Over the past few days the charity Invisible Children has launched an online viral campaign to raise the profile of the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony. Already the half hour video describing the campaign and the crimes committed by Kony has been viewed over 32 million times (11 million more than when I started writing this article 2 hours ago). Invisible Children has trended on Twitter, along with the #StopKony and #Kony2012 hashtags and the world’s media are quickly following up with more detailed stories highlighting not the crimes of Kony but the campaign to “make him famous.”
I have been struck by the number of reports critical of Invisible Children. Many of these reports accuse them of spending up to 70% of their revenue on salaries, travel expenses and film making rather than those that need it. Reporters have also discovered that NGO watchdog Charity Navigator gave the group just two out of four stars for financial accountability.
Is it just me whose first impression of these criticisms is “Who cares?” Why is it that some people look for flaws in every attempt by others to do good. I couldn’t care less if the people running the campaign smoked crack by day and lounged in their underwear eating Cheetos by night. The issue here must surely be that the world, in the form of the ICC, has decided that Joseph Kony is a despicable war criminal who has committed unspeakable crimes against people of all ages but in particular children, and Invisible Children are trying to do something about that?
But beyond this fickle debate over the pros and cons of the charity – an excellent article by the way can be found by clicking here
I find the whole Kony2012 movement interesting, not least because the central premise of the movement seems to be to ensure that US military intervention continues (albeit that entails just 100 military advisers). US military intervention is not, I would imagine, something most people tweeting about this have often supported anywhere. Debates have raged for years over the pros and cons of interventionist policies and what it means to act in the national interest. Of course every Government is elected to safeguard the security of its own people. But where man can act in the aid of others regardless of race, colour, sex or creed, is that not for the better?
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Of course many readers will cite the mistakes made in Iraq, the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and other conflicts as evidence that intervention is a bad thing. These arguments are not without merit. But I am constantly struck by how the life of a human being in one country means so little to the lives of humans in another country. Why is an African life, a Syrian or a Libyan life worth less than a British or American life? Were we not all born equal?
In some ways I wonder whether western media is partly responsible for this. Movements like Kony2012 allow a brief glimpse into the horrors that exist in some part of the world in a way that the media doesn’t. For example, for the past year we have had rolling coverage on Syria on the BBC and CNN, but it has never really shown the true horrors of what has happened there. To see those you need to know the right places to look, in particular on YouTube [Editor: we have removed this link as it contains extremely graphic and disturbing images, and so is not for a family audience]. At the same time the suffering of countless millions in Africa from famine, war and despotic dictators has raged for years with few real interventions with the exception of when people have seen the reality of these situations which has led to rock concerts or diplomatic action to try and make a difference. Personally I have always wanted to see the full gory details. Working on Middle Eastern issues I have wanted to see the shocking videos of people’s heads blown off and when I previously worked on terrorism issues for a number of years I felt obliged to watch footage of beheadings. These are truly horrifying videos, but I believe that I had a responsibility to understand the full realities of the situation, and therefore I had to watch them. I always found they galvanized me into wanting to make a difference in some way.
So I ask myself whether greater accessibility to real footage of these appalling events would inspire more people to try to make a difference, and if they did, what difference could they actually make? Do movements like Kony2012 really make a difference at a strategic level. I think perhaps not, but they can help at a tactical level. Lets take Kony2012 as an example. Will this movement actually lead to Kony being captured or killed –I doubt it. Only military forces and Governments can make that happen. But when the issue next comes to a Parliament, or an international body, people are likely to be more aware and knowledgeable of the feelings of their constituents and thus more likely to act to do something positive to help.
Many will ask whether the money it costs to make the video and fly people around the world with packs of posters was really the most cost effective way to improve the lives of those people affected by the LRA. Perhaps not. Schools and hospitals would no doubt improve the lives of children in Uganda more. But what is the ultimate outcome of the campaign? Those people who already knew about Kony are now joined by countless others. People who wanted to give money to charities will continue to do so. I have no doubt that those people will be joined by many more who are giving money for the first time to this cause. And for the other 95% of people, well, all it took was the click of a mouse and they have been involved in doing something good for the planet.
Ultimately millions of people now know who Joseph Kony is, what the people of Uganda have been through, and that is no bad thing. Regardless of whether Kony is arrested, killed or continues to live on, movements like this highlight how the suffering that exists in a large proportion of our planet. Most of the suffering on the planet sadly isn’t inflicted by comedic media fodder personalities like Colonel Qadhafi and Kim Jong Il, but from little known people like Kony. And I for one hope that similar movements spring up to highlight the actions of others like him.
To test your own knowledge of the ICC Wanted list visit here