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In the last 48 hours, my wife and I have field endless requests for guidance on the Kony 2012 phenomenon. We have worked in south Sudan for years, where Kony himself occasionally staged his operations, crossing the border into Uganda to launch his lethal raids. Thanks to the almost unprecedented success of the Internet video, the goal of its promoter – Invisible Children – has achieved success in turning Joseph Kony into a household name. But from that point on things become terribly blurred.
Invisible Children wants you to know that Kony is a mass murderer, rapist, and confirmed war criminal, and they want you to help stop him by donating to the organization so that they can advocate Western governments, primarily the Americans, to hunt Kony down, and also so that they can support government of Uganda militia troops to seek him out and bring him to justice. This is complex stuff – your donations dollars going to military operations – made all the more confounding by the group’s claim to protect children, including child soldiers, by removing Kony from the equation.
No sooner had the video circled the globe than criticisms arose over Invisible Children’s methods and claims. Responding to those arguments, the organization’s spokespersons requested that people not rush to judgement but examine the situation more in-depth. That has now been done extensively in the last 24 hours and the results haven’t been encouraging.
Initially we learned of the high administrative costs and generous salaries of the organization’s staff. Such levels of administration would never be accepted in other non-government organizations functioning around the world, but with little scrutiny on Invisible Children’s finances, its overhead has avoided notice. As the hours ensued and the video advanced in its momentous viewings across the globe, we learned that President Obama had already deployed 100 military advisors to help the Ugandan army locate Kony. There has also been an extensive international operation underway to locate, arrest, and convict Kony at the International Criminal Court. In other words, the international community has been on this case for a number of years.
It’s also important to know that Kony hasn’t been in Uganda for six years. For a time he was in south Sudan, but now the sense is that he is hiding out in the Central African Republic – far away from the Ugandan army’s ability to capture him. Also, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, while still creating some havoc, is a shell of its former self – perhaps comprising only a few hundred followers. His days of hell-raising and extensive bloodshed are largely in the past. Part of the reason for that is that he is a hunted criminal, pursued by the likes of Navy Seals and international investigators. His days of freewheeling are over. Yet the Kony 2012 video doesn’t leave anyone with that impression. Rather, it makes out that he still has a huge force and that children are being recruited in significant numbers into his purposes – a statement that doesn’t pass the smell test. To claim he presently has an army of 30,000 child soldiers is misleading. The film’s producer should have informed us that such a figure comprises the total number of child soldiers enlisted and abducted over a 30-year period. Most of those unfortunate youth are now older, out of the LRA, and badly in need of rehabilitation and development, not protection.
Look, I get where Invisible Children is coming from, but it’s video is already 5-6 years out of date – something it never tells us. Other NGOs in that region would die for that kind of circulation of their work; but then again, they would do their best not to play fast and loose with the facts. There’s a reason why these NGOs have stayed out of all the hubbub concerning the video – paying money to Ugandan government militias runs the huge risk of playing with the devil and only escalating the cycle of violence. That is only a practice that can end in ruin and experienced NGOs know it.
Perhaps the most important thing of all is that people retweeted the video because of the kids. Yet only about 30% of donations go towards actual programs for the youth themselves. The rest goes to militia donations, administration, communications, and advocacy. None of this is covered in the video.
It’s easy to see why the Kony 2012 video created such a stir. It’s about catching a monster, but ultimately it emotionally urged us to protect those kids. Well, most of those kids are now young adults, trying to survive in Uganda, and badly in need of development dollars for health, education, rehabilitation, and employment training. They are no longer caught within Kony’s web of intrigue and butchery. If we really wish to assist them, consider a group like Romeo Dallaire’s Child Soldier Initiative, War Child or Gulu Walk – all three Canadian organizations doing tremendous work for such young people. And there are other great organizations.
A report came out yesterday that the vast majority of viewers simply forwarded the video to others without making a donation. One click and they felt like they did something. And they did – the knowledge of Kony was surely helpful. But if it’s the damaged former child soldiers we wish to help, there are other options. Far more than clicking on a keyboard, they will require literally years of support and dedication. That’s the kind of compassion that will make a difference – it’s the only kind that ever did.