April 2, 2012
I’m a white guy who spent two years in Africa and now works for a non-profit, so naturally I’ve been asked a lot of questions about Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 film and, especially, about the negative criticism it has received. A lot that criticism hits close to home for me personally, so I wanted to offer up a few of my reactions to the film and the questions it has raised:
1. “WE ARE NOT AN AID ORGANIZATION”
Before you get angry about the 31 (or 37)% percent that Invisible Children spends on projects in Uganda, remember this quote from IC’s Jedidiah Jenkins, “the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be…But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.” You can’t argue that they haven’t created awareness or set a new standard for youth advocacy. Yes, they do put about $3 million or so toward aid projects, and the impact-per-dollar of those projects is not impressive (in my opinion), but that’s NOT their focus! Tangible, on-the-ground aid is not their area of expertise and it’s not their passion, and that’s ok.
2. …SO LET YOUR DOLLARS TALK
Yes, IC spends a LOT on film-making, a LOT on travel, and a LOT on media, but if those things are clearly advancing their stated purpose, then you can’t fault them. I know how $2500 plan tickets to Africa add up, and you can clearly see from their tax return that spending on salaries and benefits isn’t out of line. If you don’t like how they are spending their money, then don’t give it to them!
3. WHAT NEXT?
One criticism that I do agree with, however, is the overly-sensational nature of the film. It is long on ideas and emotions, but short on logic and results. As has been pointed outelsewhere, the timeline of the story in Africa is quite cloudy, and it’s easy to draw conclusions about what is happening now that just aren’t correct. Apart from these details, though, I worry that the challenge of the film is unfounded. The purpose is to “change the course of human history,” but I honestly don’t see what the film is accomplishing in central Africa. There are millions of people in America who know about Kony and hundreds of thousands who will wear a bracelet, but the fate of Kony rests in the hands of the US and Ugandan military. My worry is that 2012 will end without his capture, despite the fact that US troops remain, and millions of people will see that their awareness didn’t work. What happens next?
4. OTHER OPTIONS
I’m not giving money to Invisible Children. It’s not because they are necessarily doing anything wrong, but it’s because I believe there are more productive ways to create change in Africa. I believe that America is aware – that we all know there are problems in Africa. I also believe that if we invest in keeping sick people alive, holding families together, nurturing and educating children in their homes, creating a growing economy, and connection people with Christ, problems like the LRA and Kony will disappear. If poverty, hopelessness, and sickness are replaced with stability, opportunity, and knowledge, then madmen like Kony have no place. It’s not trendy, quick, sensational or easy to fit in a graphic, but focused, long-term, capacity-building aid is what places like Gulu need.
While the fact that there have been 30,000 child soldiers over the last 30 years (not currently) is horrible, I believe more of our attention could be placed on the fact that there are 1.2 MILLION orphans because of AIDS right now in Kenya alone.
That’s why I believe in CARE for AIDS and organizations that are working to meet the systemic causes of an environment where men like Kony thrive. If you saw the Kony film and were inspired, good! There is more to be done than becoming aware, though, and that’s where I’m investing.
Leave me a comment and tell me what you think…
If you haven’t seen the KONY 2012 video, view it here
Read more of the quoted article with Jedidiah Jenkins in GOOD magazine here
Read the referenced response to Kony by Joshua Keating in “Foreign Policy” magazine here
For more statistics on HIV/AIDS in Kenya, visit UNAIDS here