‘Stop Kony’ and Invisible Children cause controversy

While Seton Hill University (SHU) was on spring break, social media exploded with a new viral video. This time it wasn’t an animal acting cute and cuddly or a catchy music video. The phrase “Stop Kony” became known to internet users worldwide, and a controversy was born.

I had already read some criticism of the video before I watched it. Still, my first reaction to the video was very emotional. I wanted to take action, and kudos to Invisible Children for creating a powerful video. I was able to do more research, and I have some questions about the movement and the criticism thereof.

What the Invisible Children organization is asking for is a military intervention to help stop Joseph Kony, a leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is known for abducting children and forcing them to become child soldiers, killing viciously and without cause. The rebels started in Uganda and have moved on to surrounding countries. This has all been going on for about 20 years.

Military Intervention- a conundrum every time

I recently took a class that focused on military intervention called “Genocide and Human Rights.”  The class was vexing because the more I learned, the fewer answers I had. First, I learned that I was relatively unaware of many of the genocides that have occurred in the last 15 years. Awareness is essential, but then what?  Military interventions are full of cons and are almost never successful, but avoiding military intervention means that genocides and other human rights violations go unstopped. It’s an impossible subject. I’m generally against fighting and guns, but peaceful mediation cannot occur unless both sides are willing to work towards a compromise. Kony has apparently used peaceful opportunities like ceasefires to rebuild his armies. Military interventions to imprison Kony have happened before now, too. They have been unsuccessful.

So asking for intervention of this sort is dangerous. Yes, it’s true that the U.S. is unlikely to become involved in international issues that don’t directly relate to U.S. safety. While I don’t necessarily agree with that, the safety of the  U.S. is not the only concern. We have to understand the issues with intervention before we ask for it, not to mention the fact that the Ugandan army (that the Invisible Children want to work with and therefore fund) is not faultless; they are apparently known for looting and raping as a common practice.

The Invisible Children’s Credibility

The non-profit that started this movement has been under fire for its credibility as well. According to Charity Navigator, Invisible Children scores a three which is considered “good” but not excellent. They fall short in terms of “accountability & transparency” in terms of the use of their funds. That is concerning. One of the biggest complaints I’ve run across is that Invisible Children spends too much on their videos (Stop Kony is by no means their first) and too little on actually helping.

Now, if awareness is a big part of Invisible Children’s mission, then what they are doing is a credible marketing strategy. Their videos are powerful, if a bit one sided. Non-profit organizations have to market too; they are selling a product (or a movement) even if they aren’t making profit. Invisible Children hasn’t done anything that any other marketing firm would do, but you have to then evaluate their work with additional research. They are pulling on emotions not intellect. That method works, but is not enough.

One Evil Man- the illusion

My last issue with the “Stop Kony” campaign is Kony himself. It is so easy to believe that destroying this one person would bring peace and justice for the poor children. I want that to be true, but it is too simplistic.

We’ve fallen into this trap before. When Osama Bin Laden was killed, we celebrated. He was blamed for 9/11 and so his death meant justice. Killing Bin Laden did not stop terrorism. We can find people to blame in any situation, but one person is almost never completely to blame. I’m sure Kony is a bad man, but there are plenty of other responsible parties. The “Stop Kony” campaign keeps the illusion of the bad guy vs. good guy binary alive. That binary has to be questioned.

My Conclusion

Please, please do research on the issue. Recognize that this is an important issue, but it is not the only one. Concerned about human rights? Check out Genocide Watch and know about what’s happening in the world. Don’t oversimplify. I’m not saying don’t donate or support. We can’t end all of the bad in this world but we can make little differences. Capturing Kony might make a little difference. I think we should all stand up for something, and Invisible Children chose this. Joining them isn’t a terrible idea, but be informed on what you are funding.

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