The Problem with Kony2012, Invisible Children and Other ‘Charities’

7 March 2012. A glossy video of a white man showing footages of his son being born, to growing up, to making video’s on his fathers iPhone (not sure what that’s got to do with anything) to introducing him to the ‘bad’ guys in this world, the bad guy being a man named Joseph Kony, goes absolutely viral. Another bad guy then actually sends him a letter to affirm US special operation forces in Uganda to defeat the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), suggesting the United States is a great democracy where the campaigning of lots of white people can change the political climate few black people on a continent called Africa.  I’d be lying if I said if I wasn’t momentarily affected by the video myself during Jacob’s sobs. It just comes to show how powerful social media can be. It also comes to show how willingly ignorant we are as a people. The western arrogance we have especially is overwhelmingly hollow. ‘We Westerners know best, and we shall come over there to fix this! You Africans are poor and helpless, we are the saviours!’ Nothing but the usual rhetoric when it comes to the division of the global north and south. The supposed notion of responsibility of the white man to provide and protect the non-whites when from the moment the white man discovered Africa, he has been nothing but a curse. Africa has seen no peace. An aching history of slavery, disease and colonialism, of the mind and its soil, Africa has been bleeding.

So why now? Why not between 1999 and 2004 when Kony was in Uganda, and was committing crimes. The LRA was pushed out of Uganda years ago and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic and he is currently believed to be in Congo, where he slaughtered 620 civilians and abducting over 120 in the country between December 2009 – January 2010. Now the newborn social media activist would argue “better late than never, better that we do something now” brushing the sudden emergence under the carpet. Okay, sure. But did I mention that in 2006 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil were found in Uganda with 2.5 billion barrels confirmed just last October? And did I also mention soon after this confirmation US special op forces were sent to the region to ‘defeat’ the LRA? And that there is a programme titled AFRICOM aimed to alter the regional balance of power, be divisive and destabilising in Africa? That was essentially the news regarding Uganda in 2011. No mention of Kony. Up until now. Kony hasn’t been in Uganda for at least 6 years. Bush and Obama’s administration has been in Afghanistan for a decade.

Kony is a face. Like Hosni Mubarak was a face to the Egyptian regime still in place, Kony is a face of an armed Christian extremist group (guess Invisible Children didn’t tell you that either huh?) by singling out the bad guy, do we really think the LRA will be gone? By lobbying Congress to send US troops to Uganda do we really think we will save Uganda from its problems? And to think, the Kony campaign is promoting Uganda’s military. Something else Invisible Children forget to mention is that in the civil war Museveni came to power, he also used child solders for his army. That army is now the Ugandan army. I should also mention that yes, Museveni, dictator president of Uganda has been head of state, judiciary and many other things for 25 years. Kony 2012 is a campaign manufacturing wide scale consent for US ‘humanitarian’ intervention by demonizing a figure and causing mass hysteria which isn’t too hard to do when the people are willingly ignorant and susceptible to emotional manipulation and white washing of the actual criminals at work in their luxurious offices.

Founders of Invisible Children — Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole, and Jason Russell — posing with guns alongside members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)

Now #StopKony has been trending for over 48 hours on Twitter with the attempt to make him ‘famous’. The biggest irony here is that the very men that aid the conflict in the region are already famous, and are our heads of state. We first need to stop our corporate neo-liberal governments in pursuit of self interest causing death and destruction everywhere it goes. We first need to campaign for our own governments to get its filthy claws off other countries and to cut military arms to fuel conflicts before we run after one man who hasn’t been in the region for 6 years he once did his dirty work in. There are many bad guys in this world, and Joseph Kony is one. His right hand man Vincent Otti is another. But I’ll let you in a little secret. You see, we elect the bad guys right into Congress and Parliament in our ‘first world’. Its leaders of the global north sitting in comfortable offices and dark suits that engage in far more death and destruction than Kony ever has. That’s not to say Kony hasn’t caused hurt, he has and he should be facing a trial and charges – just like a handful of other leaders across the globe. But I’m certain that if I were to sit down and make a video about the Afghans killed for sport by US and NATO forces, the 5 million Iraqi orphans and how we must demand the withdrawal of foreign forces, it wouldn’t top more than 5,000 views. Nobody would buy my action kits with the faces of Bush, Blair, Obama, Netanyahu to plaster around their city. And it definitely wouldn’t trend on twitter.

The campaign expects people to give up $30 for an ‘action kit’ (again the irony) to wear a flimsy bracelet, with posters to stick up on April 20th. This leads people to believe by doing this, you are absolved from responsibility. You have done your part to make change. There’s an element of hypocrisy involved because those acts also support the economic structures that cause environmental and social problems in the first place. As Slajov Zizek explains, charity only prolongs the issue. And with our donations we become part of this issue. And in this case we can heavily criticise Invisible Children with its shady finances;

“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. But it goes way deeper than that”.

There is a significant problem with charities in our societies today. Invisible children highlights just that. Now to give charity is a selfless, pure and compassionate act, humanizing both the giver and taker in todays consumerist society. Charities on the other hand are completely different. The organised, or rather corporate charity represents a collective of people claiming to be charitable themselves whilst asking for money from us, with different roles in the charity. The moral impetus is no longer personal, and the motives behind it are no longer singular. To sum up, things get complicated.

When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences. Charity prolongs the crisis by hacking at the branches instead of at its root. It’s a product created and sustained by the economic and social systems that have been designed  for us; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we allow to be pursued. The current existing status of Africa, and the global south in general is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poverty, the conflicts are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.

I do not mean to discredit the work of genuine, well meant charities that do manage to better the lives of others on a micro scale, but it is a rare activity. Yes charities have the ability to bring awareness about a particular situation – but they do so whilst maintaining the crisis through aid instead of implementing projects that allows the development self-sustained communities. And believe me Africa can feed itself, its us who can’t and thus require IMF, World Bank and the charitable capitalists to make sure Africa is dependant on us.

Charity isn’t a substitute for justice. If we never challenge a social order that allows some to accumulate wealth–even if they decide to help the less fortunate–while others are short-changed, then even acts of kindness end up supporting unjust arrangements. We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.

A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.

” People find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence…It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it… Charity degrades and demoralises… Charity creates a multitude of sins.” – Oscar Wilde

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17 responses to “The Problem with Kony2012, Invisible Children and Other ‘Charities’

  1. Thank you! Finally! I’m so tired of hearing about this media campaign as if problems in Uganda started in 2012.

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  2. Joseph Kony hasn’t been active in Uganda since 2006 and his army is weaker than ever, numbering around 400 fighters.

    He is is in Central African Republic, not in Uganda.. Much of the footage in the movie is from 2003.

    Oil was discovered in late 2011 in Uganda. That explains the desire to begin establishing a military presence in Africa.

    Many far wiser anti-colonialist activists than me called it correctly when they said the over throw of Gaddafi was a route into the rest of Africa.
    How true those words ring now.

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  4. Well done for bringing the truth to light.

    Someone once said: “The sign of intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason.” It’s a shame that ignorance lives in too many of us.

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  5. Thank you so much. My friends and I were talking about the exact same things yesterday. It’s really sad how ignorant the masses can be, thinking they are ‘helping’ but not looking into the whole story. x

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  7. Well,I hear a great deal of thought in this writing; however, there is oil in Canada and no-one is accusing anyone of having done something wrong. I think that bringing up economics really muddies the issue. The issue is WORLDWIDE. We must stop hurting eachother for ANY reason.
    You mention bringing up the bombing of Afghani’s as if no-one would care…well, I would and so would many of my friends.
    Maybe the Invisible Children is NOT perfect. How long does it take to make a video that reaches a huge number of people? I don’t know; I NEVER tried. I applaud the effort of the group even if there information is untimely. I’ll keep reading. If I knew a way to actually make a difference in every person’s life on earth, particularly those who are living in pain and poverty, I would do whatever I could. But, I don’t, so for now, I am paying attention.

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  8. What a great post! While, I like to think myself globally aware you have deconstructed the issue nicely and made the flaws in the Kony 2012 campaign clear.
    While the campaign itself is a sham I think the awareness and interest that it has raised is powerful and the debate it has caused should be used to inform people of the issues in Uganda. suggests some ideas that teachers might use to take advantage of the interest and engagement (a huge change from the usual apathy we face everyday).

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  9. Pingback: Student awareness and inspired action in schools- Kony 2012·

  10. very polarized view on kony 2012. all the points he raised are true and make sense, but what solution does he give in the end? nothing except that we need to go after the real bad in society – which is society itself?! Everyone, I mean everyone have their own agenda for involving in matter not concerning them, does it matter then how they go about justify it, if it means getting the job done? Sure the ‘white man’ is no saint, and the turmoil in some parts of world is directly because of the mess the colonialist left behind and the bad foreign policies. (Who do you think armed the Taliban to fight the Russian?). But pointing things like this does not help anyone!
    And then the issue about how much money actually goes to the people who need it. If you are disillusioned that every dollar you give to charity goes to the starving kid you see on the box, that you fault. Logistics cost money- a lot of it! People who work in charities need to live as well. They got families too. Yes it’s a bit deceiving that they don’t tell you this stuff, but as I said, your idiot for not knowing that. I am not defending kony campaign regarding their use of the money , the Hollywood style movie and stuff – a bit too lavish . But if I was so damn concern, would I go all the way to the remote village somewhere in Africa and give a dollars’ worth of food to some kid? No! So this means I really don’t care, but I only gave that dollar to feel good and maybe make me feel a little less guilty? Regardless of my answer or my motives , who does any of it matter to the person who receives my 32 cents? Does it matter if the 32 cents he or she got was from the bottom of my heart or from the annoying change I hate to carry around?
    It easy to uncover the ‘real truth’ from the convenience of one’s home or office. Making a change for the better (of even one individual) is hard.

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  12. March 12

    I watched the video yesterday, and my heart was indeed moved when Jacob cried, however there were some questions which crossed my mind regarding financial concerns. Having been exposed to community development work, I’ve had experiences with non government organizations who use disadvantaged sectors for monetary gain.
    Since I am a teacher, I will use the video for my “advocacy” topic in class and use this article in processing concepts like justice vs. charity and how to analyze mass media specially its content and the subliminal messages behind it.

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  13. Don’t be so quick to agree everyone, by doing this you’re doing the same thing as he was talking about, and if you aren’t able to post without being emotional then don’t, because there’s no guarantee everything you say will be true. Don’t post without thinking, because it can anger other people too.

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  15. as Kristin Tassin wrote it before me: “Thank you! Finally! I’m so tired of hearing about this media campaign as if problems in Uganda started in 2012″
    And I’d like to add that what you quote from Wilde is extremely relevant! Now I have to read the book where it comes from!

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