Kony 2012: Yay or nay?

Hi all,
By now you have probably seen this poster around:

If you haven’t seen this video yet, you should. It is about stopping the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, by the end of this year.

As you can see, the Invisible Children organization has onehelluva mighty-powerful social-media campaign going on.  Why is this relevant to EcoFairfield, you say? Because it’s about human rights and an unsustainable system that brakes people, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and, among other reasons, because its chosen “launch” date is April 20th, 2012. The EcoFairfield event also begins on Friday, April 20th.
The video tells the heart-wrenching tale of how Joseph Kony abducts children from villages: boys so they can fight and torture as soldiers in his army, girls so they can be sex slaves.  Props to Invisible Children for opening my eyes and inspiring me to focus my attention.  While I knew of the terrors of child soldiers and war, devastation and artificial scarcity in Africa, Invisible Children clued me into the issue in northern Uganda. However,  the little voice inside my head was buzzing while watching the Kony short-film.  The little voice doesn’t trust anyone, it is a tad-bit cynical, and it doesn’t like people willfully pulling at the heart-strings. I love my little voice because it’s like an internal compass for critical thinking. It makes me review something and then arrive at stronger, better informed conclusions. Since it was up to me to further inform myself and discern an appropriate path of action, looking for more information I bumped onto two blogs. Blogs, while not the best sources of information, can be pretty interesting, specially if written by people with well informed opinions.

Musa Okwonga, whose family is from Northen Uganda, urges us to: Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions. He goes on to say “I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism.  I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots.” And I agree with him wholeheartedly; I felt the third-world-needs-western-world-to-save-us  vibe. I heard the white man’s burden on the video narrator’s voice. I was disturbed by strict divisions of “good” and “evil”.
“On the other hand,” he continues, “I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue.  Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered.” Oh and famous will Kony become! It’s hard being famous! It takes its toll on people’s lives. Lives after fame are never the same.

“For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.” The short-film put together by Invisible Children targets a young audience. If bound to go viral, like they hoped, their message had to be simple. A successful story is a simple story that is easy to remember and spread. The story they chose to tell was Jason Russel, Jason’s son, and Jacob’s story. Any film-maker knows not everything will be included and a lot of important details will be left out. Editing is a pain.

The other blog I found was too a well-written and well-informed account, this time by Grant Oyston. Grant (http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/)  is strongly opposed to the KONY 2012 campaign because he thinks spreading awareness about Kony 2012 supports the Invisible Children organization directly.  From his blog “As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. 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.”  Does he not understand film production nor what Invisible Children does? Invisible Children says on their website: “We are story tellers. We use the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest-running armed conflict in Africa. We make documentaries, tour them around the world, and lobby our nation’s leaders to make ending this conflict a priority.” Quality film production is expensive, advertising and social media is expensive; people need living wages. (Trust me, we can’t all be starving volunteers).

Grant’s undermining of the power of social media is evident. “Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping.”  Media is powerful, social media specially. Did he not hear of the influence of social media during the Arab Spring?  or of Komen’s reversal of their decision to discontinue funding of breast-cancer-screening by Planned Parenthood? Where has this guy been for the last decade or so?

He continues on to say “Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s something. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.” And here is where I disagree with him completely. How many of you shared KONY 2012 images or the video “just because”? Is he assuming people behave like sheep? Does he fancy he’s got a monopoly on critical thinking?

Liberals jump at each other’s throat. We have not yet learned that there is more than one way to solve a problem, and that many of them are complementary. I agree that bickering is beneficial and helps refine our approach but it’s also counter-productive in the sense that it divides us as we belittle each other’s efforts. We forget that each of us holds but one piece of the puzzle and that to tackle greatly complex problems we need to collaborate, to work together despite our differences. Or at the very least not shoot each other down.
Indeed, something isn’t always better than nothing, but when it comes to human rights, action is ALWAYS better than inertia. Even if mistakes occur, that’s how progress is made, that’s how people learn. Humanity wasn’t born knowing how to tackle it’s problems. (All of them, anyway).

And because ideas are most valuable when in action, let’s talk ACTION STEPS. Kony 2012’s youtube description includes tips on how to help: Donate to Invisible Children: https://www.stayclassy.org/checkout/donation?eid=14711, Purchase KONY 2012 products: http://invisiblechildrenstore.myshopify.com/, Sign the Pledge: http://www.causes.com/causes/227-invisible-children”. And these are fine and dandy, or not, depending on your view and support of Invisible Children.
However, I believe it is not possible to bring down a system without first building an alternative one to replace it with. It is better, in my opinion, to support Ugandan grassroots organizations, in Musa Okwonga’s opinion, to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration, or as Invisible Children suggests, to write to your representatives.
Here’s a list of some organizations listed by ugandaonline.net:

  • Uganda Debt Network – Uganda  Debt  Network is an advocacy and  lobbying coalition of NGOs, Institutions and  individuals formed in 1996.

  • Rhino Fund Uganda -Two species of Rhinos once roamed the savannahs and woodlands of Uganda. Today, the Rhino is gone from Uganda,

  • Gulu Walk  – Every night, up to 40,000 children living in rural northern Uganda walk into urban centers to sleep in relative safety and to escape the rebel army.

  • Computers for Uganda – Computers for Uganda is a not  for profit organization which is part of Emerald City Rotary’s Computers for the World organization.

  • Ceewa Uganda – Council for Economic Empowerment for Women of Africa chapter Uganda is a non-partisan and non profit organization working to promote the economic empowerment of women in the development process.

  • Slum Aid Project – SAP’s vision is “To see that  people of Uganda in slum communities live and enjoy fair and dignified lives
  • United Nations Development Programme – UNDP is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.

  • ACODE – ACODE is an independent public policy research, analysis and advocacy think tank.

  • Aids Information Centre – AIC exists to prevent the spread of HIV and mitigate its impact by being a model of excellence in the provision and expansion of voluntary counseling and testing, information and education, and the promotion of care and support.

  • DENIVA – Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations(DENIVA) is a registered, indigenous, non-profit making network of Ugandan Non-Governmental and Community Based Organisations (NGOs/CBOs).

  • Kulika Charitable Trust – Kulika is a charitable organisation based in the United Kingdom and Uganda, providing educational scholarships and grants to Ugandan students and also ‘on the ground’ sustainable agriculture training to farmers in Uganda.

  • AidChild – Aidchild provides Homes, Pschological support & Innovative medical care to Orphans affected with HIV/AIDS.

  • BROSDI – Busoga Rural Open Source & Development Initiative is a not for profit organization that works with government and the civil society in improving rural livelihoods among others with the help of ICTs.

  • Hospice Africa – Uganda  – Committed to providing & supporting the provision, of palliative care to cancer and HIV/AIDS patients in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Nature Uganda – NatureUganda is the operational name of the East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS) in Uganda.  EANHS is the oldest conservation NGO in E.Africa.

  • Network of Ugandan Researchers & research Users – NURRU has three core programs, each of which is strategically conceived not only to feed into one another but also to ensure efficient achievement of the individual program goals, thereby achieving in sum the overall organizational objectives

  • Uganda Rural Development & Training Programme – URDT is an ideologically and philosophically independent learning institution, dynamically remolding the thinking and behavior of the people in rural areas regarding women, the girl child, and their own participation in, and control of those forces that influence their lives in the Kibaale and adjacent districts of western Uganda.

  • Ugabytes Initiative – UgaByTES initiative is Not-for-profit organization with a vision of promoting the integration of Information and Communication Technologies in the development plans of Uganda.

  • Isis-WICCE – Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange.

And lastly, (another thing Invisible Children got right),  keep on spreading the word!
KONY 2012.

Volunteers wanted to post things around town and in near-by towns, after EcoFairfield’s Key-note speaker, Seth Braun, is done with his speech around 9:30pm. Ninja attire encouraged but not required. Please RSVP for the self-organized event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/374491262574643/.

Instead of being swallowed by the tsunami, EcoFairfield is gonna ride this wave.
It’s a win, win, win.

EcoFairfield 2012
Serve. Connect. Inspire.
Because our locals are awesome!