Hello friends. This post has been in the works for several weeks now as I wanted to gather my thoughts about Kony 20212 and let the dusts of controversy settle a little bit. After doing countless hours of research and debating online, I thought I would share a few thoughts as to where I’ve landed with this whole thing.
If you’ve had any sort of presence online or even watched the primetime news over the past few weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard about KONY 2012 and all the buzz and controversy surrounding its release. For those of you who haven’t, Invisible Children–a San Diego based organization committed to giving voice to the children of Uganda who for decades have been forced into becoming soliders for a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army–released a video urging its viewers to make Joseph Kony, the wanted war criminal and leader of the LRA, famous. Like it or not, this video has changed the world and in more ways than one and has made him famous indeed. It went viral within days, and its reach continues to grow by the day with current views on YouTube approaching 86 million. This is astounding and quite impressive especially when compared to the other videos that followed a similar trajectory. I’m amazed by the scope of its reach and the effects it’s had on a global scale. It’s surely an iconic moment in our history.
There has been no shortage of backlash and criticism, however, and Invisible Children has been under quite a bit of scrutiny since the film’s release. And to be honest, I’m not surprised. Whenever something hits such a wide audience, there’s sure to be backlash. And while, many of the issues brought to light by the critics are valid, warranted and worthy of further investigation, many are simply false, misinformed and terribly vindictive. And yet in the end, what excites me is that conversations about things that really matter are being had and that millions more people know about the situation in Northern Uganda than did last month.
I’ll admit that the film over simplifies the history of the LRA and Kony and the current realties in central Africa, and it’s bit myopic to say the least. But what I also realize is the intent behind the film was to give people enough information that they’d become disturbed and driven to action and further investigation. I think we can all agree that is had that effect to be sure. Perhaps it was a bit too packaged but then again it was captivating and packed enough punch to get the job done: To make Kony Famous. And that it did. But I’m not happy to find out that some of the facts presented in the film are incorrect, and I don’t like that people are being misinformed. So I’m right there with the critics on that one, and I think IC could have done a better job there for sure.
Furthermore, I’m not so sure their on the ground strategies are the best and I not a huge fan of more bloodshed brought on by military action, but one thing we have to remember is that this isn’t Invisible Children’s first rodeo. Most people on their team have committed almost a decade to the cause and have made HUGE strides on various fronts, so I don’t think for a second that they have no idea what they are talking about. They’ve worked alongside countless experts in international affairs, Ugandans and US politicians for many, many years. And I have trust that the people with the real power to take action on the ground–our policy makers, international development experts, and of course, Ugandan government officials–are qualified to make such decisions and are much more well informed about the how-tos than I will ever be.
As for the critique about the organization itself…what I found most disturbing is how people started attacking the integrity of the people behind it and saying untrue, awful things about them. I have no problem with people being critical about the film, the tactics, the approach, the solutions. It’s good and healthy and necessary to debate, call into question and challenge. But before you jump to (and share) wild conclusions about the organization or the people who run it, do some homework and get to know it a bit. Invisible Children was first and foremost a awareness and advocacy organization. Back in 2004, they made a film and sought out to ensure that as many young people saw it as possible. I was one of those people and was so moved by it that I devoted two years to running the Invisible Children group at Westmont. So needless to say, all this is very near and dear to my heart. After working closely with IC and watching them grow over the years, I’ve come to deeply respect their team and how they go about doing things. They’ve accomplished so much…much more than many will in a life time, and I have to give them credit for that. Sure they’ve made some mistakes, but they always seem to approach it all with passion, love and grace. I respect them for it. I happen to personally know several of the people who are on the team, and I trust them to do the very best they know how. My friend Jedidiah is one of the most giving, selfless, passionate guys I know. He’s one of the leaders there and he sleeps on the floor because he’s dedicated his life to bringing peace to Central Africa. And I know that all that he does comes from that place because he’s a man of character and genuinely and deeply loves people and I know that he wouldn’t work for an organization unless the people behind it weren’t of like heart and mind.
On the topic of their spending…Invisible Children allocates money to the places they think are the best uses of it and for them, it’s always been about spreading the word. So to me it makes sense that they would spend so money on travel…because they go around the worth creating awareness and advocating on behalf of the children. I appreciate their transparency on this matter and willingness to defend their budgetary choices.
Many of you may not have that personal connection or level of trust that I do and I get that. But I invite you to do your research, learn as much as you can about Kony, the LRA and the realities in Central Africa, think critically, and choose to respond in the way that makes sense for you. If you’d rather give of your time and resources to other organizations doing more on the ground, do it. Go right ahead. If you want to post Kony 2012 posters, have at it. Do what you got to do. But in the end, regardless of what you think about the film, or about Invisible Children or about their plan, please, please please, don’t let this atrocity in Central Africa continue and find a way to get involved in whatever way you see best. There are dozens of organizations that work toward bringing healing and reconciliation to the region and regardless of where you land with all this, there is a need, and if you have the resources to give of time, talent or money, I think you shall.
Here are a few articles and videos I found to be helpful & insightful…and of course there are many more that can be found by a simple Google search. In any case, I invite you to poke around a bit and come to a well informed position.
Invisible Children’s Response // “Thank You” Video & Responses to Critiques
Foreign Policy // “Kristof on Kony”
Forbes // “Invisible Children’s Real Achievement: There May Never Be Another Rwanda”
LRA survivor Akiyu Stella Mistica comments on KONY 2012
Time // “Kony 2012: Mobs, Takedowns and Meltdowns, but Very Little Truth”