Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey
Invisible Children, the non-profit organisation behind the Kony 2012 documentary that became an internet sensation, has hit back at critics with a new video. The original 30-minute video about atrocities carried out by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has had 74 million hits on YouTube, according to CNN, and attracted endorsements from high-profile figures including Rihanna, Angelina Jolie and Justin Bieber.
But not everyone is convinced by the campaign. Some critics have highlighted Invisible Children’s finances, pointing out that the organisation spent 25 percent of its income on travel and film-making; others have questioned the wisdom of a non-profit encouraging website visitors to buy merchandise.
And there are also concerns over the Kony 2012 message. The original video features an Invisible Children leader, Jason Russell, calling for Kony’s name to be spread around the world and for the money raised to be spent on sending in American troops to hunt down the warlord. Kony leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that has terrorised Eastern and Central Africa for almost three decades. But some commentators have suggested that proposing Western intervention as the solution to an African issue is patronising rather than empowering. Others have argued that a well-meaning social networking campaign is unlikely to make any difference and accused campaigners of “slacktivism”.
So does the new video address these concerns?
What the video says. “I understand why a lot of people are wondering, ‘Is this just some slick, kind of fly-by-night, slacktivist thing?’ when actually it’s not at all,” says Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey in the video, entitled ‘Thank you, KONY 2012 supporters’. Keesey insists that the non-profit is committed to transparency, and denies claims of any financial irregularity. According to Keesey, Invisible Children doesn’t just focus on advocacy but also runs long-term development programmes on the ground. Keesey also promised to answer questions on Twitter via the hashtag #askicanything.
Unanswered questions. Sonia Paul pointed out at Mashable that the latest video doesn’t exactly address the most controversial accusations levelled at the campaign, such as how selling merchandise will actually enthuse people about Kony 2012. “Moreover, the idea of the ‘white man’s burden,’ and the notion that Westerners must go to Africa in order to save it from itself actually seems propagated by the fact that Keesey begins and ends the video with his personal story of being affected by the situation in Uganda,” wrote Paul.
Missed opportunity. “More children die of malaria, diarrhea, and nodding disease in northern Uganda on a daily basis than the monthly average of Kony’s 25 years of killing. Where’s the slick viral video for those children?” asked TMS Ruge at CNN. Ruge praised the Kony 2012 campaign for generating worldwide enthusiasm and drawing attention to the issue – but argued that this has been a missed opportunity. Kony 2012 could have used the opportunity to empower Ugandan and Central African voices through social media. But “instead of enjoining us to work together to amplify pressure on our governing bodies to address security and development holes, IC has taken the initiative to proposition an outside agency to do it for us”, wrote Ruge.
Overlooking the main issues. “If you were to ask Ugandans about their concerns for the future of their country, Kony probably wouldn’t even surface in the conversation,” reported James Arinaitwe at The Daily Beast. According to Arinaitwe, Kony is no longer the threat he once was, and Ugandans are far more concerned about educational inequality, inadequate healthcare and unemployment. Invisible Children is therefore opening up old wounds, when what the country really needs are partners who will act “not looking upon us with pity, hoping to save us, but standing with us in solidarity as we build a better future”.
Action better than inaction. The original Kony 2012 video may well be a gross oversimplification of the issues, said Roger Cohen at The New York Times, but “on balance I back Russell over his armchair critics. He’s put his boots on the ground and he’s doing something”. According to Cohen, plenty of activists have oversimplified African problems in the past, but that shouldn’t mean nothing should be done: “The reduction of Uganda’s many problems to Kony abusing children is not much different from the reduction of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a fight for mineral riches”.
Watch the original Kony 2012 video below