reflections on kony 2012

UPDATE: I have decided to put this post up again since a number of people have asked for it. I have retained my last update, found at the bottom, where I explained my reasons for removing the initial post. A fair amount of time has now passed since #Kony2012 and I would probably nuance a few of the views expressed here. Nonetheless I will refrain from changing the original post.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

In the past 24 hours thousands of Australians, particularly young Australians, have shown their support for Invisible Children’s newest campaign, Kony 2012.

I write this post with great trepidation for at least two reasons:

  1. Literally hundreds of people I know have shared videos on Facebook about Kony and have expressed a keen desire to support Invisible Children in this project.
  2. I work for another NGO, and any criticism I make could be seen as bitter in that light; I hope that people see this is not the case

When Invisible Children initially made its way to Australia I supported the organisation. At points I have even used The Rescue (film) in Scripture classes as a thinking point for justice issues. A number of years on, however, and I’ve learned a lot about about development and international issues. At this point I cannot support Invisible Children and Kony 2012.

I do not in any way intend this post to take away from young people speaking up for the oppressed. I hope and pray that this becomes more widespread. I know that everyone who has supported the Kony 2012 film has nothing but good intentions. But good intentions are not enough – we must also be educated on what it is that we are supporting.

Before any criticism, I would highlight some positives about IC. They have obviously used film and social media in a highly successful way, and this is admirable. Their ability to shoot high quality films and distribute them far and wide, getting their message out to the public, is amazing. Their success at highlighting issues in Uganda is worthy of praise.

Concerns

Yet I have a number of serious concerns about IC.

These are complex, and writing them all down in detail would take a long time. Fortunately others have written on this topic and I will frequently link to them rather than explain every detail.

The organisation is far from accountable and transparent. The mission to “stop Kony” is not given much in the way of explanation. Moreover there are serious questions around IC’s financials. One writer has claimed:

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee.

(This quote does not mention that the IC score at Charity Navigator overall is 4 stars, which is great. Still the accountability question is significant.)

IC reports 80.5% of their funding going to programming. However, as this writer correctly argues, according to the IC 2011 financials this includes filmmaking, and other NGOs do not consider this as counting to their programming expenses, but to their fundraising expenses. Ultimately the filmmakers are passionate young people who experienced the problems first hand, but do not have the expertise in aid, development or international affairs to judge the best way to solve the problems or spend the millions of dollars they are earning.

There are also concerns about the accuracy of IC films’ portrayal of the situation in Central Africa. Militias have attempted to stop Kony many times before, but have not been successful. In the end, however, he is not the only or even main problem in Central Africa. Disease, malaria, poverty, education – these are all bigger problems. In fact it is doubtful Kony would even be a problem is there was not such widespread poverty in the regions in which he operates.

But the solution of IC is not to deal with any of these complex factors. Rather, IC sets out a very simplistic solution to Uganda’s problems – Stop Kony!

The founders of IC and filmmakers of Kony 2012. (Photo: Glenna Gordon / Scarlett Lion)

This is a noble idea, and Kony is certainly an evil person who needs to be stopped. But how will this come about? The solution seems to be both to bolster the Ugandan military and encourage more American military intervention.

It should be said that the Ugandan military is in many ways as bad as Kony. One writer says:

Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.

American military intervention is not much more desirable. Any attempt to kill Kony will result in the deaths of child soldiers who guard him. Moreover injecting more violence into the region will only perpetuate it in the long term. There is a logic that says some American-led violence now will stop Kony, put an end to the LRA and bring lasting peace. But this is far too simplistic – the problems are structural, though IC talks about them like they are superficial. Poverty is, as always, a huge factor. Killing Kony will not end the war; in fact it may cause more violence.

Despite the failure of other American military interventions this method is still trumpeted as the solution. This of course plays right into a narrative of White superiority – the Ugandans (and other Central Africans) cannot solve this problem themselves so we must intervene. The idea that the children are invisible is flawed – every Central African knows who Joseph Kony is. Indeed, he is an international war criminal. The truth is that most of us Westerners don’t know who he is. The narrative goes that if we get educated and make Kony famous then this will lead to a solution. But most of us know/knew other dictators or violent leaders; it has not necessarily led to a solution to the problems associated with them.

Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, has written:

There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.

In truth there is already peace coming to the region in question. Sure, it’s a slow process, and it will take time. But it is African-led, and this is far more likely to be long-lasting. You cannot impose peace, nor can you bring it about with more violence. One writer says:

Incredibly, there is no mention in the film or the campaign that northern Ugandans are currently enjoying the longest period of peace since the conflict began in 1986. Virtually every single northern Ugandan I spoke to during my own field research believes that there is peace in the region. While sporadic violence continues, particularly as a result of bitter land disputes, there have been no LRA attacks in years.

And:

‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA.

The point here is that people here in Australia (and in other Western countries) need to know what they are supporting before they sign off. If you are willing to support dubious American military intervention, and other issues I and others have raised, then all power to you.

I suspect that most people who get involved, however, have not engaged with the cause beyond a desire to see Kony stopped. This is admirable, but ultimately insufficient. In Australia we need to do more than click our computer mouse – we need to really understand what is going on in our world and act on the basis of sound judgement. Good intentions are not enough.

I hope you read this understanding that I am by no means criticising the efforts of young people to advocate for the oppressed – I myself spend my life doing this! I simply want to see us think clearly about the issues and act in a way that will actually bring an end to these very, very complex problems. If you want to stop Kony, great, but what’s the plan? Do you even know?

In the end I support stopping Kony (and any other oppressive dictator or regime), but I cannot support Kony 2012. Something is not always better than nothing.

MCA

If you are interested in reading more about this there are some fantastic blogs, some that I have already linked to:
http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-troublehttp://ericswanderings.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/invisible-children-and-joseph-kony/http://ilto.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/the-visible-problem-with-invisible-children/http://justiceinconflict.org/2012/03/07/taking-kony-2012-down-a-notch/http://securingrights.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/lets-talk-about-kony/
[UPDATE: Perhaps the best article of the lot - http://davidsangokoya.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/selling-old-newspapers-shouldnt-be-profitable-invisible-children-and-kony-2012/]
[UPDATE 2: Some more articles:
From foreignpolicy.com (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things):
"It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality."
From the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/get-kony-goes-viral-questions-raised-about-charitys-social-media-blitz-20120308-1ulnk.html)
From the King's College Blog (http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/03/joseph-kony-and-crowdsourced-intervention/):
"Joseph Kony deserves to be put in cuffs and dragged before the ICC. Raising the profile of the heinous nature of the guy’s crimes is awesome. The idea that popular opinion can be leveraged with viral marketing to induce foreign military intervention is really, really dangerous. It is immoral to try and sell a sanitised vision of foreign intervention that neglects the fact that people will die as a result. That goes for politicians as much as for Jason Russell."]
[UPDATE 3: The Invisible Children team have responded to criticisms, and it is only right and fair to include that here - http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html. Good on them for wanting to do good in the world and for being so passionate. The responses do in fact answer in a small way some of the critiques that have been expressed around the web today, though some of the views I have expressed here have not yet been addressed. I'll leave it to you to decide what you think.]

UPDATE: I have decided to remove this blog for the foreseeable future. I apologise for any inconvenience, and I wish to warmly thank those who respectfully engaged in discussion.

Up until two days ago this blog was read by people who, by my best estimate, were made up of 30-40% people I knew personally. Since posting my Kony reflections this dropped to about 3-4%.

I never really intended this blog to reach beyond people that I have met personally, and to be honest I am not particularly fond of the attention given to a blog post that does not really represent in any meaningful way what this blog is actually about. In fact I wish the things I normally write about were viewed with as much interest, because in reality they are far more dear to me.

Moreover the personal attacks I have received, along with the implicit emotional pressure, is sufficient for me to retire on this issue. I appreciate more than ever the pressure that comes on people much, much more well-known than myself. I wish that everyone would play the issue and not the person, and for most people this isn’t a problem; unfortunately for others it is not the case.

I recognise that Invisible Children has responded to a number of the critiques that have been put forth in recent days (and years). These responses are a step in the right direction, particularly in regards to questions around financial accountability – IC is not yet in an ideal position, but they are working to get there, and I welcome this effort.

My point was always to encourage people to think about what organisations/movements they support, and not to be uncritical in issues as complex and important as those related to social justice and international development. I never once set out to condemn any particular organisation, but to raise critical concerns around how we can achieve lasting justice. My concerns are ultimately around methods and outcomes. It seems that many people who have had no experience in international development assume to know what is best in regard to these complex issues – I urge people to consider listening to those who have a background in such areas.

Though I have expressed serious concerns about IC that have not yet been fully addressed, I nonetheless pray for good outcomes for their  organisation. I do ask, however, that IC supporters do not show others the same amount of condemnation that some have shown me when they decide to support one of the thousands of other organisations around the world. As a wise person said to me last night – we are all necessarily selective in who we support, why must a small but vocal minority of IC supporters condemn those who do not share their choice?

I will leave the comments section open, though I may reconsider this if things become unsavoury. Thank you to those who have supported me, and to those who have disagreed but done so in a respectful manner.

My greatest hope is that we can work together toward sustainable global justice, which is hard, long-term work. Nonetheless it is the most worthwhile cause I know of.

Peace,

MCA

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Posted on March 8, 2012, in Advocacy, Conflict and Nonviolence, Current Events and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. John McKinnon

    Great post Matt. I was going to note that spending money on films etc is not necessarily taking money away from “projects” if the purpose of the charity is awareness and advocacy. But then I read from the IC website
    “We implement and maintain education programs and economic initiatives on the ground in Central Africa.” and so I think I agree that the financial issues remain.
    I am reminded of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He was offered what he wanted (the kingdoms of the world) but the means were not his. He rejected the temptation and went the way of the cross instead. It tells me that the means to an end are very important and that often the best way is the toughest and involves more personal sacrifice than we would like.

    • Thanks John. i don’t necessarily have a problem with them spending even a majority of their money on filmmaking, if that is the point of their organisation. However to claim this as programs is quite deceptive.

      I completely agree about the ends vs. means point you make.

  2. Hello Matt!

    Could you please post your references to the data you provide?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Aaron,

      The only hard data I provided was regarding the financials of IC, so I assume this is what you mean.

      The links in the pertinent quote will take you to the 2010-11 IC Financial Statements and to the Charity Navigator report on IC (a US independent charity evaluator).

      Hope this helps.

  3. so . . . having been motivated to DO SOMETHING, is giving money to TEAR the best thing to do to help Ugandans and Central Africans help themselves?

    • Haha, I love you Ralph.

      I will refrain from pushing TEAR at this point. But I will say that people should definitely give to organisations that are doing sustainable community development work. This means doing a bit of research and educating yourself on the issues.

      What’s your perspective, Ralph?

  4. Good thoughts, which bring some balance to the hype that this could potentially cause (by hype, I mean initial enthusiasm that will quickly die down). I completely agree that the issue is a complex one, which is bound up not just in the figure of Kony himself (nor even that of the adult members of the LRA), but in wider structural corruption that leaves Central Africa vulnerable to ongoing situations such as these.
    For me, the question is the purpose of organisations such as IC, which from my understanding initially sought to be a force to raise awareness among young people, to drive them out of apathy and ignorance, predominantly using narrative – I admire this story-telling approach and I think its a good one to engage young people. For this reason, I gladly shared the short film on FB (along with 2641784687 others). That said, this doesn’t mean I wasn’t entirely comfortable with all of the film. There was the occasional moment where this sense of ‘hero complex’ did seem to be portrayed. I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the US military partnering with Ugandan forces (who also have been known to occasionally apparently use child soldiers), even if it is just in ‘advisory capacity’. The “dad, I want to be like you when I grow up” line made me cringe, along with the whole inclusion of Russell’s son – “this is the bad guy” (if only it were that simple!).
    Yet, if IC can raise awareness that leads to some young people genuinely exploring the issue at a deeper level in order to enact change, cool. The main danger is a sense of hype that will lead to further long-term desensitization…

    • I agree Greta, though a problem is that these campaigns do not naturally lead people to explore the issues in a deeper way.

      As John has said above, I think that the ends do not justify the means. Getting young people fired up (probably over a short period) might seem like a good idea, but it is not sustainable, and it is achieved by way of a questionable campaign.

  5. Hi Matt,

    This is an excellent post, and it’s right that we think through these things more deeply.

    In regards to the concerns, though, I guess I would offer the following:

    As to the financial accountability, as far as I can see this is an issue between the organisation and the IRS. Channeling money into filmaking is pretty much what the group do, as their purpose is all about raising awareness. As such, if I were to give money to the organisation, this is exactly what I would expect them (note: not *all* NGOs) to do. This is their purpose.

    So, for me it pretty much becomes an issue for them and the IRS in regards to taxation issues, and not much more.

    The issue of violence is much more difficult.

    I have been struggling through these ideas for about the last 5 years, and I have come to the conclusion that I absolutely must stand for non-violence and be working towards structural changes that are based on non-violence.

    Having said that, the issues are very complex.

    I have realised of late that I pretty much follow Chomsky in regards to his theory of change. Change, Chomsky argues, is not very effective when it happens in revolution (the oppressed quickly become the oppressors). It takes a lot of time, and a lot of small steps, and the steps along the way are not always ideal.

    In this situation, then, it will take a huge amount of time to change the structures that allow the Kony’s of the world to operate, and you are therefore right in suggesting this very thing above. The campaign is somewhat short-sighted, therefore.

    But…

    The fact that it will take a huge amount of time to change such structures, and they very much need to change from within, as you note (rather than being enforced by the West), means that there are steps along the way to this goal, each of which may not be ideal in and of themselves.

    What you don’t seem to offer above is any clear strategy for actually putting a stop to Kony.

    I want to see structural change, and I don’t want Kony’s child soldier bodyguards to be killed in operations trying to take Kony out, but at the same time I have a moral imperative to desire that Kony is brought to justice as soon as possible (as in, not sniped, but actually brought before a court).

    So, it may be that there does need to be some sort of incursion to bring him to justice in the now, as well as a concerted effort to working towards structural change for the future.

    And that leads me to the reasons why I am supporting the campaign.

    It may not be perfect, but this campaign has managed to shed a light on this issue (and broader related issues) in a way that few NGOs have been able to do. It’s everywhere! And it’s being talked about.

    In fact, it has provided you the very space to be talking about it here.

    So the issue has been raised, using soical media very effectively, and it’s therefore an issue that is easy to now talk about (and raise such issues as you have).

    Also, the very fact that they have used social media means that we can influence the campaign. They have set it up so that you can record through facebook and twitter everywhere that posters are, etc, and have put out some hashtags and the like.

    Think of what we can do with this!

    If we keep posting images saying that we want to see Kony brought to justice but also that we are committed to non-violence, it will be noticed. If we take over the hashtags and have #stopkonynonviolently, it may just make an impact.

    Really, the potential is there for us to do what we want with it, because they have provided the space for us to do so.

    Therefore, taking on board all you have said, I am going to be supporting the campaign absolutely. I am just going to be trying to do it in a way that allows for concerns like those you’ve raised here to be heard, and always looking towards larger-scale structural change for the future.

    • Thanks for you thoughts Jacko. I won’t go into where I agree with you, because there are many points, and I’m sure you know what they are.

      However I’m not with you on the latter parts of your comment. As John has said above, ends do not justify means. Moreover I’m not sure that a nonviolent approach can simply be phased into the IC campaign, particularly given it is based in the States.

      You are correct that I have not offered a positive solution myself. I have, however, alluded to such. Long-term sustainable community development that slowly but surely alleviates the wider problems of poverty, education, disease etc. is the most crucial factor. As I said, Kony would unlikely be a problem if there were not such widespread structural issues.

      One Nigerian-American aid worker has said, “The LRA threat has greatly diminished since 2006, and the real story that needs to be researched, quantized and talked about is growth and development in a post-conflict northern Uganda.”

      The same person compares the outdated information in the IC films as the equivalent of someone today being shown clips of 9/11 for the first time and then feeling like they need to make a difference!

      My concern for you, Josh, is that you are supporting an embedded narrative in which they desperately need our help because we are the real problem-solvers in the world. The hero-complex in the film, mentioned by Greta, is a microcosm of this larger narrative.

      We need to concentrate on empowering local people to be the solution to local problems. This is not sexy, and it can’t be done by clicking ‘Like’ or planting posters all over town. It does, however, imply that our lives must change, since the empowerment of the Global South is directly related to our lifestyles.

      • Matt, that is a great reply!

        And you are right: the narrative does rest on the premise of “us” coming to the rescue.

        What I didn’t have time to say in my comment above (due to the fact that, as usual, it was waaaay too long), was that I always treat these things as a convenient focal point for larger issues.

        I guess it’s the same reason I am happy to make an issue out of fairtrade chocolate and coffee: this is not the *whole* story, but it’s a necessary focal point that is relatively easy for the uninitiated to approach, and offers the possibility of much deeper thinking.

        The way I see it, this whole IC campaign is way too simplistic, but it is a convenient focal point. Raising issues of the need for dramatic structural change and the related issues is, as you say, not ‘sexy’.

        However, if we retreat from some of the populist campaigns we run the risk of not being able to raise awareness of such deeper issues at all. We can be idealists who end up changing nothing.

        I agree that some of this enters into “poverty-porn” and the like, but the fact is that the opportunity is now here to discuss things in more detail.

        As I noted above, they have pretty much provided you the space to do exactly that here!

        As such, I guess I’m just a little bit more optimistic than yourself in regards to the possibilities for enhancing the campaign.

        I am, I guess, a shameless opportunist, and I just can’t let moments like these pass.

        And that brings me back to the original point. There is so much focus on this right now that we have been afforded the opportunity to suggest that maybe it is not as simple as just ‘stop Kony’, but that does not mean that Kony should not be ‘stopped’. It is not ideal for ‘us’ to swoop in and ‘rescue’ the poor black folk in a staggering display of condescending arrogance, but that doesn’t mean that ‘we’ should therefore do nothing. All of this does not fit neatly into a hashtag, but the simplistic hashtags are a much more effective entry point.

        To let the opportunity slip by, I think, is a greater sin that a myopic Western hero complex.

    • Josh “Jack” Dowton, thank you for being so articulate. You’ve made it clearer to me why I also want to support Kony 2012. Doing something has to be better than doing nothing. I just wanted to say thank you. I was feeling a little confused, but now I am excited by the awareness that this is going raise.

    • John McKinnon

      Josh,
      “As to the financial accountability, as far as I can see this is an issue between the organisation and the IRS. Channeling money into filmaking is pretty much what the group do, as their purpose is all about raising awareness. As such, if I were to give money to the organisation, this is exactly what I would expect them (note: not *all* NGOs) to do. This is their purpose.”

      Financial accountability is not just an issue for the IRS but for all supporters and particularly donors of IC.
      Secondly, if filmmaking is the purpose then fine but their website says their purpose is education and economic initiatives.

      • John, I do take your point, but although they may not have articulated it precisely, isn’t this whole thing pretty much “education”?

        Sure, let’s put pressure on them to be accountable (like we should for all NGOs), but the prominence that they now have will help them to do just that.

        I just don’t buy some of the old critiques that are being recycled at the moment regarding the naive idea that a higher percentage of each dollar given “going to work on the ground” is automatically better. As you well know, this is ultimately not a very good measure of whether the work being done is “good” or “effective” or not.

        So, by all means, they should be careful in regards to what they say they do and what they actually do, however my understanding of what they do has pretty much been what I have seen coming from them.

        I first encountered them through a presentation at my college a number of years ago, and when this short film came out I understood it to be precisely the sort of thing that they said they were going to do.

        So, I come back to my original statement, suggesting that they need to clear up their taxation position with the IRS and make sure it’s all kosher. In regards to people giving to their work, I would expect that most people giving to their work would expect them to be doing precisely this sort of thing. Of course, that is just an assumption from my own anecdotal evidence, but I wouldn’t consider my own money to have been ‘wasted’, or that I’ve somehow been ‘misled’ if I had given money to them in the past.

  6. Edwina Stonebridge

    Thanks Matt for your post. I agree that it is important to be informed about the things we support. There is a tendency for things like this to always gather hype that may not actually result in action. Your concerns are legitimate and should be debated over time. But not at the expense of doing nothing in the mean time.

    There was thousands of people who two days ago were completely unaware of what was going on in Uganda and more specifically in DRC. Now they know. Awareness is always better than ignorance in my book. Some will not do anything with the information, but more importantly SOME WILL!!! I don’t want to look back and tell my kids that i did nothing because i was concerned about financial points or because i spend all my time debating the legitimacy of the US support, or whether IC used the right creative approach to get their message across. It all seems kind of petty when there is kids dying and having to kill their families. Even if IC were not entirely accurate in their portrayal of what has (and is) going on, we cannot deny that IT IS HAPPENING. While we are having intellectual debate, kids are being abducted, families murdered, little girls raped, and lives destroyed. I kind off think that is worth some response. I get that sometimes us westerners think arrogantly that we can just go in and fix things and that there are alot of awesome NGO’s already on the ground in Uganda doing amazing work. But having been to Uganda and speaking to the people…. alot of them feel paralyzed by Kony’s actions and very disheartened that he has not been stopped. There are alot that feel abandoned by Western countries, and they do not expect others to do the hard work for them…. they just want help. If Kony is taken out there is no guarantee that someone will not take his place, but i know for sure that it would give hope to the Ugandan people like they haven’t had for 26 years, and i believe we would see an uprising from within against the injustice in their country and the countries surrounding them. I will do what it takes to help them in whatever ways are necessary to get people off their comfortable western backsides to at least be aware. It makes people uncomfortable, because with awareness comes responsibility. Maybe IC may not be the most efficient or smart way of dealing with the problem…. maybe it is. But until there is an alternative…. I’m with them. Because i don’t want blood on my hands by doing nothing.

  7. But Josh your comment is premised on the idea that more awareness will change the situation.

    Sometimes that is true, but not always. In this case I don’t follow the logic. Kony has been top of the ICC list for a while – he is well known by governments etc. He is certainly known by Central Africans. are we so arrogant as to assume if Australians and Americans know a bit more then the situation will change? If we get involved, then finally the problem will be solved?

    This ties into Edwina’s point – what exactly do you mean when you say that by spreading awareness some people will do something? What will they do, exactly?

    You cannot assume that doing “something”, no matter how misguided, is better than nothing. This is pious, but sadly untrue. It also takes us back to my last question – what exactly are you planning to do?

    This is no mere intellectual debate – it is a debate about what is actually happening! But is the suggestion that we should shoot first and ask the hard, thoughtful questions later? Because that kind of plan has led to significant suffering in this world.

    The “kids are being abducted, families murdered, little girls raped, and lives destroyed” is actually on the decline, no thanks to IC. This is not through Western awareness-raising, but through faithful development work on the ground and peace solutions led by (crazy as it might seem) African people!

    There seems to be an offering of very simplistic platitudes about this topic, but little in the way of considered engagement with actual international development issues.

    There is a lot of emotional pressure to “not tell my kids I did nothing.” But in the end, what do we really think we are doing? Sharing a video? Raising awareness on Facebook? “Doing something” sounds sexy and meaningful, but what is it amounting to? Most people will go back to their lives in two days time, and will not have made sustainable changes to their lives to address global issues.

    Why not consider the wider structural issues of poverty and make actual, sacrificial changes to your life that do in fact help these people?

    • Matt, I do hope that you don’t hear me saying that the wider (and more important) issues of structural change are not necessary.

      In fact, I see them as the *most* important part of the whole process.

      I guess I would ask you the question of why raise awareness at all? Why does Tear promote it’s work, for example?

      Of course, the idea is that we should know about these wider issues, as a global community, and seek towards working to real and sustainable solutions.

      It’s not ultimately about ‘us’ as the brave Westerners coming to the rescue, but should we not know about these things? Should we not be made aware? Even if the way we are made aware is rather simplistic, does that make it wrong?

      Personally, I would rather that people are made aware of such issues in this way, than simply going on being focused on trivial matters of whether or not to upgrade my iPad 2 to the iPad 3, even though I’ve had it for less than a year(!).

      I guess I see the possibility that, if awareness is actually raised, there might be *less* possibility of governments doing dodgy things in regards to military action to ‘stop Kony’ than there would be without the awareness.

      I do agree that the focus of the work should be in regards to helping Ugandans (and other Africans) come up with local solutions to local problems, but sometimes there do need to be ‘circuit breakers’ that offer space for new initiative and possibilities.

      I’m sorry, but I have come to the conclusion that, though long-term structural change is the end goal, this doesn’t mean that there are not certain steps along the way that are less than ideal. Sometimes, our hands will be somewhat dirtied in the process of moving towards a better outcome for the long-term, and I have come to accept this.

      I just think that we do have the possibility of redeeming this campaign, and that simply arguing against it is not ultimately very helpful. Raising the concerns *is* important, but I am going to try my best to influence the movement in good ways rather than condemning it from the outside.

      This has become my basic stance in regards to most issues of this type.

      • “It’s not ultimately about ‘us’ as the brave Westerners coming to the rescue, but should we not know about these things? Should we not be made aware?”

        Fair enough Josh, I agree. We should be made aware, though note this is not the only goal of IC.

        “Even if the way we are made aware is rather simplistic, does that make it wrong?”

        No, but by definition this is not truly awareness at all.

        In the end I’m giving reasons for not supporting this campaign, even though many, many others will.

        Good luck to you in redeeming the campaign; I don’t envy you ;-)

        Peace,

        Matt

        • I just thought I’d add this as a simple way of describing what I’m on about above:

          The campaign as it currently stands is sort of like open source code. It has ‘been released’, and we now have as much control over it as its original authors.

          Because it has been unleashed through social media, thoughtful social media responses can help with careful updates that may enhance the original design.

  8. Hmm – interesting posts, both Josh and Matt – it should go without saying that a widespread interest has been given to this topic where I am in Canada as well. I support this cause, but not for the reasons that you might think. More after the jump, but first I’d like to challenge you (Matt) on a few things:

    Canada is heralded worldwide as a peacekeeping country and as such, it’s denizens (for the most part) are in full support of the peacekeeping ideology. The reason I bring this up is that you Matt, alluded to this almost as a messianic complex to “save the heathens”, so to speak. You even cited a fairly well reasoned article by a Yale professor who warns against the mindset of “the white man’s plight”.

    Fair enough, if you look at just the face of that/this argument.

    BUT – that’s the problem with arguments, they have dimension, and under further inspection, I don’t agree with this whatsoever. I think the same mindset would tell us to leave well enough alone – that Israel and Palestine are perfectly capable of settling their differences. North and South Korea aren’t to be trifled with, because they are perfectly capable peacemakers in their own right – and anyone who disagrees is dangerously close to inciting racism. This isn’t to condescendingly say that westernized thinking is the only source of peace in the world, but I think dismissing ourselves from the topic completely is just ignoring the writing on the wall. At some point, you have to know when to say when. Now, please don’t think I’ve mistaken pertinent timeframes, because I’m well aware that as it pertains to THIS issue, things in Uganda/Sudan and the surrounding regions are improving – I’m just addressing your theory on the whole, because many, many, MANY other situations in Africa are seeing little to no improvement.

    I support this cause because it raises awareness. That’s it, that’s all. They didn’t get any of my money and they won’t. I, like you, found their filmmaking to be coercive at best, almost to the point of being reminiscent of a Michael Moore documentary. Nor did I litter my facebook wall with their digital memorabilia and sentiment. I don’t approve of their tactics and I think they have a lot of great ideas and good will, but little resolve and a deficit in maturity. I like the concept, but not the way that they are going about it.

    Why?

    Because I don’t want to contribute to this being a “trendy” topic. I want people to take part in this and do their own research because they give a shit, not because 30 friends on facebook took up the charge. I hate to say it, but I view it as a largely American spectacle to assume that everything can be treated as a pop culture incentive, accomplished with enough force, and I dare suggest that the circulating photos of these kids who made the films touting assault rifles only perpetuates that.

    This idea, though, that in some cases people are feeling conflicted about simply hitting “like” on a page because a few naysayers are smugly hinting at the naivety of wanting to get involved (not at all saying this is what you’ve done, but many others have) is just as bad as wanting to get involved for the wrong reasons in the first place.

    I see what you’re doing, but unfortunately there are many others like you who are more interested in flexing their intellectual superiority than they are about actually educating people on this issue as a whole and it’s finally gotten to me.

  9. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for the comment. In the end I agree with much you have said. I should make it known that in my career I spend my time educating people about poverty issues and helping them respond to them. I do hope that my critique of IC is not seen as some intellectual exercise of superiority.

    I’m not necessarily saying Western intervention is always bad. But in this case the foreseen intervention is not a good thing. Certainly Africa is not universally improving, but the answer (put rather crudely) is not large-scale Western intervention, but empowering local people.

    Your comments about certain issues becoming a pop cultural sensation is valuable, and should be taken seriously.

    In the end, and as I have tried to make clear on the blog, I am NOT attacking anyone who has expressed support for IC. I am simply wanting to offer an encouragement to actually understand the issues and the campaigns, and make a wise decision. These are complex, and a FB share is not sufficient, particularly since the hype will likely die off in a few days.

    Peace,

    Matt

  10. Matt can you please elaborate on your point “something is not always better than nothing”. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but I’m struggling with this view.

    • Hi P,

      Good question. I apologise for not having time to expand on this.

      Crudely put, there is such a thing as trying to help but causing a mess in international matters. That is, trying to help can actually cause harm if not done properly. You can probably think of a number of large-scale military interventions that have caused more harm than good, or particular economic measures taken during crises. This is particularly true in the recent history of the African continent. In such cases no action would have been preferable to those taken.

      One book that might be helpful is “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book comes from a Christian perspective, but the principles are more widespread. They also have a website – http://www.whenhelpinghurts.org/

      I apologise for not being able to say more at this time – I did not expect to have to spend so much time responding to comments today, and I need to get back to my work.

      Peace,

      Matt

      • Thanks for clarifying. I agree with this view but I guess I have a hard time thinking that Kony2012 fits in this category.

  11. Justin Whelan

    Thanks Matt for this excellent post, and thanks to everyone for some extremely thoughtful replies. If only the Internet was always like this!

  12. This is FANTASTIC! Over the last 24+ hours my frustration has continued to grow as I see so many people repost a video about a situation they don’t fully understand. Africa definitely has a lot more problems than just one war lord. The widespread poverty (over the whole continent) is a decades old ramification of Imperialism, which had a much different & lasting effect on Africa than it did on any other area. It caused damages that have still not been able to be addressed sufficiently. Evil men like Kony are only a by-product of this. And what about the war lords that are officially in power, eg Magabe? There’s probably more that the international arena can do about these men & the people they oppress.

    • I don’t think they once suggested this is the only problem in Africa. This is just the issue that they have decided to focus on. And good on them for raising this level of awareness. I’d love to see them shift their focus to other issues in Africa like the ones you (and Matt) have brought up once Kony is caught.

  13. Matt, although I agree with your article I thought I would post (for balance sake) a link from Invisible Children countering some of the arguments you (and others including myself) make.

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

    I think on the issue of finances which IC address in this response, you have already addressed in your article, reagarding in particular, the “project” funds including filming expenses which many other NGOs would not include.

    However, I thought I would post it for those interested in IC’s take on the issues you raise if they have not already come across them

    Cheers

    Jono

  14. Thanks for what you posted Matt. It really makes you think. Did you watch the 7pm Project tonight and their discussion on the accusations against this cause? What are your thoughts? Many thanks,
    Cat

  15. I totally support kony 2012… Any missionary that has seen first hand the damage thus guy has caused would do all they can to stop him, myself included. 32% of the funds went directly to them but all the other funds still technically went to them. Sometimes throwing money at something helps, but having people there with them is better. Flying to Uganda costs money, buying the resources they need costs money. If you’re going to build a school (for eg) it’s going to cost money for the stuff. They in no way just kept all the money for themselves. Us doing something is absolutely better than sitting here in our nice comfortable worlds doing nothing. Also, a former child soldier who RECENTLY escaped has spoken of his time with Joseph kony, therefore proving he is still in Uganda. Long story short, I support kiny 2012 100%

    • Good for you Ronnie, unfortunately for me your comments infer that posters here discussing the situation are “sitting in their nice comfortable worlds doing nothing”.

      I can say from first hand knowledge that the blogger and one other I have personal acquaintances with here aren’t particularly good examples of those that “sit in their nice comfortable worlds doing nothing”.

      On the contrary they are dedicated agents of change, who actively work, pray, give and support a radical transformation of the world we live in to one of far more humane and christian ethos.

      In saying that, I just wanted to reassure you that Matt and others will go on fighting the good fight [no doubt from Matt's perspective in a non violent perspective] : )

      I will take on board Matts blog and take the time to investigate Kony and IC further and make a decision for myself about how I could and should respond to such matters, rather than just simply clicking a like button on Facebook and doing nothing more than this.

      I wish you well in your endeavours.

      Shalom

  16. Hi, thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate you thinking through the issues more thoroughly. Here is IC’s response to the varying responses of people. I am not sure if you have read it, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on this article.
    http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html

  17. It is true that there are a number of factors feeding into this kind of horror. However…we can’t be naive enough to think that there is one “cure all”. You have to start somewhere. Additionally, up until now many knew of the horrors that exist elsewhere but weren’t convicted enough to invest their thought, creativity and emotion. This group is and somehow has been able to unify the world for a cause. We need to recognize the Global unity that has risen and use it to inspire other people to do the same thing for the other “factors”.

    Due diligence is one thing…but to condemn the entire group because it is not focused on solving EVERY issue in Africa is a little silly. At the very least it inspired us to talk about it and therefore potentially come up with additional solutions. We cannot be a community that defers the responsibility of helping others to everyone else and be disappointed that others are not doing a good enough job. They are doing their part…now we need to do ours. Let it inspire you to do great things.

    Lastly, don’t discount awareness….it is extremely influential and powerful.

  18. Joe M. Federico

    Hello. Your blog was mentioned on The National tonight, the flagship nightly news and broadcast from Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC. I was interested enough to look here, and elsewhere, to see what your concerns were, but as you explained you removed the blog and I can’t find it anywhere else.
    After such a high profile mention I’m very curious indeed, is there any way you could post your blog somewhere, or put a link to how I could view it somehow?
    If you could email it to me, that would be great. alusepffdlu@yahoo.ca

  19. Oh Sorry Matt, hope I didn’t fuel any of that as I shared your post a few times on facebook.

  20. Hi,

    Sorry I linked to your blog on my blog because I thought what you wrote was so helpful. That may have contributed to bringing strangers here. Though they may not come back and look again I will. I’ve been looking for a blog that deals with theology the way you do for a while.

    Thanks

  21. So you wish for “global justice” (sustanaible at that!) but do not want to offend anyone, nor press any charges on anyone. A bit counter constructive don’t you think? Justice can not (and will not) be brought by meek.

    I can’t imagine what possible justice could be brought in horrid cases of crimes against humanity, but I do know that those crimes need to be stopped at once and those personally responsible, like Joseph Kony, be denied freedom of life. No amount of torture brought upon them would be enough to appease for the crimes they’ve committed, but at least that would be something – instead of the current reality where those that do wrong on others prevail and everybody gets off scot-free. For those beyond salvation our current meek forms of “punishment” are in some cases exactly what the perpetrators want, like in the case of Anders Breivik (but at least he’s stopped from physically harming more people – even if it was by his own volition).

    • Hi Kari,

      I am surprised to see a comment on this post, as it is now quite old.

      I’m not sure where you get the idea that I do not want to offend anyone, nor press charges on anyone. I don’t believe I ever said such a thing.

      When you say justice cannot (and will not) be brought by the meek, I wonder what you mean when you say “justice”. What is justice, exactly? Later you claim that “No amount of torture brought upon [those who commit crimes against humanity] would be enough to appease for the crimes they’ve committed, but at least that would be something…” This does not seem to be any form of justice i would recognise, but merely retribution, even revenge. Justice is more than punishment.

      I also take issue with your suggestion that there are people “beyond salvation”. Who are these people? Why are they beyond salvation? And, most importantly, who gets to decide this – who can put themselves in the position of God?

      I totally agree that crimes against humanity should be stopped, immediately if possible. But how exactly do you propose this happens, such as in the case of Kony, for example? My whole argument was to say that the Kony2012 campaign would not be effective, that is, it would not actually stop the violence in Central Africa. Killing Kony through violence would stop him, sure, but it wouldn’t end violence in the region, but would actually continue the cycle of violence. What would be the point of stopping him in such a scenario?

      Peace,

      Matt

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