The (in-)visible children of KONY 2012

The (in-)visible children of KONY 2012

If you have not lived in a digital cave, you most likely came across one – or rather a couple of thousand – tweets, event-invitations, pictures or messages that looked like this: “Make Kony Famous 2012”. The KONY 2012-campaign by the American NGO ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ has since both raised praise and resentment. Share your views!

The KONY 2012-campaign by American film-makers Jason Russel and Lauren Pool aims at making Joseph Kony famous with a 30-minute video on youtube with corresponding facebook and real-life actions. Joseph Koney is a Ugandan guerrilla group leader, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has in 2005 been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. By drawing attention to Joseph Kony, the campaign tries to raise awareness about the ongoing atrocities committed by the LRA and to persuade the US-government to continue its military engagement in the region.

The video has gone viral for about a week now and reached up to 50 million views by now:

If you look a little closer, you will find that the campaign and its organization ‘Invisible Children, Inc.‘ face a lot of criticism on the net: It is argued that support for the Ugandan army, which is facing accusations of rape and looting itself, has a bad aftertaste. Further, KONY 2012 is widely accused of over-simplifying the issue and yielding truth to shocking exaggerations. The critique mainly goes back to a blog-post of Grant Oyston, who today published that in response to the wide media attention he received, ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ offered to fly him to Africa to see the organization and project for himself – an offer he refused, doubting whether the organizations’ money could not be spend more effectively elsewhere. This falls in line with other critizism of the financial practices of ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ Finally, Oyston makes an interesting point when citing Chris Blattman, a Yale-scholar:

“There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

I do not agree with all of the arguments presented above and do believe that after carefully weighing the options you can still easily come to the conclusion that joining KONY 2012 is a great idea. If that is the case, I encourage you to do so! Yesterday, ‘Invisible Children, Inc.’ replied to some of the main public concerns, you can read their release [here]. But while you are at it, please also look at some more detailed and neutral info about Joseph Kony and the LRA (e.g. see the following list). And above all: Please always try to remain open to more than one view on an issue.

[Can America make a difference?], The Economist, 21.10.2011

[Joseph Kony (profile)], The New York Times, 14.10.2011

[Obama Takes on the LRA], Foreign Affairs, 15.11.2011

Is it acceptable to simplify matters when you are helping a greater cause? Has the process story drawn attention away from the important issues? Or maybe has the campaign already succeeded, just because we are talking about it right now? Please share your views!

Alexander Pyka