The Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children has gone viral since its launch on Monday (it’s been viewed by over 38 million people) but Ugandan outrage is growing in kind. The compelling film suggests that Africa's longest-running conflict is still raging in the northern part of Uganda, despite the fact that the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army controlled by Kony) was ousted in 2006 and has moved to neighboring countries.
The aim of Invisible Children’s campaign is to make Kony famous by coating cities around the world with posters, encouraging supporters to tell everyone about the atrocities he’s committed. The strategy is to turn the fight against the LRA into an issue of national interest in Washington, applying pressure to bring the warlord to justice. The film appears to have united people across the globe against Kony but despite the nobility of its aims, its validity as a piece, well as the integrity of Invisible Children has been called into question.
Dr Beatrice Mpora, the director of Kairos, a community health organization in Gulu, a Ugandan town that was once the centre of the rebels’ activities, said, “What that video says is totally wrong and it can cause us more problems than help us. There has not been a single soul from the LRA here since 2006. Now we have peace, people are back in their homes, they are planting their fields, they are starting their businesses. That is what people should help us with.”
Meanwhile, Rosebell Kagumire, a respected Ugandan peace and conflict journalist agreed: “This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible”.
Another of the video’s key claims is that domestic and international pressure will help maintain the funding to keep the 100 American military advisors in Uganda. In response, Javie Ssozi, an influential Ugandan blogger, said, “Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong. Have they thought of the consequences? Making Kony ‘famous’ could make him stronger. Arguing for more US troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive.”
Critics have also pointed out that the film only quotes three Ugandans - two of whom are politicians. They suggest that instead of showing the film maker's five year old son saying Kony is a bad guy, it should have said something about the root causes behind the 30 year conflict.
Thrust into the spotlight, Invisible Children is also facing speculation about its finances. Of the £6 million (HKD 73.6M) the charity spent in 2011, less than £2.3 million (HKD28.2M) went to helping people on the ground. The rest was funneled to “awareness programmes and products”, management, media and elsewhere.
Another much talked about concern, meanwhile, is that Charity Navigator has given Invisible Children a rating of two out of four for accountability and transparency. Fred Opolot, a Ugandan government spokesman, had this to say about the charity’s financial intentions: “It is totally misleading to suggest that the war is still in Uganda. I suspect that if that’s the impression they are making, they are doing it only to garner increasing financial resources for their own agenda.”
Whilst we don’t believe that is Invisible Children’s intention (and we think they’ve been wise to spend the majority of their funding on awareness – just look at this campaign) the critics raise some interesting points. It’s always worth knowing as much as you can about a charity before you commit money and effort to back it. So stay tuned – there’s a long way to go before April 20.
The Sidney Morning Herald
The Visible Children Blog