This is a guest post by Anna Shaw, one of my newest colleagues. Anna talks about how to be skeptical about Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign yet still get involved in the issues in a thoughtful way.
I woke up yesterday, picked up my iPhone and almost immediately clicked on a link to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video. Even before I ate my breakfast, Jason Russell was showing me how I could help stop the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
My first reaction was “This is awesome!” The conflict in Northern Uganda has interested me since I first learned about it in high school, and helped spark my deep-seated interest in peace and justice in Africa. I was really happy that someone was trying to connect young people just like me to something that really matters. But almost immediately, Twitter filled up with people questioning what Kony 2012 and Invisible Children were doing. The rest of my day was filled with blog post after blog post of comments on the campaign, and just as quickly as I hopped on the bandwagon, I was jumping off. But why?
The problem really has to do with the story Jason Russell is telling. He’s made a twenty year conflict into a Disney Film, where the US can swoop in and save the day. But there is a lot more going on than that. No one is denying that Joseph Kony is the bad guy, or that the LRA has wreaked havoc all around the region. But there are some questions we should be asking before we launch into this wholeheartedly.
What is the rest of the story?
I don’t want anyone to think there is a ‘nice’ side to Joseph Kony. There isn’t. But there are other pieces to the puzzle which Invisible Children seem to have forgotten to mention. Conflicts and wars are never as simple as good vs. bad, and arresting Kony is not going to solve the problems for people in Uganda or the nearby countries that the LRA is affecting. There are a number of other groups, rebels and armies, that have nothing to do with Kony who continue to terrorize this region. On top of that, conflict has destroyed jobs, roads, schools, hospitals, and many other essential things in these areas. We need to look at how people can rebuild their lives and deal with problems that helped start the conflict to begin with. Before talking about ending the LRA’s rampage, we should understand more about the where and why of the conflict and how it’s really affecting people in the region. We should also think about what the goal really is: finding justice for people in Uganda and elsewhere is much larger than putting Kony behind bars.
Who is this really about?
It’s easy to forget while watching this video that Ugandans aren’t sitting around waiting for us to help them. They have managed to deal with the LRA for more than twenty years, so by intervening, the US would definitely not be saving the day for most Ugandans. We need to get out of the mindset that the US has all the answers, and instead listen to what Ugandans actually need from us. That’s what this should really be about, sharing the stories of Ugandans and the people from the many other countries affected by the LRA. Their voices are almost unheard in the video, giving them no room to express themselves or provide us a true understanding of their situation. In the end, they are going to be saving themselves and resolving their own problems, and we can only help them do that.
Where is our money going?
Another point many people have brought up about this campaign is whether or not Invisible Children will use your money well. Several people have questioned the way Invisible Children spends money, and how much they are actually changing the lives of people in Uganda. I believe this is something you should decide for yourself. Before you decide whether to donate money or buy a t-shirt, ask questions. There are many great organizations working in Uganda, all of which could benefit from your donations, so make sure you are happy with the one you choose. When choosing, think about the impact the organization is having on the lives of Ugandans and try not to get distracted by how cool its videos and swag are.
What else can we do?
The Kony 2012 Campaign does a few things exceptionally well. It tells a simple, moving story that captures our hearts and makes us feel powerful – like we can actually do something to help. And we can! In fact, there are a lot of things we can do beyond liking something on Facebook or re-Tweeting a tweet.
- Educate ourselves. If you don’t get anything else from this whole blog, take this away: learn about these issues. Read books. Google stuff. Look it up on Wikipedia. Understand what is going on and pass on that knowledge to your friends, family, everyone. Find people who know the situation in-depth, contact them and ask them for their take on the issues. Don’t let one campaign be the only source of information you get. Be curious and ask questions. Look at a variety of sources, and see if you can find a variety of respected voices and independent commentary by people from the country you want to help too.
- Focus on Positive Change. When it boils down to it, Kony 2012 focuses on stopping the bad guy. But what can we do to help the good guy. Or even just help the regular guy or gal. And their kids. And their kids’ kids. Think about what will be most effective in the long-term to reduce instability and support people’s well-being.
- Talk to our representatives in Congress. One thing Kony 2012 did right was making it easy to contact Congress and encourage young people everywhere to engage in public policy. But, instead of asking for military intervention in Africa, why not talk to Congress about addressing the needs of people on the ground? Talk to Congress about doing something positive: supporting schools, hospitals, agriculture, drinking water – and the many other things that can impact the lives of people in this area.
- Get Involved. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of incredible groups working to help those hurt by the LRA, and they can all benefit from your greater involvement. Changing the world takes more than hitting the “Like” button, and unless people like you are willing to step up and take action, not much is really going to change. Do some research and find out who is doing good programs on the ground and how you can support by donating.
I am not here to tell you not to support Kony 2012. In fact, I plan on supporting it in my own way. I think its important that Americans are more aware of the world we live in, and this is a powerful way to do that. But I want to make sure the world changes for the better in the long run, not just the next nine months before 2013 rolls around. If you want to jump on a bandwagon like I was about to, it’s really important to understand what you are supporting first.
And certainly don’t take my word for it.
Here is a list of the commentary on Kony 2012 if you want to read more.
Here is Invisible Children’s response to the criticism against them.
Afripop has pulled together some African reactions to the Kony 2012 campaign.
[LR note: And here is a beautiful response to the whole discussion from Teddy Ruge]