Kony 2012: Sentimentalism Dressed Up as Moral Conviction

Kony 2012 is the fastest spreading viral video in the history of the Internet.  It is a documentary, created by an organization based in San Diego, CA, called Invisible Children.  The purpose of both the video and the organization is to raise awareness of a murderous warlord in Africa, named Joseph Kony, who has, for the past three decades, been kidnapping children and, through brutal and barbaric means, turned them into soldiers and sex slaves for his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  The video is suffused with emotional appeal for outrage, sympathy, guilt, and a noble urgency to help the pledge to capture Joseph Kony in 2012.  But, here are some other facts to consider before buying into the emotional manipulation and jumping onto this new trend wagon.

Factual accuracy.

As Michael Gerson, of the Washington Post, writes, “The crimes of the LRA, it is argued, have been exaggerated and the attention they are receiving is disproportionate.”

The effort to capture or kill Kony is one of the least controversial, most thoroughly multilateral, objectives in the world. But that has not prevented a few people from trying to stir controversy.

…Kony’s greatest crimes are in the past. He is no longer active in Uganda, where even his northern tribal allies turned against him. Attacks in eastern Congo and southern CAR are mainly raids for supplies instead of mass atrocities. But this is precisely because the LRA is under constant pressure. When Kony attempts to gather his forces – as he did in September in CAR – his Ugandan army pursuers are quickly on top of him. Obama has deployed more than 80 special operations forces in the region to help coordinate these operations.

Kony’s crimes can’t be denied. But some critics of the anti-Kony campaign contend that the attention he is receiving is disproportionate.  Aren’t there more deaths, for example, in Syria?

Propaganda.

As Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, writes,

Jason Russell juggles the cliches of US presidential campaigns and corporate imagery. …It is partisan, tactless and very bold. But it could be seen as insufferably condescending, a way of making US college kids feel good about themselves.

…He shuffles in graphics in the manner of Michael Moore and Al Gore; he deploys the language and rhetoric of grassroots campaigning, channelled campus energy. This is the world of Occupy and Obama 08. But all the material about social networking is there to prepare the audience to believe in their ability, through the web, to make a difference, to pressure celebs and politicians and donate a couple of bucks each.

…It is sometimes conceited and cliched, and Russell does not detain the viewer with exactly how much western intervention he expects, and what the downside is.

Misrepresents the current situation in Uganda.

Via the Telegraph,

Former LRA fighter Jackson Okoth said: “This video is like flogging a dead horse. Kony is no longer the same as he was 10 years ago.”

“The war in northern Uganda is over and efforts must be made towards settling people in their homes.”

“This is a good initiative, but it should have come at the right time, not at the time when Kony has been defeated in Uganda,” said Onyango Kakoba, Uganda’s representative to the Pan-African Parliament.

Some in northern Uganda, the region worst hit by the LRA brutality, welcome the film “Kony2012”, but say they now want to rebuild their lives.

“The video has been overcome by events. The situation has changed from war to peace, and that’s what we are currently doing to ensure that people return to normal lives,” said Solomon Kigane, an aid worker in northern Uganda.

Where do the $ Millions in donations go?

The Lantern points out,

Charity Navigator, a watchdog group over similar charitable organizations, rates Invisible Children three stars out of four overall as a charity. …but only received two stars for accountability and transparency.

In the fiscal year ending June 2011, Invisible Children garnered nearly $13.8 million in revenue. However, the group spent about $8.9 million in 2011 on expenses.

Only about 32 percent of the group’s money goes toward charity. According to CharityWatch, another charity watchdog, donating 60 percent of your revenue to your cause is “satisfactory,” whereas donating 75 percent of your revenue is considered “highly efficient.”

Where is the money you’re giving them going? If you indeed paid $40 for the now-sold-out action kit and bracelet, and assuming the group’s spending habits hold true, fewer than $13 of your money will be going toward the campaign to stop Kony in Uganda.

Humanitarian aid donations going to the 2012 election.

Capturing a brutal warlord is a noble cause, but potential donors beware.  Here is an indication from an article by MTV of where your donation dollars may, also, end up…

Jenkins said the group is considering participating in a voter-registration drive as the 2012 election approaches.

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