Furore over ‘Kony 2012’ campaign

By Marc Davies
Amidst exponential growth in worldwide support, the Kony 2012 campaign has suffered severe criticism for its alleged ulterior motives, financial structuring and ties to anti-gay Christian funders. Invisible Children, the ‘non-profit organisation’ that created the campaign against Kony, has released a second video defending its position and refuting these accusations.
The initial half-hour film, titled KONY 2012, garnered over 70 million views in its first week on YouTube, making it the fastest-growing viral video in online history. The video documents the origins of the campaign against Joseph Kony, the leader of a Ugandan guerrilla group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony has been accused of orchestrating the abduction of over 66 000 children in Uganda as well as the displacement of about two million people since 1986. The campaign aims to ‘make Kony famous’ and ultimately culminate in his trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for vicious crimes to humanity, among other charges.
According to The Telegraph, Dr Beatrice Mpora, the director of a community health organisation in Uganda, said the short film is partly inaccurate. “It can cause more problems than help us,” she said. Mpora claimed that Kony’s LRA had not been present since 2006, adding that people are now living in peace.
Rosebell Kagumire, a prominent Ugandan journalist, echoed this claim saying that the film paints a picture of Uganda seven years back, which is highly irresponsible. She further commented in her YouTube response that it simplifies the issue and implies that Africans are hopeless in times of conflict. “The situation has tremendously improved in northern Uganda. People sleep at home, children are going to school… the situation currently on the ground is not seen in the video,” she said.
Kagumire said people should not attempt to tell the story of Africans as hopeless and voiceless because this implies that the power lies in America and furthers the narrative structures of power that place Africans in a helpless position. “You should not be telling my story if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on,” she said.
Kagumire suggested that more careful representation of Africa is necessary and that African intervention should come first. Invisible Children claimed that it does not wish to try to “save Africa”, but rather wants Western youths to “do more than watch”. It also claims that over 95% of the charity’s leadership and staff are ‘on-the-ground’ Ugandans and are at the forefront of programme design and implementation.
The financial dealings of Invisible Children have also gained negative attention after it was revealed that only 37.14% of $8,894,360 in expenses was spent on programmes in central Africa in 2011. The remaining funds have been used to generate awareness programmes, media and advertising, as well as just under $1.5 million – 16.24% of the budget – on “management and general expenses”. This has raised concerns about the profitability of the campaign.
The charity, in response to concerns about its finances, responded that it is independently audited every year and is in full compliance with its non-profit status. Financial dealings between Invisible Children and the National Christian Foundation (NCF) have also raised uncertainties about the campaign. The NCF and two prominent Californian activists that contributed to the Kony 2012 campaign have also been influential opponents of same-sex marriage in the US. The NCF has raised funds for anti-gay rights groups and opponents, including one a group named Harvest Evangelism which works with a Ugandan author in promoting the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. Invisible Children responded that it is not anti-gay and has attracted investors and supporters that sit on “different sides of the aisle” on this and many other issues. The charity’s Vice President of business operations, Chris Sarette, said that Invisible Children sees people as people, adding that his core work in the organisation is one of the reasons he decided to ‘come out’ as a gay man.
The Kony 2012 campaign encourages Americans, and individuals worldwide, to contribute by plastering Kony 2012 posters in their cities and towns on 20 April to spur further action from the US government. Invisible Children has explicitly stated that 2012 must be the year in which Joseph Kony is brought to book.
Track further developments using #StopKony and #Kony2012 on Twitter.