As everyone is now aware, Invisible Children released their 11th video on Joseph Kony and the LRA a couple of days ago:
and the controversy over Invisible Children and their movies has multiplied. Several sources (for example) have noted that almost 70% of IC’s funding goes towards staff salaries, travel, and film production, leaving only about 30% for services, and that Charity Navigator gives them only two stars for transparency and accountability.
As a lot of people have pointed out though, the criticism of 70% “overhead” doesn’t really make sense since IC’s main goal is awareness-raising rather than service provision. The cost of movies and other marketing at least should probably not count as overhead. And as you can probably tell from your facebook or twitter feed, they’ve been extremely successful at the awareness-raising and advocacy game. But this raises the more important criticisms: what exactly have they been successfully marketing?
- The KONY 2012 film claims that the problem is that Kony “isn’t famous enough”, but as Justice in Conflict points out, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. As the film itself notes, Kony is already officially “wanted” by the ICC and the LRA is one of the most well-known armed groups in the world. This suggests that the problem isn’t unknown, just difficult to solve.
- But IC, apparently believing that this is an “easy but ignored” problem, logically advocates for the “easy” solution: kill the bad guy. Unfortunately as Visible Children argues this solution isn’t so simple for several reasons. First, because the Ugandan army, which IC thinks should be supported in order to facilitate the capture, is accused of various crimes including rape and looting (and never mind the fact that Kony hasn’t been in Uganda since 2006). And second, because the US Africa Command has in fact sent several missions after Kony, but they have been extremely complicated both because he uses children as bodyguards and because each failed attempt has provoked retaliative killings.
- And finally, even if Kony were killed, what then? IC seems to think this is a one-man problem but the reality will be much messier. Foreign Affairs argues that the LRA is “as much a symptom as a cause” of the violence that has plagued the region since the mid 1990s, and that even without Kony LRA fighters would likely morph into another group. And of course as many of the perpetrators are also victims (child soldiers) it will be hard to find black-and-white justice for anyone.
To ask people to climb down from the soaring heights of “Kony 2012” (remember how we fall down into Uganda from the heavenly realms of Jason Russell’s Facebook page?), a place where they get to feel both sanctified and superior, and truly descend into the mire of history and confusion is simply too big an ask. It would be boring and difficult and it would not be about Facebook or Angelina Jolie or coloured wristbands or me. When the euphoria evaporates and the Twittersphere has dried its tears (probably by the end of this week), all that remains will be yet another powerful myth of African degradation beneath Western power–and Jason Russell will be famous and rich.