Queen's University — Since 1873
16th March 2012

Don't listen to Kony campaign critics

Campaign to stop Ugandan war criminal has faced a viral backlash, but critics themselves often make false assumptions and spread misinformation

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“Tweet to save the Invisible Children of Uganda! Make Joseph Kony famous!”

You’ve likely seen similar statements splashed on your Facebook or Twitter feeds over the last 10 days. In fact, the 30-minute Kony 2012 video, a documentary intended to raise awareness about Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, has been viewed over 79 million times on YouTube since March 5.

It’s a campaign that has received nearly as much backlash as support since it was launched by Invisible Children Inc. earlier this month. Among those who question the campaign is Foreign Policy blogger Michael Wilkerson, who wrote on March 7 that “Invisible Children has made virtually no effort to inform.”

But while Wilkerson is one of countless individuals who oppose the Kony campaign, the onslaught of critique is so great it’s fair to question its impact and negative result. I’d like to confront three of the most common critiques I’ve read.

First, let’s address the notion that Invisible Children aims to arm the Ugandan army and advocates primarily for direct military intervention in Uganda.

It’s a critique that was spawned after Vice magazine posted a photograph showing several Invisible Children founders posing with guns alongside members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The picture featured the caption, “Should I Donate Money to Kony 2012 or Not?”

The idea that a global rights-oriented organization with charitable elements and a lobbying focus is arming the Ugandan army is absurd. Numerous arms embargoes exist preventing outright military aid of that sort. Invisible Children is certainly not trading arms, nor is it a paramilitary-style security firm like those operating in Iraq and other diplomatically dangerous zones.

Another criticism stems from racial remarks made about Invisible Children’s management.

A March 8 article in the Washington Post quoted Yale political science professor Chris Blattman, who said that Invisible Children’s campaign “hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden … the savior attitude.”

Unfortunately, this argument highly demeans the individuals who are trying to make a difference and is an implicit attempt at blurring aid with racial overtones. Using arguments like Blattman’s, one could simply target all Western-driven aid and put an end to any aid program whether medical, economical or militaristic in focus.

A third criticism is that Invisible Children is manipulating its audience through falsely advertising itself as a charity.

In fact, Invisible Children never states that it’s a charity, or that charitable efforts are the focal point of its campaign or organization. According to their website, Invisible Children’s mission is to “[use] film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war.”

Even after watching the film, one should be able to realize that this organization is more like a lobby group with a charitable element than a charity outright. That said, it’s impossible to learn everything about an organization and its structure simply from watching a 30-minute film.

It’s up to students and all individuals to research an organization for themselves. While we shouldn’t put lobbies and charities up against commercial enterprises, the logic of skepticism isn’t a bad thing.

We question what we drink, what we eat and how we travel to work. Why shouldn’t we put some thought into lobby and charitable work as well?

It’s obvious that true awareness campaigns often come from large grassroots movements. But it’s also evident that the problems faced by many nations require foreign aid efforts in certain cases.

Fortunately, developed Western nations are capable of providing foreign aid when needed — and we’re often the only nations capable of providing the technology, experience and financial capacity to carry out foreign aid efforts.

The fact that these nations are predominantly white is in my opinion without consequence and, quite frankly, unrelated.

These critiques, in various forms, have permeated the media and online communities in recent days. Critiques, too, can become viral and here this has been the case.

But what is a critique worth if its only result is further critique? There’s a great difference between critique to aid a problem and find a solution and a mere jab at the latest foreign aid effort.

It’s easy to criticize the Kony campaign. If you don’t agree with their cause, you have the right to voice your opinion. But to condemn them for spreading awareness about a known war criminal seems counter-productive.

It’s time we approached the claims of some of the Kony critics with as much scrutiny as the campaign itself has received. This campaign demonstrates the enormous effect videos and social networking can have on the lives of others.

When we’re looking at viral campaigns like Kony 2012, the priority should be to learn from them — whether its through a critical perspective or because you believe in it.

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