The most recent social fad among young people like myself has been the KONY 2012 Movement, started by Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to bringing about the arrest of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa. Millions of Facebook statuses, tweets, memes and Youtube videos have flooded cyberspace over the past ten days, proving once again that anyone can be an activist with the push of a button.
But Invisible Children appears to have played fast and loose with the facts, which I'll get to in a moment.
To its credit, the organization has proven adept at using social media to achieve its stated goal of making Joseph Kony famous for the atrocities he has committed. If you haven't watched the Youtube video yet, I'll do my part and link to it here. The video, more or less, recounts the following:
Joseph Kony is the most wanted man in the international community. He has fought against the Ugandan government for decades by abducting children, forcing them to commit heinous war crimes, and mutilating them if they refuse. Invisible Children successfully petitioned the U.S. government to send one hundred advisory consultants (read: troops) to aid the Ugandan military in arresting him so that he can be tried in International Court for war crimes. But there is more work to be done: The movement needs to keep pressure on the American government so that they don't remove the advisory consultants, so we need everyone to do their part to make Joseph Kony famous. The higher his name-ID, the bigger a story it is if the government bails on the operation, and the bigger the political fallout would be. Doing your part includes sharing the Youtube video, signing the pledge, contacting cultural and political leaders, and buying an action kit, which provides the tools for engaging in a more 'boots on the ground' manner.
However, as Michael Wilkerson points out in his guest column for Foreign Policy, the Invisible Children video leaves out a few crucial details, omissions that have served to misinform millions of would-be activists for social justice:
Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic -- where Kony himself is believed to be nowIt appears that, in an attempt to garner broader and more enthusiastic support, Invisible Children has fudged a few important details and portrayed Northern Uganda as something that it is not: a war zone in which children are taken from their beds and either massacred immediately or indoctrinated into the LRA. This may have been the case ten years ago, but has not been since 2006. Wilkerson goes on to write that there are a plenty of other problems facing Northern Uganda that an influx of money from Invisible Children projects could serve to worsen rather than alleviate.
...Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.
...the small remaining LRA forces are still wreaking havoc and very hard to catch, but Northern Uganda has had tremendous recovery in the 6 years of peace since the LRA left.
It is also unclear what the organization's overarching goals are now that Joseph Kony IS famous, other than raising a lot of money and planning a day of action that coincides with National Weed Day (I can't tell if that's a really good idea or really bad idea...). As Wilkerson points out:
[The] goal is to make sure that President Obama doesn't withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed. That seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention by the government of withdrawing those forces -- at least any I can find. Does anyone else have any evidence about this urgent threat of cancellation? One that justifies such a massive production campaign and surely lucrative donation drive?And what happens if the advisors stay in Uganda but fail to kill or capture Kony, which seems like the most probable outcome considering that Kony has not been in the country for six years?
It seems that one of the reasons that KONY 2012 has garnered such a wide base of involvement is that it requires very little investment for a very small goal. While the movement will almost certainly succeed in keeping American advisors in Uganda, I worry that it will not be able to ensure the arrest of Joseph Kony because it is asking too little; it is low-risk/low-reward activism at the greatest scope possible.
What is so troubling about setting the bar for 'success' so low with the KONY 2012 movement is that more is possible. Invisible Children took in over 15 million dollars in revenue over the past ten days simply from the sales of their action kits (it is safe to assume they took in considerable additional revenue in donations and purchases of other merchandise); much of that could be directed towards direct aid to those affected by the LRA. However, as Jedidiah Jenkins (one of the creators of KONY 2012) said on Sunday, "the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don't intend to be."
If Invisible Children insists on remaining an advocacy and awareness organization, then why not advocate for something more than maintaining the status quo? 100 advisory consultants will likely not be enough to arrest Joseph Kony; those who are serious about seeing him brought to justice must be willing to turn their voices into demands for a legitimate humanitarian force to neutralize the LRA entirely. I do not necessarily agree with that course of action, but it would be far more effective in ending the crisis than leaving some token consultants in Uganda and hoping that Kony hops the border to turn himself in.
Like everyone else, Wilkerson included, I believe that Joseph Kony is evil and should be stopped. But I feel that the KONY 2012 movement in its present form lends itself to slacktivism more than it does to real activism, and there is a better way to go about solving the crisis of the LRA than posting a Youtube video and, if you are feeling especially 'in touch,' buying a bracelet. The movement, like many similar movements, has garnered broad support that is incredibly shallow, as most of the people who have gotten involved are misinformed regarding basic facts surrounding the issue and have no intention of investing themselves beyond what they can do from their dorm room.
If those involved in KONY 2012 were correctly informed by Invisible Children, rather than being misled into thinking that the problem is far simpler than it actually is, the movement may look quite different. Perhaps not as many people would be involved, but those who were would be far more active in pressuring Congress to do what needs to be done and aiding Ugandans in need. It would be far more productive than the mindless re-tweeting to preserve the current situation that we see today.