The Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign went viral over the past week, sparking a wave of cyber activists who imagine that changing their profile picture or tweeting “#stopkony2012” are effective means of raising mass awareness and somehow altering the status quo of this devastating situation. Invisible Children has made this campaign against Joseph Kony a viral phenomenon, raising awareness through a professional video funded by donors of the organization, with over 100 million views. While the Invisible Children organization is a non-profit group, that fact that it is incorporated makes us question the legitimacy of this organization - and their campaign in general. In the past year, they’ve spent a whopping $9M dollars; over $6M spent on film making, traveling, and salaries. Some of the sponsors include Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and George Bush, which makes us (or maybe just me) skeptical. The organization spends a mere 32% of their millions earned on direct aid, as their public financial statement unveils.
By centering an issue as dense as the Lords Resistance Army, headed by Joseph Kony, in Central Africa, and supporting military intervention by the American Army, I don’t think this issue is as simple as purchasing a $30 aid package with your name on it. Throughout the narrative, Invisible Children filmmakers take us through an emotional journey where we feel sympathy for the young men of Uganda, and this trigger of emotions is carried throughout the film. The misleading nature of the emotional narrative creates a relationship between viewers and the victims, where the viewers are called upon to be the saviors of these innocent people in Central Africa.
We see the video introducing a villain, Kony, who is responsible for the abduction of young innocent Ugandans. The idea that once we kill this villain (or try him in the court of law) all our child soldier problems will be solved, not only does injustice to the Ugandan people, but also forgets to highlight the interconnected systems that allow such injustice to happen. Invisible Children fails to show the complex political dynamics that allowed such terrorism to take place - the terrorized civilian populations of Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan is not new.
The United States openly supports the President of Uganda, millionaire Yoweri Museveni. President Museveni is still in power and during his 26 year reign he has arguably killed as many, if not more Acholi people, than Joseph Kony. So where is the demonization of the political powers in place? Surely the President of Uganda has control over the powerful forces that terrorize civilian lives on a daily basis, like Kony, and Invisible Children fails to highlight that. Furthermore, it is understood that Uganda is estimated to earn $2 billion a year from oil by 2015.
The American people are not being given “false” information, per se, but they are being given a less analytical and controversial version of the reality of the Central African conflict. Where does buying bracelets and altering our Facebook statuses translate to tangible solutions for political mediation?
Invisible Children is legally and officially a corporation, and before we start donating our precious money (which in actuality worsens the situation than solving it) we should question who we’re donating our money to. We’ve seen the photo of members of Invisible Children posing with their rifles and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army; we’re given signs to question their legitimacy again. On top of this we can see the connection between American military and AFRICOM that has been permeating Africa for years. It is also apparent that America has been providing weapons to the armies of Central Africa for quite some time. Why isn’t such a “savior oriented” organization informing us that Uganda is become a proxy of the global war for oil? Why is Invisible Children supporting military intervention against this one man, who is as much a product of the conflict in Central Africa as he is a cause?
We’ve even gotten a response from Invisible Children justifying their “program expenses,” while the salaries of employees range from $87,000 to $90,000 annually. The response video also acknowledges that the LRA is no longer concentrated in Uganda, yet the main focus throughout the original Stop Kony film is Uganda. In no way am I saying the devastating issue in Central Africa does not deserve our awareness and involvement (*limited* involvement), but is Kony 2012 commercializing the situation or actually solving it?
Sharmin Hossain is a political science and women's studies student from New York City studying at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany. She is a first generation Muslim Bangladeshi American, and is active in the social justice community. She is currently studying abroad in Morocco.