In the past few days, Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video has become one of the fastest-spreading viral videos in nonprofit history (over 55 million YouTube views and counting). The documentary focuses on Joseph Kony, the leader of the central African rebel movement called the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. Kony is widely regarded as one of the world’s worst war criminals. Under his command, the LRA has waged a 26-year campaign of terror which has included mass murder, mass rape, child abductions, child sex trafficking, and child soldier trafficking, just to name a few.
The LRA was originally a rebel movement against the government of Uganda. During the decades-old conflict, their goals have changed considerably. Today, the LRA is essentially gone from Uganda, but their campaign of terror continues in three neighboring countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. (You can see a real-time map of all reported incidents at the LRA Crisis Tracker.) The LRA no longer has any stated political objectives. Rather, its violence has become self-perpetuating–they continue their campaign not for any cause, but simply to avoid prosecution for their prior crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Thus, the cycle of child abduction and soldier trafficking continues.
The remarkable success of this video has drawn attention to a too-often-neglected conflict. However, the sudden spotlight on Kony and on Invisible Children has led to some criticism. Since SAAS will be sponsoring a screening of KONY 2012 at Northminster Presbyterian Church on April 17 featuring a Ugandan speaker, we thought we should lay out our position on the controversy and explain our continuing support for the work of Invisible Children. SAAS has been a strong advocate for the work of Invisible Children for years and will continue to be in the future.
Many criticisms have been raised in recent days, but we will address the main ones briefly below. For Invisible Children’s official and much more extensive response to these and other criticisms, posted on their Tumblr, please click here.
Issue #1: Money and Transparency
Some critics of the KONY 2012 movement have raised concerns about Invisible Children’s money management, focusing on the fact that only about 30% of fundraising that IC does goes to direct development work on the ground. However, this is no secret. In this interview, Jason Russell, IC co-founder and the main American featured in the film, explains that IC has never intended to be or pretended to be a traditional nonprofit that uses as much of its funds for direct development work as possible. Rather, they employ a “three M’s” approach: about 1/3 of their money goes to their movies (what most in the NGO community call “raising awareness”), 1/3 goes to the movement they’re building, and 1/3 goes to the mission, i.e., on-the-ground programs like an early warning radio network, job creation, and educational development in northern Uganda.
IC’s financial statements and 990’s for the last five years are publicly available on their website and have clearly reflected this approach. It isn’t as though donors were tricked or even fibbed to about this. It just a different model than your traditional aid NGO. And if you ask us, IC has become one of the most wildly successful anti-trafficking awareness NGOs in American history as a direct result of this model. But if you don’t like it, give to Heifer International or World Vision or another traditional development NGO.
Issue #2: Overemphasizing LRA abuses and/or underemphasizing human rights abuses committed by the Ugandan army, the Sudanese army, etc.
There have been many credible reports of human rights abuses committed by the Ugandan army and those of neighboring countries. No money donated to IC ever goes to any government, period. Nor does IC condone human rights abuses by any entity. However, they are right to focus on Kony, whose human rights record make him one of the world’s worst war criminals.
Issue #3: The film is too little too late–the LRA isn’t even in Uganda anymore
True, the film comes long after the worst atrocities in Uganda, but the IC faithful have been doggedly raising awareness of this crisis since at least 2006 through various film tours, creative activism events, and lobbying campaigns. Also, the LRA’s campaign of terror is no less brutal now that it has moved to countries other than Uganda. It just makes the situation that much more complex and urgent.
Issue #4: Do you really think that a bunch of hipster kids hanging posters are going to bring down a murderous warlord and trafficker half a world away?
To that, all we can say is: