Thursday, 8 March 2012

Kony2012 – Share intelligently, donate wisely

Screenshot from YouTube
Screenshot from YouTube

Fact: In 2003, Jan Egeland, then UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said, “The conflict in northern Uganda is the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today”.
Fact: 300,000 children are presently involved in over 30 conflicts around the globe, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
FactJoseph Rao Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been abducting children and using them as sex slaves or child soldiers for over 20 years.
Fact: Invisible Children (IC) have made millions of people aware of the situation in Central Africa through their Kony2012 campaign and should be commended for their admirable work.
Fact: IC have deceived millions of people into believing that by donating money, they will join an “army of peace”; in fact, the organisation is in favour of military intervention and supports the Ugandan military.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to briefly explain. In their words, Kony2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that “aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” The video is about 30 minutes long and is well worth a watch.
The filmmaker is Jason Russell and his job, according to his rather adorable son, is to “stop the bad guys from being mean”. If we combine this with the campaign description (above), we gain a good understanding of the documentary: they want enough people to be concerned about the situation to pressure our political institutions to act.
The video calls for everyone to get involved on 20 April, in plastering the corner of every road of their city with posters in order to “make Kony famous”. While the posters bring more attention to the video rather than Kony’s crimes – the predominant words are ‘Kony2012’ – it is nonetheless a very creative idea. The problem begins however, when you learn that you can’t simply go off and print your own posters. You have to either buy an action pack for $30 or donate $15 to the organisation. You can alternatively buy a set of 25 posters for $5.
One would normally argue that it is a non-issue to try and raise funds. After all, they spend millions of dollars on their humanitarian efforts abroad, which appear – on screen – to be extremely commendable. According to their video, they have built schools, organised mentorship programmes, created jobs and have developed a radio service which warns locals of a possible attack. I would have no concerns donating money to such causes.
Yet it is what does not appear that is cause for concern. The first major example of deception is given when talking about how the campaign has been running over the past decade. Russell says that it was “funded by an army of young people who put their money toward the belief in the value of all human life” and that by giving a few dollars a month, “the unseen became visible”. Moreover, in the last few seconds of the movie, it is written, “Sign up to Tri to donate a few dollars a month and join our army for peace.”
The language used gives off a vibe of pacifism, and the idea of canvassing cities contributes to this. The video even includes a short song sung by dozens of youth, which one can only assume IC has written. The lyrics are as follows: “We've seen these kids/We've heard their cries/This war must end/We will not stop/We will not fear/We will fight war.
Supporting organisations that use child soldiers
You would never then guess that this very same organisation supported an organisation that used child soldiers would you? In 2008, Invisible Children filmmakers posed for a photo with officers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a group accused of accused of rape and looting, while peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government were at a standstill. In trying to make a change in the world and indeed, bring Joseph Kony to justice, it appears that Russell has forgotten his cause.
Not only have the SPLA been accused of rape and looting, but the Sudanese National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW) was also reported in the Sudan Vision Daily, yesterday, as saying that the SPLA recently kidnapped 900 children.
It was as recent as last month that it was reported on the USAID-funded Sudan Radio Service that53 child soldiers were demobilised from the SPLA. Last month. 4 years after the image was taken. While the SPLA have apparently been demobilising their child soldiers since 2010 (still after the image was taken), the fact that they are still in the process of doing so suggests that they have reduced their numbers not because they no longer believe in the practice but because the conflict is smaller, especially since South Sudan’s independence last year.
Supporting military intervention
It has been reported in a number of outlets that IC is in favour of military intervention. Yet, as Russell rightly pointed out yesterday, the original Tumblr, Visible Children, does not back up all of its information with sources. So I attempted to track them down.
What became clear is that IC are very careful in the way they operate and the words they use. In aletter to President Obama dated yesterday, co-signed by the founder of IC, it does not explicitly ask Obama to send in troops. Instead, they express their “fear that unless existing U.S. efforts are further expanded, [Obama’s] strategy may not succeed”. Immediately following this, they make the point that regional militaries are facing challenges, including troop withdrawal.
Interestingly, in the blog post responding to criticism, they failed to refute the notion that they are not in favour of intervention, even though that has been a major point. While I understand the sentiment for intervention, they have to be more explicit if they are asking for money and public support. Would you support them if you know they are in favour of intervention?
Furthermore, the last time a military operation was conducted against the LRA, there were brutal consequences. Operation Lightning Thunder brought together the Ugandan, Congolese and  South Sudanese armies in 2008 and failed due to poor coordination and “leaky intelligence”, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. In response, the LRA killed 1,000 people in a matter of weeks. Do we trust our governments to wipe out the LRA the first time they try?
Supporting the Ugandan army
In the same blog post, IC say that they “do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda.” However they do admit to working with the UPDF, this very same organisation, as they are “more organized and better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”.
Is supporting an army that commits horrible atrocities against its people acceptable if the aim is to bring a man who has committed horrible atrocities to justice? It is not my decision to make – but surely those who are donating should be made aware of this knowledge before they part with their cash.
Fact: According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are currently 440,000 displaced civilians in Central Africa because of LRA activities.
That there is so much publicity about child soldiers is only a good thing. That there is so much publicity about Joseph Kony’s atrocities is only a good thing. The need to act is great and the filmmakers should be applauded for carrying out some incredible work in making this happen. Nobody doubts that Joseph Kony is an evil man and deserves to be found and tried at the International Criminal Court.
Yet what should our next step be? After everything that I have read and researched, I cannot, in good conscience, donate to the organisation. Military intervention always has severe consequences and I cannot possibly give my support to such a cause. The Ugandan army is equally terrifying and while cooperation is clearly a great route to find a solution to peace, working with an organisation that is accused of running a prostitution ring is not something that I endorse.
Worst of all, they work alongside the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, an organisation that has been known to use large numbers of child soldiers.
Since Invisible Children have been rather secretive about a number of issues, I can only ask that you continue to speak to people about the issue. Debate what can be done. Let people know about the organisation and what they support. Share intelligently. Donate wisely.

Written for The Student Journals

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