Last night, around midnight, I decided to finally watch the newly-viral Kony video after it appeared for the sixth time on my Facebook feed. I’d spent over an hour perusing videos of puppies playing with babies that day, so I figured I should probably make time for a video that promised to raise awareness about child soldiers in Uganda. You know, so I don’t go to hell. I clicked play.
Thirty minutes later, I was floored. The video was well produced and incredibly compelling, eliciting what I can only describe as a visceral emotional response. Per the videos instructions, I reposted on my Facebook and Twitter immediately and I honestly would have pulled out my wallet to make a donation or buy a bracelet, had I not lost my credit card at a bar two days earlier (I know, I know). I went to bed feeling hopeful, hopeful that we were finally starting to use social media for something more noble than wishing Justin Bieber a happy birthday and hopeful that this campaign could garner enough attention to propel further action in Uganda and bring the war criminal Joseph Kony to justice.
When I got online at work today, however, it seemed like the mood surrounding the Kony2012 video had changed drastically. I saw a post from The Daily What show up across all my social media platforms with surprising frequency; a post which calls Invisible Children Inc. “an extremely shady nonprofit” and admonishes people for blindly forwarding a video that equates to little more than “emotional blackmail.” The Daily What writer primarily criticizes IC for not being financially transparent, for using the majority of donations for travel expenses, producing films, and funding the largely-corrupt Ugandan military, instead of actually helping victims by rebuilding schools and hospitals. The article urges readers to send their money elsewhere.
After reading that and other dissenting articles, I was pretty embarrassed. I felt like I’d jumped on a bandwagon without knowing where it was going and I hurriedly deleted the Kony videos I’d posted the night before. But I wasn’t about to repost the opposing Daily What article in its place either. I think in the same way it’s popular to get behind a charitable cause without doing all your research, it is also popular to condemn causes which get so much rapid attention that they seem like nothing more than fads. (“Kony2102? Too mainstream.”) Harlan Ellison once wrote, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” So, before I went posting something willy-nilly (again) I decided to get educated first, spending the entire day researching all sides of the Kony issue. Here is what I ended up with:
Joseph Kony is an appalling human being; about this there is no debate. Over the last 26 years, Kony has abducted thousands of children into his rebel group, the LRA, forcing them to work as either sex slaves or soldiers, and is responsible for countless murders. There are, however, many questions surrounding the immediate threat posed by Kony today — many say that his power has waned so considerably in the past decade that the United States’ resources would be better focused elsewhere. In my opinion, this question of “Is Kony the most important thing to worry about right now” doesn’t invalidate the cause. I can see how it might be frustrating that the multitude of problems we have going on here in the U.S. are being upstaged by a viral video, but that doesn’t mean that people are wrong for wanting to bring a villain like Kony to justice. Advocates for Kony’s arrest are fighting to make the world a better place; you can’t fault them for wanting to focus on something that you personally don’t think is as important as something else. Who is to make that call anyway?
The other pressing matter that has arisen, however, is what it means to “Stop Kony” exactly, and how we should go about doing it. Invisible Children favors direct military intervention and has pledged their financial support to the Ugandan army as well as various other military forces. While I agree it’s tempting to want to find and kill Kony as punishment for his heinous misdeeds, I can’t help but feel there’s a better approach. In the aftermath of genocides and human rights abuses in places like South Africa, Rwanda, and Burundi, IGOs established Truth and Reconciliation Committees. These committees compel war criminals to turn themselves in with the promise of amnesty upon their admission of wrongdoing and their pledge (often taken in monetary form) to help rebuild the society they destroyed. Many consider this method to be sort of a copout, one that allows perpetrators to go unpunished; yet setting up a TRC would mean lessening the risk that military intervention would spark further conflict and lead to more deaths. And honestly, which would you rather have: a dead Kony that does nothing to restore the lives of his victims, or a Kony who is completely stripped of his power and has all of his assets seized and put toward creating schools and providing care to the injured? This is where I most disagree with Invisible Children’s plan of action.
So, will I be buying a Kony Bracelet and donating money to Invisible Children? Probably not. Personally, after reviewing the facts, I think my money would be better spent by a NGO like Doctors Without Borders or Africare, so that when displaced Ugandans return home, it’s a place worth coming back to. But, does that imply that I think it’s wrong or irresponsible to send out a video that educated over 20 million (and counting!) people on an injustice happening abroad, just because the charity behind it isn’t completely perfect? Absolutely not! I don’t think anyone who posted the Kony video on Facebook now thinks of themselves as a social activist, and I think it’s wrong to reprimand people for becoming educated and then following up by spreading awareness. No matter how you feel about IC, they’ve clearly succeeded in their mission of making Kony famous, and finally igniting a dialogue on the internet with greater significance than Kim Kardashian’s sex life, for example. So for that, I applaud them and everyone who took the time to watch the video and share it. Their hearts were in the right place and I think that’s always the first step toward changing the world for the better.