute video.

Since Kony 2012 tells an inside story in a simplified way, it was mostly criticized by people who have been involved in the Kony controversy for years. The main complaint was that, in its simplicity, the video neglected some important points, and therefore could misguide viewers. Also, the mysticism of the organization Invisible Children certainly did not help to build trust among viewers.

Kony first became notorious in the 1980s, when he led a brutal campaign against the Ugandan government by using child soldiers. The cruelties committed against thousands of children ever since is undeniable. But it is important to keep in mind that oppression in Uganda did not start with Kony. The violence dates back to the time of King Leopold of Belium, followed by dictator Idi Amin and later Ugandan governments. At this point, it is clear that arresting Kony would not automatically cure the conditions that kept him in power for over 25 years.

While practicing his personal beliefs and training 11-year olds to follow his orders, Kony had strong backing from Sudan’s president, and was also helped by the rivalry between the Congolese and Ugandan presidents, which started with the Ugandan occupation of the Congo in 1990 (it ended in 2003). Still, there were attempts to stop Kony. But they only managed to push him out of Uganda, and failed to weaken his group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Kony founded the private army in the 1980s as the Acholi militia, modeled on the Holy Spirit Movement, meaning that it adopted Christian rhetoric with a great dose of mysticism. Later, it became more of a personality cult focused on Kony himself. The group is noted for its violence and brutality, weird ideology and abducting children. Thousands have been kidnapped, mostly by night in a process called “night commuting.” Many were later forced to kill their parents, or turned into sex slaves.

Various organizations have been trying to stop these crimes and protect civilians from cruelty, but none have been successful. For instance, the US-supported Operation Lightning Thunder in 2009 failed, due to Kony’s escape prior to the action.

J.Russell:"Kony is only the start
of IC's fight against criminals."
Invisible Children created the video Kony 2012 in order to stop these crimes. But the video’s overly narrow focus is only one of many problems.

The organization claims around 100 members, mostly film-making and media industry professionals. This fact created controversy regarding their real aims, since making a movie does not necessarily mean knowing the right way to help. The organization has been praised for its work in northern Uganda, where it established an early warning system to announce the LRA’s arrival and therefore protect people from kidnappers. Also, an Invisible Children  rehabilitation program has helped numerous LRA victims to pair with others, and find comfort after the trauma they suffered. So the organization’s positive effect is undeniable.

But the opacity of Invisible Children hardly sends a very trustworthy message. Some Ugandan journalists claim the organization is entirely unknown in Uganda, while others emphasize that its fund-raising activities help not just Uganda, but the organization’s members too. To be more specific, IC’s bank account reports show that only 1/3 of the money is spent in Uganda, while the rest is spent on traveling, office rental and movie-making costs. And Invisible Children still has not stated how the money raised by Kony 2012 will be spent.

Charity Navigator, a US charity evaluator, gave the organization only two out of four stars for “accountability and transparency.” That speaks for itself.

Another controversy about the organization is a picture from 2008 that shows its founders  posing with guns from the People’s Liberation Army in Sudan. They say that the photo has been misunderstood, that it was a joke, taken when a final peace agreement was being signed.

The video has been widely criticized not only for its oversimplification of a rather complex situation, but for being outdated. Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda; they moved their operations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So there is no longer any need to intervene militarily in Uganda, where the biggest current problems are child prostitution, HIV and neurological disorders. The video does not mention any of this.

Even if Kony were killed or arrested, what happens to his helpers and long-term supporters? Also, the video asks people to help support US advisors, undermining the importance and power of African countries to fight for themselves. And it overlooks the weak human rights record in Uganda, which does not protect civilians as much as it should.

Millions of viewers watched the video. Thousands bought the action kit consisting of bracelets and posters. But it is not quite clear how purchasing posters and placing them on walls in cities around the world will help in catching Kony. Are we fighting against windmills, like Don Quijote?

Motivating young people to fight for human rights is incredibly inspiring, and the video proves the power of modern media to be used for good causes. But modern technology has also created critical thinkers who are not so easy to manipulate. They realize that crimes in the world are very complex, not one-dimensional as the Kony 2012 video shows.

Will covering Wenceslas Square help to imprison Kony? Will a sticker in the metro motivate people to go and hunt criminals? It seems unlikely, but time will tell.

Please take your time and respond to our Facebook poll about this issue. You can find it on our fan page. 

Invisible Children website:

Kony 2012 Campaign website:

Kony 2012 video:

The only interview with Kony:

A Ugandan journalist on Kony:

No comments:

Post a Comment