Kony, Kony, Kony (Part 1)

I just gotta write about every single bad guy, huh? I offered some posts last year after Osama and Quadafi had been killed… Kony’s still alive, but I mean… here we go again.

Where do I begin this post? Well, if you haven’t already seen it, on Tuesday, the charity Invisible Children released a new video to kick off their Kony 2012 campaign. They hope to make Joseph Kony’s name famous, or rather infamous, for abducting child soldiers into his Lord’s Resistance Army, and mobilize the masses to put pressure on those in power to take action in Uganda.

It was quite a powerful video, and I find it difficult to watch without a strong emotional response of some sort. That’s why it kind of caught me off guard that there were a lot of critical responses to the campaign. Many took to the internet questioning Invisible Children’s practices, transparency, ethics, motivations, methods, and on, and on, and on.

This discussion completely captivated my interest. I have been a supporter of Invisible Children for years, and so I have a, quite literal, investment in their cause. My background in studying global ordeals, international law, social justice ethics, etc. has also helped provide me with a context in which to view this discussion. In a lot of ways, the criticism towards Invisible Children is a little bit threatening. I mean, as a supporter, I do have some sort of level of personal attachment to the organization, and so if any of the accusations are true, it should cause a strong reevaluation of my commitment. I’m a person who struggles with being told he is wrong. I’m working on this, but my innate reflex is to dismiss criticism from another person lightly. I tend to brush that dirt off my shoulders. But if I’m going to be working on that trait of mine, here’s one chance to do that.

At the same time, criticism shouldn’t be too surprising. I get taken aback in my pursuit of social justice every time I get “not gonna happen” comments, or questions like “there’s so much crap, why even bother?” Then again, if I’m really going to have a commitment to social justice, I need to develop a thicker skin to pessimistic comments and see the true statements that often line these perspectives. Without a stark dose of reality, overly idealistic efforts can get out of hand.

In a case such as northern Uganda’s there are many challenges. Why do we assume just throwing money at the situation will make things better? Can we really stop such a malevolent bad-guy by reblogging a video all over Facebook? Wait, are we trying to fight fire with fire by calling for military involvement? How do we even solve such a problem anyways- is that up to us? How can we still fight for justice without imposing our own Western ethnocentric perspective?

When you weed out the cynicism, you still have very important and necessary questions. And what I’ve learned from studying the world, travelling, and seeing how I can pursue justice on a global level, is that I actually don’t know very much at all. There are no simple solutions.

Whether it’s advocacy, intervention, awareness, funding, preventative measures, criminal prosecution, etc., etc., etc., each of these approaches will have advantages and some things to watch out for. None are “perfect.” Again, no simple solutions.


Let me take you through my own personal reaction through the Kony 2012 saga.

1) Motivation. I see the video, and I think, yes, I want to be a part of that. Something in the back of my mind has a reservation on the campaign’s desire to use the US military (something that I am very wary about), but overall, I love the effort and mass mobilization. I’m proud to be part of a generation that cares, and to kind of have grown up alongside Invisible Children. That video and their references to 2006 actually made me feel quite old. I can picture myself behind this campaign. I envision myself producing campaigns like it for other causes I think deserve crazy attention. I check Facebook to find that the video has spread like wildfire. If awareness was Invisible Children’s aim, I think they got it.

2) Surprise. Wait, someone actually has something negative to say about this? Man… Well, I guess I did have my reservation about US military intervention. Oh wait, this wasn’t about that? It’s about Invisible Children’s budget and use of resources? Oh man. And what’s this about ethnocentricity in our attempts to “solve Africa’s problem?” I’m so over the “white man’s burden.” Really.

3) Disappointment. Really, now. How cynical can you get? If we’re gonna criticize this, then we can criticize anything and everything. Some people live to criticize. I don’t envy them. Still, they rain on everyone else’s parade. How about this, instead of telling me to stop doing whatever it is you don’t want me to do, can you give me a solution of your own? Some people only ever express their attitude towards something when they dislike it. It’s obnoxious. When I try and make my efforts to bring justice to the world, I’m gonna be met with the same crap, huh?

4) Optimism. Hang on a sec, there are a few things we all agree with, here. Kony is a bad guy. We can’t allow this to keep happening or happen again. We don’t simply want this to be an “America solves everything” issue. We care about where our money goes. Good intentions don’t always mean helpful results. Maybe all of this debate is coming from a place of genuine concern. This discussion can be really helpful. I’m going to participate!

And so I’m throwing in a few words.

One thing, though… if you’re only criticizing for the sake of criticizing, please leave the discussion. I have no interest in conversing with you if your sole purpose is to disagree rather than to work towards a solution. I have a high tolerance for differing opinions, but a low tolerance for disrespect. Don’t discourage those who seek to bring justice. If you find an area concerning, then see how you can work with them and encourage them to improve that area.

This is a very important conversation to have, and despite my disdain for discord, I think every approach towards justice must be done cautiously. Not to the point of paralysis, but cautiously because this stuff matters. I think we can do it with civility, not dismissing one side as head-in-the-clouds idealists or debbie downers, but as people who ultimately want what’s best for the children and people of Uganda.

And one more thing.

I’ve recently adopted into the core of mantras I live by this particular quote by Roger Olsen: Before I can say ‘I disagree,’ I must be able to say ‘I understand.’

My understanding is limited. I’m young and inexperienced. However, I have met people who I am very interested in hearing from.

One is Jolly Okot, a woman I met a couple years ago. She was a former LRA abductee and sex slave directly under Kony. A few years prior, she was able to establish some direct communication with him, but he backed away from a plan to meet. She is now the country director of Invisible Children. Here’s what she had to say:

The other is Julius Achon, the former child soldier and record-breaking runner I got to get dinner with a month ago. We’ve been in touch and I consider him a friend. He was interviewed for this article:

Kony campaign against Ugandan despot goes viral

In the interest of that understanding, here’s a variety of other resources regarding the Kony 2012 campaign and a number of different perspectives.

The Facebook response from John Rudolph Beaton, Crisis Project Development Tracker for Invisible Children

The Official Response of Invisible Children to Critiques

Visible Children- one of the more vocally adamant critics of the Invisible Children organization

Think Progress’ Partial Defense of the Kony 2012 Campaign

Musa Okongwa’s “Stop Kony, yes, but don’t stop asking questions”

Angelo Izama’s “Invisible Children’s campaign of infamy”

Solome Lemma of Innovate Africa’s “You don’t have my vote”

Rachel Held Evans’ blog post on Elitism, Poverty Tourism, and Grace- not directly related, but relevant

Charity Navigator’s report on Invisible Children

Charity Watch’s best ways on providing emergency relief to Uganda

Article in The Guardian of a former child abductee defending Invisible Children against criticism

The Telegraph: Growing outrage in Uganda over Joseph Kony film

And if you’re looking for more, I must redirect you to this directory compiled by one of my favourite writers, Rachel Held Evans. It’s everything on my list, and more.

It’s getting late. I need to continue this conversation tomorrow, where I’ll hopefully explore some of the specific concerns regarding the Kony campaign and where I now stand.

In the meantime, remember this:
There are no simple solutions. But there is no solution at all, if we forget to Love.

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