Kony 2012

The  Kony 2012 video* being linked everywhere these days is almost half an hour of simplified, overwrought propaganda that attempts to boil down an international human rights issue with complex historical causes into something a toddler would understand. They want you to believe that it’s as easy as the battle between good and evil. It’s as simple as buying this box (I kid you not, they are selling a box with bracelets and posters) and having a camp-out protest. Who are we not to stop a war, they ask. Because, if you believe their propaganda, this issue is as simple as pressuring our government to send troops in to kill an evil man and save the day. Just as the problem of child poverty can be solved by overpaying for Tom’s shoes and feeling good that your purchase means a poor unfortunate child somewhere will also get a pair.

Nothing is as simple as we want it to be. Foreign Affairs has a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the Kony situation, but even if reading the article takes a fraction of the time that watching the viral Kony video might I am confident that far fewer people will. The article is full of dry facts detailing a complicated political situation. It doesn’t have any dramatic music or heartrending pictures. Reading it doesn’t help you feel morally superior or motivate you to buy a box care or do something about the situation.

I don’t want this to seem like an entirely one-sided critique, so I will include for your reading pleasure the rebuttal from Invisible Children (the organization behind the viral video) to the many complaints against them.

Here are a few interesting expenditures from just the 2011 fiscal year:

$1,444,567 on “Management & General”
$1,164,935 on “National Tour”
$699,617 on “Media & Film Creation”
$292,155 on “Web and Design”
$213,902 on “Communications”

I am not convinced that the founders of the organization weren’t simply leveraging a desperate situation abroad to line their own pockets. Are you?

Even worse than all that, there are people who know far more than me about the situation suggesting that the Ugandan government (whose military IC wants us to support) is responsible for atrocities just as bad, if not worse than the LRA, including keeping millions of civilians in concentration camps subsisting on foreign aid “for their own safety.” One Ugandan policy expert even thinks our government sees IC and their propaganda as “useful idiots” – ones which give us an excuse to further our enhance our military presence in a region rich in natural resources.

There is an important lesson to be learned here, and I thank Invisible Children and their campaign for reminding me of it:

Always be suspicious of something which attempts to make you feel something and then attempts to take your money.

Other useful links:
On Kony 2012
Think Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012

* I have decided against linking it here because I fundamentally disagree with its manipulative tone and content.

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