If you’ve logged onto Facebook or Twitter in the past 24 hours, chances are that you’ve already seen mention of the Kony 2012 campaign—along with endless comments on it. Whether your friends are excited to “cover the night” on April 20 or critiquing Invisible Children’s mission, there is a big conversation going on.
At She’s the First, we’re having the same discussion you are. As a story-driven non-profit, we have to admire the way IC created such a huge viral campaign, becoming a household name literally overnight. And with it? They’ve made a truly despicable man notorious for his crimes against the most innocent of humanity, and pushed our generation into becoming more globally aware. So far, so good. But there are a lot of other, less positive reactions floating around too. For every “Now is the time” post I see, there’s another stating “Know where your money goes: Invisible Children only gives 32 percent of its funding to programs!” (You can see their financials here.) But we want to hear what you think about all of this, so let’s run through some of the major arguments floating around out there:
• The film is too simplistic vs. Awesome cause marketing. It just isn’t as easy as “Capture Kony, end the war, end the use of child soldiers.” Obviously, the children affected by war will need more than a ride home, and IC has addressed some of this (and various other critiques) on its page (read it here). But just as complex as what happens next is what came before: The history of the LRA is long and complicated, as are the various political forces in action in the region. You can get an idea of just how complex in this article by Foreign Affairs, written in November of last year. Of course, the simplicity of the video is a large part of what made it successful, and turned it into what is now a verifiable movement. So the big question here: Should we dumb down the message if it means the message will spread further, faster? Or does the nonprofit world have an obligation to illuminate the full story, even if it means no one will take the time to sit through the video and learn all the complexities of a situation? (Dave Algoso identifies “Advocacy’s Golden Rule” in his post, and I think it’s one to live by: Simplify, but don’t distort.)
• “We need military intervention to capture Kony” vs. “We shouldn’t work with the Ugandan military.” The campaign wants the U.S. to continue to work in Uganda to stop the LRA and capture Kony, and supports working with the Ugandan military. The Pros: The Ugandan military is, while not perfect, the most stable and equipped in the region, and has reason to want Kony captured for past ills. The Cons: Ugandan military does have many of its own issues in maintaining authority without violence and/or rape, and the LRA hasn’t actually posed a threat to Uganda since around 2003. (More on those points here.) One of the very few Ugandan views of American military intervention—an important view to include, I think—I’ve found is here, on the blog Africa is a Country. This question gets into much larger issues (When is it okay for the U.S. to intervene? When are we obligated to?) and gets very political very quickly, but the easiest question to tackle here might be whether this is the most strategic way to end the violence, or if militarizing the area further will simply lead to more violence down the road.
• White Man’s Burden vs. Youth Activism. Chris Blattman argues this on his blog: “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa.” Even more notably, take a look at this comment by Ugandan reporter Rosebell Kagumire, on the blog Under the Banyan, which starts with, “I viewed it [the video] this morning and the first 5 minutes told me this was another effort by a good white American guy trying to save my people.” On the flip side of this argument is that encouraging youth to be more globally-minded, to engage in service, and to care about humanity can only be a good thing, right? At She’s the First, we talk every day about the power of youth to change the world, and we believe it—but we also believe that education is the key to helping yourself, and your country, to overcome obstacles. So where is the line between “Youth as activists who can change the world” and “Youth as saviors for the downtrodden”?
So let’s discuss. What do you think, about the campaign’s marketing techniques, about the U.S. presence in Uganda, about youth activists?
(Again, for good measure, Invisible Children’s response to various critiques is here, for reference.)