Alright people, ready for some controversy? Let’s go!
So if you’ve been online in the past two days you’re well aware of the cause du jour: Joseph Kony and the LRA. The issue was brought to our attention by the media centric non-profit, activist group Invisible Children in the form of a 30 minute call to action. Joseph Kony is the leader of a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army. The group is a troublesome leftover from a political changing of the guard in Uganda during the 1980’s. The rise of a new president brought on a slew of resistance groups, but the LRA was the only one to survive the test of time. The video by Invisible Children informs us that Kony and the LRA are not fighting for any particular cause, the only motivation being power. For the past 26 years they have been abducting children by the hundreds, using the boys as soldiers and the girls as sex slaves. The child soldiers are forced to kill their parents and then taught to mutilate the face of their enemy. In the past Kony has initiated peace talks only to use the down time to rearm, gain strength and re-strategize to then begin attacking civilians once again. Kony’s repeated crimes against humanity were answered with the creation of the International Criminal Court in 2002, a group dedicated to demanding and arresting the world’s worst criminals. At the top of their list? Mr. Joseph Kony.
The issue has barely been on the radar of American foreign policy as our national safety and financial interests are in no way threatened. The video thus explains that the plight of central Africa is “invisible” to the American powers that be — and their mission is to get the victims’ story told. Invisible Children, with the help of serious social media undertakings (they’ve produced 11 videos centered around Kony) was able to rally hundreds of thousands of young people though, and they took their cause to Washington. Their cries for justice were heard, and in 2011 Barack Obama deployed 100 American advisors to Africa to help regional forces focused on the capture of Kony. IC claims that this was the first time in history that government action was taken purely because the people demanded it. The advisors arrived in Africa in October and by December Kony was aware of their presence and immediately changed his tactics, making it nearly impossible for them to successfully find him. At this point, American support could be removed at any time. According to IC, the Ugandan military must find him, and they need the proper technology to do so — which is why the US is there. In order to make sure that the US advisors remain, the government must believe that the people are invested in this cause. IC’s goal is to “make him famous.” “We are going to make Joseph Kony a household name. Not to celebrate him but to bring his crimes to light.” He is being promoted with graphics suited for a public office campaign. They are targeting 20 culture makers (celebrities, athletes and billionaires) and 12 policy makers (those with the authority to let the advisors stay). This massive public call to action is put into place to make this cause of national public interest. They sell the idea as something we can all agree on, Republican and Democrat alike. IC encourages you to go to their site to write, call and set up meetings with the 12 policy makers, and also to make donations (which gets you a nifty Action Kit filled with stickers and posters).
So clearly, the cause is real and the man is evil. That is something we definitely can all agree on. However, the tactics and actions of the Invisible Children may not be. The group is frequently criticized for their financial accountability. Last year they spent $8 million dollars, 31% of which went to their charity program. The rest, among other things, was spent on pricey film making (the quality of the video is out of this world) and awareness building. You would think however, that the end cause would weigh greater in importance than the marketing. And just for a little context — the American Red Cross puts 92% of funds to charity, and UNICEF comes in at 90.3%. So with the media aspect of the organization being the main focus here — leaving only one third of spending for relief — it is disheartening and somewhat disturbing to find out that IC is frequently accused of exaggerating and manipulating facts to support internal strategy. Kony’s LRA has dwindled down to only a couple hundred members at this point but is being discussed as a massive rebel militia, and IC is said to greatly exaggerate the rate of child abductions and murders.
It is important also to clarify what exactly the IC wants done. They are in support of direct military intervention. They mention in the video that the Ugandan government “must” find Kony. But fact of the matter is, Kony left Uganda in 2006. Still, the IC is supporting the Ugandan military — a force that can be just as evil as the LRA. Rape, looting and an indifference toward civilian death are trademarks of both the Ugandan military as well as other African militias like the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, another group which is supported by the IC. It seems like the choice here is just bad or worse. And yes, IC picked the lesser evil, but shouldn’t groups like this be working to find another solution? One that doesn’t support any degree of rape, looting or death of African civilians? Furthermore, every time that Kony is targeted like this, and there have been many times, the LRA’s response is severe. Murder rates always escalate, leaving more dead civilians. Kony has been at it for over 20 years, and throughout that time military intervention just has not worked. It really appears that it’s time to get out of the box on this issue and start getting creative.
All of the information above is not to discredit this cause, but to shine a little light on the fact that Africa is not and never will be simple. The conflicts there are always highly complex and rarely is there ever a simple, straightforward separation of good and evil. If Invisible Children is guilty of anything it’s gravely oversimplifying the situation. And in addition, the overall vibe of the video is a bit bizarre — I mean it revolves around a young white child — and seems to push the naïve idea of “saving Africa.” We are all for supporting a worthy cause, it’s just so interesting to delve into both sides of the story. And, especially in this instance, it almost always goes to prove again and again that the entire world is made up only of shades of gray.