- Politics and Social Issues
Invisible Children and KONY 2012
Invisible Children and KONY 2012
“Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live” (Russell).
What if children were being abducted by a rebel army here in the United States? Your son is walking home from school, but doesn’t show up on time. He still is not there an hour later. You don’t just assume he stopped at a friends’ house; you know he was abducted and is being forced into becoming a child soldier. As the father, wouldn’t you want your son to be freed?
What if children were forced to watch and even partake in their parents’ deaths? Imagine your neighbors’ daughters witnessing their father being murdered, and then being forced to eat his mutilated hands. What would you, as the neighbor, do?
What if your life was ruined, because you were maimed on your way home from work? A young rebel soldier, who wrongly accused you of being a government soldier, held you down and sliced your lips and ears off. Wouldn’t you want justice and the safety of a walk home?
What if a home was not a safe place? Your entire town’s population of children must migrate nightly to certain camps. They walk miles, just so they might evade potential rebel soldiers for the night. They sleep body-to-body on the hard ground and return once they again believe it to be safe. Shouldn’t the government have a better idea?
If these occurred in the United States, what would happen? It would be national, if not worldwide, news. There would be a massive manhunt for the rebels. Parents, communities, and the armed forces would protect the children. A similar situation happening in the U.S. seems illogical and impossible, because that could never be permitted here. Human life is too precious and valued for us to let that happen. Yet why has it been going on for years in Africa, with little attention or coverage?
As Jason Russell, the director of the KONY 2012 film says, “Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live.” These horrific examples are everyday worries for many in Central African countries, like South Sudan, Central Republic of Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The people there are terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the LRA. Their leader, Joseph Kony, is the world’s number one most-wanted fugitive on the International Criminal Court’s list (Russell). He is charged for many crimes against humanity.
The LRA abducts children, many from their beds. They force the boys to become soldiers. The boys are then forced to kill, often even family members, to prove their loyalty. One DR Congo boy, Olivier Mbolifuyhe, was abducted for a year. He now has violent nightmares of the killings he was forced to commit, many of which were children. Some abductees, girls and boys, children and adults, become “porters” who carry the LRA’s loads. If the boys move too slowly, no matter how tired or heavy the pack, they will be beaten or killed. The boy depicted to the left, Jean Pierre, recounts having his legs broken after he became too weary to continue on. He was left for dead, but crawled for six days and eventually found help (“Abandoned People”).
The majority of the girls abducted are forced to become wives of respected, loyal commanders or just raped by many of the soldiers. This fourteen-year-old DR Congo girl on the right, Savilia Mbwoniwia, was forced to be the fifth wife of a LRA commander. She was raped, beaten, and only released when she was too badly maimed to walk. The girls are disposed of, once their appeal is lost. In Pulitzer’s article, “Abandoned People: Democratic Republic of Congo,” they also show a picture of a thirteen-year old girl, who was saved to be a wife for Joseph Kony himself (Pulitzer Center).
The LRA is very violent and will often maim victims, especially those that try to escape or evade the LRA. They are notorious for cutting off their victim’s lips and ears, as in the picture to the left (“Abandoned People”). Their cruelty is intense and often unexpected. Death, to the LRA, is a common currency and seemingly not a big deal.
When three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in 2003 for an adventure and a potential story, they were shocked to come upon the ongoing LRA war and immense cruelty. Forming Invisible Children was not originally their intention, but after witnessing the conditions in Central Africa, they knew they had to do something about it, and thus Invisible Children was created. Invisible Children does half of their work here in the U.S., and the other half in Central Africa. IC has a three-pronged plan to end the LRA and Joseph Kony. The first prong is to create awareness; the second prong is to use that awareness with various campaigns; and the third is to help the regions affected by the LRA. Invisible Children’s approach is unique, because instead of simply focusing on one crucial aspect like most groups do, they focus on all three. From spreading the word, to programs to end the injustice, to helping the people affected, they hope to abolish the LRA’s threat.
Their first prong of awareness has already been achieved. On March 5, 2012, Invisible Children launched their KONY 2012 YouTube video. The thirty-minute video is beautifully produced and directed and easily compels viewers to respond. It quickly became a worldwide phenomenon that now has over eighty-eight million views on YouTube alone. The film’s director, Jason Russell, personalizes the YouTube video by incorporating the birth of his own son and interviews with his young son, Gavin. The video shows how a child should not suffer, just because of where he was born. It also introduces Jacob, the director’s friend in Uganda who grew up hiding and running from the LRA. Jacob recounts seeing his own brother’s murder and how his community has to commute each night to shelters to hopefully escape from the rebel threat. After Jacob breaks down in tears, Russell encourages viewers to “change the course of human history” by helping stop the Lord’s Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony.
The video also mentions how the U.S. government previously told Invisible Children that they would never get involved with this, since it was not a threat to our country. So, Invisible Children decided to spread the word themselves. Through a lot of effort and fundraising, IC was able to create jobs, schools, rehabilitation centers, and an early-warning center system in Central Africa. After their vast effort, the government finally listened, and in 2010, President Obama sent one hundred U.S. troops as advisors over to Uganda to help end the LRA’s threats and assist the Ugandan army. Despite all of Invisible Children’s efforts, Kony is still on the run. Thus, the video encourages viewers to change that, by simply making Joseph Kony famous. They target twenty celebrities, from Justin Bieber to Tim Tebow to Oprah, who can use their voices to make him famous, and twelve policy makers, from Condoleezza Rice to Bill Clinton, who can actually do something to help capture Kony. The video encourages viewers to buy an “action kit” with posters and bracelets or to donate to Tri. On April 20, 2012, Invisible Children had their “Cover The Night” event, in which they wanted KONY followers to post the KONY 2012 posters on every street corner. Jason Russell finishes the YouTube video by stating that he wants Gavin to grow up in a better world and motivates us to make it happen (Russell).
Since the first prong is completed, Invisible Children realized a second video on April 5 of what to do since we have succeeded in making Kony famous. The video focuses on the second prong, doing something about it, through various campaigns. For this, they focus on four important points. They must first protect the civilians. They are currently installing and using an Early Warning System to alert communities of a potential attack. As of March 2012, there are twenty-seven communities in DR Congo, CRA, and South Sudan with access to the Early Warning System. They also have a FM Radio system, which is used to track Kony and the LRA, to communicate with the combatants, and to help persuade them to escape. The second point is for a peaceful surrender; though it seems unlikely Kony will comply. Their third point is rehabilitation and reconstruction. For this, they have many organizations in Uganda, like the Legacy Scholarship Program, Schools for Schools, Livelihood Program, and Mend. The first two help Ugandan children get a proper education, with some even going through college; the Livelihood Program helps families get financially balanced and successful; and Mend helps single women become financially independent. Invisible Children is also setting up programs in DR Congo, CRA, and South Sudan. The fourth point is, of course, the capture and arrest of Joseph Kony and his leadership of the LRA, which will require much more than just the Ugandan army’s efforts. It will need to be a worldwide collaboration.
The third and final prong to IC’s method is to help the communities affected by the LRA. As mentioned in the second prong, Invisible Children is already working some with that, through various rehabilitation programs across Central Africa. One touching story is that of Jacob, the Ugandan boy interviewed in the original KONY 2012 film. In the film, he says that he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, but he doesn’t have enough money to pay his school fees. In the “KONY 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous” film, it shows how through various programs, Jacob was able to succeed in his dreams and has now joined a law firm. Jacob says in the video, “I want to promote justice in my community… and in the whole world” (Lang & Keesey). So, while Invisible Children has done a lot for the rehabilitation, the majority of this work will be once Kony and the LRA are finished.
There are many different ways to get involved with the KONY 2012 program. There are potential jobs or internships at Invisible Children. One of the program’s biggest events, “Cover the Night,” on April 20,2012, was an easy way to get involved. It encouraged people from all over the world to paint their cities in Kony’s face, from posters to stickers to literal paintings, so that when people woke up the next day, Kony’s face would be unavoidable. Buying an “action kit” with KONY 2012 posters, bracelets, t-shirt, and other merchandise to help make Kony famous was so successful that it is sold out! There are also street teams in five major cities, which will help lead the “Cover the Night” event. Other ways to help are by donating to the cause, buying t-shirts, or simply “sharing” the video’s link on Facebook. Invisible Children is rare in that anyone and everyone can help, even if it’s just through awareness (Russell).
Is this a worthy, legitimate organization to donate to? Since the KONY 2012 film became viral, the organization, film, and filmmakers have been hit with heavy criticism. There have been doubts over Invisible Children’s finances, leadership, accuracy, and realistic approach to ending the war, as well as how the Ugandans themselves view the movement. When something is successful, it seems to always be attacked and criticized, and 106 million views will definitely get that promised attention and criticism. Invisible Children even did a large article on their website, defending themselves against certain exegesis’s.
Invisible Children’s shrouded finances have been widely scrutinized since the release and spread of the KONY 2012 video, so the organization has since made them much more accessible to the public. In the last fiscal year, they had revenue of $13.8 million (Welch). On the Invisible Children website’s “Questions and Answers” section, they explain how they spent nearly $9 million: $3.3 on programs in Central Africa, $2.3 on awareness programs, $1.4 on management, $850 thousand on awareness, $700 thousand on media, and nearly $300 thousand on fundraising. The money spent on the programs in Africa was 37.14% on their total expense, a good amount (Russell). As Welch’s article in USA Today states, the directors of the organization are all paid salaries under $100,000, which is small for administrators of such a successful non-profit (Welch). As for their rating with Charity Navigator, the “Questions and Answers” article explains that they have four out of four for their financials, but only two on the Accountability and Transparency category. Invisible Children states that it is because they only have four board members instead of five, but they are hoping to change that by 2013 (Russell). So, their lower rating, as Charity Navigator itself said, was not a reflection of the group’s finances, but because of the board members. In Charity Navigator’s article, they mention how IC is spending 80% of their income on their programs, which is high compared to other organizations (Charity Navigator). As for Invisible Children’s financial outcome since the release of the video, they have had immense success. In the first month of the film’s release, Invisible Children received 3.6 million pledges from 204 different countries. In summer, they are proposed to release the exact amount they have earned (Welch). This was one of the most scrutinized aspects, but I believe Invisible Children is financially sound and is a financially worthy organization to donate to.
This has been an extremely criticized area, since the breakdown of the film’s director, Jason Russell. He was hospitalized after a very ugly, public episode. He was found running around the streets in San Diego, in just his underwear, while screaming, pounding his fists on the sidewalk, and possibly masturbating. Invisible Children’s CEO Ben Keesey said that Russell’s episode was due to exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. Keesey deemed the cause to be the stress Russell was under from the film’s unexpected worldwide success as well as the criticism that followed (Flock). Since the incident, Invisible Children has released a second film, with a different narrator. They intend to move forward, and hope that the scandal will be forgotten. I personally believe it should be. Should one man’s actions represent an entire organization and a worthy cause? No. Jason Russell’s disturbance should not eclipse Invisible Children’s campaign, because that’s not what is really important.
Some claim that Invisible Children’s information in the KONY 2012 video was clouded and glossed over to better appeal to society. Thus, in the “Questions and Answers” article, they clear up any issues. They better explain what exactly they are doing in Central Africa. In the CRA, South Sudan, and DR Congo, they have the HF Early Warning Radio Network, FM Radio broadcasts, the LRA Crisis Tracker, and various rehabilitation centers, while in Uganda they have several schooling programs and rehabilitation programs for families. They also respond to why they focus on the LRA and especially on Joseph Kony, as well as where they currently are and why it is so difficult to capture Kony. At the end, they provide several links to some of the statistics they used for the film. They also clearly state that Joseph Kony and the LRA are no longer operating in Uganda, but have moved onto South Sudan, the DR Congo, and the CRA. The film makes it seem otherwise, and Invisible Children even admits to possibly not making that clear enough. The article on their website is very transparent, and makes me trust in their accountability. Jonathon Taplin, a fellow filmmaker, said a very true statement. He said that all of the critics are treating this as if it was journalists who improperly cited information, but really, this is a young group of activists (Goffard). It might not have been 100% perfectly accurate, but the film did accomplish its goal.
A Ugandan’s Response
. Rosebell Kagumire is a Ugandan activist who gives her personal response to the KONY video. She expresses her disapproval in the portrayal of Ugandan’s being helpless, of the war being all about Joseph Kony, and of the over-stated emphasis of the Western’s need to help. She also says that the war in Ugandan is over; people are sleeping in their own beds and safe. Now, it is all about the post war recovery efforts. She says the video is an “outsider trying to be a hero for African children.” To Kagumire, the video makes viewers cry, but they forget about it at the end of the day. The African people are not hopeless or voiceless; the power does not lie in America, but with the Ugandan people, and that is the biggest problem for Ugandans with the film. She says that the focus should be keeping the communities together, instead of attacking one single man. While the filmmakers might have good intentions, the video is not correct or helpful, in her opinion. She brings up a great point: how can we as Westerners magically fix their long-lasting problem? Can we wave our fancy, YouTube wands, get some celebrities to tweet about it, and magically solve this complex issue? Is it worth a try, or is it simply insulting to the African people?
Invisible Children’s Success
Are Invisible Children’s methods to capture Kony and end the LRA’s threats plausible and effective? I believe their awareness program was a great success and really did acquire positive results. The KONY 2012 video is one of the first to incorporate the Internet, especially YouTube, and is evidence for the great influence it can have on society. The amount of viewers was 212 times what Invisible Children was expecting. One cannot doubt the effect the video had. Anneke Van Woudenberg, who works for the Human Rights Watch, said, “We didn’t get celebrities going onto Twitter,” about the HRW’s own video about the LRA (Goffard).
This has made so many aware, and thus already produced results. The United Nation’s International Criminal Court’s prosecutor claims that Joseph Kony will be arrested in 2012, due to the increased worldwide knowledge of him and the LRA through the KONY 2012 videos. The prosecutor, Moreno-Ocampo, says that the overwhelming attention on Kony and the injustice is proof that the world understands and believes in justice. The ICC has had warrants out for Kony since 2005, with 12 charges against humanity and 25 charges of war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo said, “But now we have the citizens of the world pushing for that… It will be the end of the Joseph Kony crimes.” This article proves that the KONY film did its job; it made the world aware and thus affected the government and other vital organizations. It inspired them to do more, and seems like a simple YouTube video really could help end a major, worldwide crime. If Kony was to be caught, all of the conflict with the LRA would not just magically disappear, but a major commander’s seizure would definitely dampen the LRA’s power (Lederer). One cannot doubt Invisible Children’s success of their awareness campaign.
However, how is their second prong, campaigns, doing? On April 20th, their proposed “Cover the Night” campaign fell short of expectations. Very few participated and the aimed covering of cities with the KONY 2012 posters was awkward for most. The campaign lost steam. I personally have seen one KONY 2012 poster in downtown Waco, and was shocked to see it. KONY 2012 had so much hype-what happened? Is it just because it’s easier to watch from home? The criticism of Russell’s breakdown could’ve also dampened the success and potential of “Cover the Night.” This makes me question whether or not Invisible Children should’ve stopped after creating awareness and raising money.
There has been so much negativity surrounding Invisible Children. It is a scam; the participants are misinformed; and the issue isn’t like that. I choose Invisible Children and KONY 2012 as my topic for that exact reason. Something so good, so inspiring, was suspect to such much opposition and hate. Why? So all of the snarks can be “right” about a passing activist phase? To me, it seems like the spirits and engagement of American youth should not be put down by a possibly skewed approaches. If you disagree with Invisible Children, you should find a different way to help end the LRA, but not criticize the people who are compelled to help.It is encouraging to see a proclaimed “self-obsessed” generation be passionate about something beside themselves. In a Los Angeles Times article, Adam Rogers made a great point in that yes, younger generations might think posting a simple link to the video on Facebook could solve a major issue, but doing that is still more than what they were doing before (Goffard). So, why can’t people be encouraged that something is finally being done about this injustice? No one wants to be scammed by a shoddy organization, but at the same time, at least hitting the “share” button is more than most people will ever do.
No, Invisible Children isn’t perfect. It has its flaws. They were not perfectly clear in the original KONY 2012 film, although they did later correct their errors. The film makes military involvement seem like a simple cure-all, but a similar attempt not long ago drastically failed. Kony’s army backlashed, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and kidnapping from villages in Congo (Rainey). It is slightly glossed over and does perhaps utilize a Western-savior method. Frankly, though, it is something. It is more than we ever did before. It is a group of people who care about something other than themselves, and try to do it honestly and effectively.
If where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live, if we should be concerned with more than just ourselves, if you believe in justice for all, then you cannot simply forget about Joseph Kony or the Lord’s Resistance Army. “Cover the Night” should not have lost its push and Jason Russell’s episode shouldn’t mar KONY 2012’s reputation. After all of my research, I’ve concluded that Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign is a unique and meritorious lobby. After thoroughly researching the issue, I do believe they have made a long-lasting impact and their push will help capture Joseph Kony in 2012. However, my research has led me to believe more in simply the KONY 2012 campaign; I believe everyone should be called to aid those struggling under this oppression in Central Africa, whether or not they believe in Invisible Children’s approach. This corruption has been going on for too long and must end. Joseph Kony must be captured, the Lord’s Resistance Army must be brought to an end, and there must be peace in Central Africa. If you enjoy a safe walk home from school or a good, peaceful night of sleep in your own bed, you must think of others who do not. If this would never be allowed in the United States, how can we turn a blind eye to it in Africa? We must do something, and I believe Invisible Children and KONY 2012 is a great something to start with.