This Kony 2012 Stuff Isn't Nearly As Simple As It Might Seem by Adam Bunch

So the big viral video of the day is this 27-minute "Kony 2012" film put out by a organization called Invisible Children. It calls for action against Joseph Kony, the leader of an Ugandan rebel group known to have abducted ten of thousands of children to use as soldiers in the conflict. They rape, murder, pillage and force women into sexual slavery. They are really really really really really fucking awful. In 2006, Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court and a warrant issued for his arrest, but they've been unable to track him down. Raising awareness about Kony and his crimes is a very good thing. But today some people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do have been suggesting that you might want to find another way of supporting that cause – rather than supporting Invisible Children and re-posting their video without learning about them first.

Invisible Children, it seems, have been strongly advocating military intervention in Uganda – and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is where Kony's forces are now. Last October, their advocacy helped pressure the Obama administration into sending 100 "combat-equipped US forces" to support the Ugandan government army in their fight against Kony. Thing is, the Ugandan government army has been accused of rape, pillage, looting and running prostitution rings, too – including rape by men knowingly infecting women with HIV. Invisible Children also has ties to the Sudanese Liberation Army, which has been accused of raping and killing women and children. (That photo at the top of this post is of the founders of Invisible Children posing with members of the SLA) Some human rights organizations supported Obama's decision (Human Rights Watch called it an important first step), but people who are against military solutions – who thought it was a bad idea to invade Iraq or Afghanistan or the Bay of Pigs, or to support the Contra in Nicaragua or the Mujahideen in Afghanistan – might want to ask some questions about what exactly Invisible Children supports before they re-post their video or send them any money.

The video itself, while clearly well-intentioned, is raising questions as well. In The Independent today, Musa Okwonga, a writer whose family is from Northern Uganda, wonders why the video is focused on Westerners coming to the rescue, instead of the amazing work already been done on the ground by Ugandan organizations. In an article titled "Stop Kony, yes. But don't stop asking questions", he writes:

"The thing is that Joseph Kony has been doing this for a very, very, very long time.  He emerged about a quarter of a century [ago], which is about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power... Yet, though President Museveni must be integral to any solution to this problem, I didn’t hear him mentioned once in the 30-minute video... Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora.  It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration."

The whole article is excellent and well worth reading here. There also a couple of blogposts you might be interested in checking out here and here.

If you really do want to help the children of Uganda, giving money to Invisible Children – or even re-posting their video – may not be the best answer. Instead, you might think about donating to one of the Ugandan organizations who have been on the ground helping children there for years. Like the Concerned Parents Association here, the Concerned Children & Youth Association here, the Uganda Red Cross here. Or UNICEF, which helps children in need all over the world, here.

And if you're looking for a link to post to your Facebook page, maybe you'd like to think about posting a link to one of those organizations instead – organizations who will still be on the ground helping people suffering from the conflict long after one single rebel leader has been arrested.


Update: The photo was taken by photographer Glenna Gordon, who has a blogpost up with a little more context behind the image, which you can read here.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


Christina said...

Thank you so much for this article! I only just heard about Kuny 2012 yesterday (and watched the video from Invisible Children), and was hoping to find a more balanced view on the subject. While I'm sure their motives are good, and it's obviously an important issue, it is also very important to look at the whole issue and not just one persons take on it.

But, at the same time, if posting the video to your Facebook wall raises awareness and gets people talking about something that matters, I say go for it (just include a link to UNICEF too!)

I'll lend my support to the Red Cross or UNICEF - I can be fairly certain that they aren't supporting militia efforts...

Adam Bunch said...

Yeah, absolutely: raising awareness about Kony and the conflict is veryveryvery good thing. A lot of people in the West are having conversations about Uganda (and even the DRC) that they weren't having yesterday -- and hopefully that'll include an honest discussion of Invisible Children, too.

Anonymous said...

This article is very helpful. I also just watched the Kony video today, and I am happy to know more about the issue because of it. Although the video may present an unbalanced viewpoint, what I think is great about it is that more people know about what is going on in Uganda because of the video. Perhaps another video should be made by an organization that will incite a lot of support as well. Either way, at least the video brings an important issue to light.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both arguments, and as it's been said, that the filmmakers got their idea out there and whether you are for or against how they went about it - we're talking about it, and that's all they needed. (And you don't need to send them money to be part of their campaign, they have links to downloadable signs.)

I can't speak about all of the above listed organizations but I do know that while they are amazing and do incredible work, an organization like the Red Cross has the mission to not interfere in any conflict or take sides. Sending them money is fantastic to treat the symptoms, and incredibly necessary to help the victims; but it doesn't stop the "bad guys" from continuing their work. It doesn't show future bad guys that we won't let them get away with their crimes.

If the current president has been in power that long, maybe the reason Invisible Children didn't really mention him is because he needs help. If he could do it on his own he most likely would have. Problems like this take multiple nations, and I feel that was the goal of the "sensational" or one-sided video. They just want us all to care.

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