A bit of self-criticism in the critiques to #Kony2012, please

Since Monday, more than 70 million people have viewed a film on Youtube about the living conditions of thousands of children in Uganda. According to the film, these children are victims of the violence and revenge of Joseph Kony. Mr Kony and other LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) leaders were charged in 2005 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and war crimes (murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape, and forced enlistment of children). Despite the arrest warrant, Joseph Kony hasn´t been arrested yet. The film is the business card of a campaign propelled by Invisible Children, a charity that seems convinced that Kony will fall when the world (the American public, mostly) gets to know about him. A hashtag will make all the difference: #Kony2012. Oops, I almost forgot: They ask for money as well.

Well, that´s completely normal. Everybody with a bit of experience in campaigning (or a bit of common sense) knows that it requires funding. Nonetheless, fundraising must be based on financial accountability, and Invisible Children is not a role model in this regard, according to the critiques. Personally, I also dislike the fact that Invisible Children doesn´t acknowledge the work done by many organisations at the local, national and global levels. They move like a bull in a china shop: ‘Nobody knew about it until we arrived, but don´t worry, here you have this wonderful video we just posted on Youtube’. It is also reprehensible the blind trust in Team America-type military intervention.

Above all, in my view the most important critique against the video is its extremely simplistic approach (I read somewhere that we shouldn´t decide whether to give money to a charity based on whether it makes an 8 year old feel sad). The campaign presents Kony as the man to beat in order to restore peace and justice in Uganda. However, even though his actual whereabouts remain unknown, we know that he doesn´t live in Uganda anymore. In fact, the LRA itself doesn´t operate in the country, but from South Sudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic. The Ugandan blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire puts it this way: “The war is much more complex than one man called Joseph Kony”. The video doesn´t speak about public health and governance, and it doesn´t even mention the human rights violations committed by the Ugandan armed forces.

All these critiques (and more) are valid and fair. Kony2012 has important flaws regarding transparency, accuracy and accountability. Bloggers, experts and human rights groups are right to point this out. However, I think we should take this as an opportunity to reflect on our own mistakes, which are more widespread than generally acknowledged. The majority of civil society organisations and NGOs evaluated in a report on accountability in NGO advocacy by One World Trust (2010) show a poor record in the assessment of their advocacy as regards to important issues such as transparency of funding, disclosure of evidence, and participation of key stakeholders in strategic planning and impact assessment. Should Invisible Children be reviewed by One World Trust, the outcome would possibly be unsatisfactory. But this doesn´t mean other organisations don´t have the same or similar problems, even if not to the same extent.

Let´s make visible the mistakes and the problems with Kony2012, but let´s do it self-critically. Let’s take it as an opportunity to improve the impact of global activism for human rights. And, why not, let´s copy what we can. There must be something they´ve done well if an average of 10 million people per day have watched this video so far. In-depth, serious and accurate research is extremely important in human rights advocacy, but what can we do to reach a bit further to let the world know about our findings? John Naughton writes today in The Observer that Kony2012 is “the most dramatic demonstration so far of how an idea can spread over the globe via a channel that is beyond the reach and control of established media outlets”. There must be some things we can take advantage of thanks to this campaign. Without it, people around the globe (particularly in the US) wouldn´t have known about Uganda, about the case at the ICC or about the mere existence of the Court itself for that matter. Many wouldn´t have ever read what Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International have to say about the LRA and Joseph Kony. The truth is that most likely I myself wouldn´t have ever written about Uganda in this blog if it wasn´t for this 30-minute video.

Koldo Casla



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