I watched the video yesterday afternoon. It broke that part of my heart that bleeds for a noble cause. I was sold.
Make Joseph Kony famous. Publicize his crimes. Make the world aware. Make governments care. Develop a viral campaign to bring together the voices of millions for the benefit of tens of thousands. Find this guy. Arrest him. Bring him to trial.
And then what?
In all likelihood, some lieutenant takes his place and carries the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) forward with similar or somewhat diminished results. Think Kim Jong Un.
The video impressed me first as something that should win accolades at Sundance. Touching. Endearing. Tragic. Hopeful. Inspiring. It so happens that later in the evening, I was discussing the video with some friends, sometimes professional skeptics. They raised questions and did research and truly tore back the curtain on the issues raised by Invisible Children’s documentary.
I remain sold on the cause, but not necessarily the method. Let me be clear on that. Murder, kidnapping, rape, torture, and mutilation of children and their families should never happen. Putting US soldiers in the field with no international consensus places a burden on taxpayers and a double burden on the soldiers and military families, whose taxes also pay for this.
What I learned from the likes of Mark D. VandenBerg and others, and the articles they cited, tint this most decidedly black-and-white issue in a deep, rich gray. An NPR piece airing this afternoon confirmed much of what I learned overnight. The following hints at the accusations of ulterior motives, a larger conspiracy theory, and why, despite all of that, I still believe in and will support Invisible Children.
These Invisible Children folks are opportunists using half of the money donated to their charity to finance their film making efforts. They bring attention to Uganda when Kony’s forces have long since left.
- Theory: The US sent troops to Uganda to secure the area in the wake of newly discovered oil and China’s interest in that oil. Invisible Children receives grant money from the government to raise popular awareness of the issue, unwittingly justifying an increased US involvement.
- Fact: The US Government has sent troops into Uganda in the past to assist in the capture of Kony.
- Opinion: Therefore, the dispatching of advisers by President Barack Obama to Uganda in November is not without precedent.
- Fact: Joseph Kony hasn’t been active in Uganda since 2005 (presumably because of previous US efforts to capture him).
- Fact: Oil was recently discovered in Uganda.
- Fact: Uganda and Tanzania recently signed a deal with China selling oil rights.
- Fact: Members of the Ugandan Army also commit atrocities against their citizens. No one is innocent here, folks.
- Fact: Kony is only part of the problem, and not a major player when stacked up against other warlords and regional, state-sponsored genocide.
- Fact: Whether or not by design, Invisible Children advocates for the deployment of US forces to a hostile region (opinion) to participate in an undeclared war.
- Read this!! Holistic summary of Kony as he relates to Central African destabilization: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra
- Critique of Invisible Children’s money handling by Grant Oysten, a blogger with an axe to grind … “Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production.” http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-trouble
- The Uganda-Tanzania-China oil deal: http://www.busiweek.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2480%3Atanzania-uganda-in-big-oil-a-gas-deals-tullow-sells-assets-to-total-chinas-cnooc&catid=104%3Auganda&Itemid=1364
- Invisible Children’s 2010 tax filing: http://c2052482.r82.cf0.rackcdn.com/images/736/original/FY11-990%20Tax%20return.pdf?1320205002
Invisible Children is calling for US military involvement in a largely lawless region with virtually no access to secured supply lines. That’s my assessment. I wish they would instead raise money to pay for mercenaries from Academi (formerly Blackwater) to do the job.
What continues to inspire me about the whole KONY2012 campaign is the power of new media. Invisible Children may in fact be all about movie making. Honestly, as I watched the opening of the video about this time yesterday, I couldn't get the word Sundance out of my head. I'm sure these guys are at least partially seeking some glory and access to the highest of the "hip" circles.
I suppose, for me, it all comes back to this: Isn't doing something better than doing nothing? [Speaking from the perspective of Invisible Children and my inclination to support its efforts.]
The cited Foreign Affairs article aptly pointed to the "grain of sand in the desert" implications of this effort, but maybe, just maybe, it would inspire the UN and specific, affected governments to at least begin to think about a comprehensive plan to end the cycle(s) of violence.
I'm not naive. I remember reading about turmoil in Africa while in grade school in the '70s and wrote a research paper on South Africa's destabilization of southern Africa while a military history grad student in the '90s. If I'm around in 50 years, odds are the situation won't have changed much, barring the Second Coming, aliens, Black Plague or another Krakatoa. However, I maintain hope in the premise that this connection with the world we can all now experience as a result of new media and technology can serve to focus many voices and potentially influence policy in ways and at a time like no other.
Whether KONY2012 accomplishes its end goal, this experience brought to us by these filmmakers will not be forgotten. It will, I believe, serve to inspire “common people” to donate their time and efforts to illuminate other widely unknown or largely ignored issues happening right now around the world.
Support KONY2012 or not, but recognize its true impact. Learn from it and use what is reasonable as a model for future efforts to help those who have no voice.
Massive hat tip to Mark for all of his research.