I read yesterday that Jason Russell, founder of Invisible Children and man behind the Kony 2012 viral video campaign was picked up by San Diego police officers for vandalizing cars and naked disruption. One report said he appeared to be under the influence of a substance, and another that he was dehydrated and malnourished, undoubtedly from stress caused by a backlash of what is the most popular viral video in history. I’m taking the opportunity to say a few things in hopes that someone from the Invisible Children camp reads it and passes it on.
There is nothing wrong with raising awareness, but it is apparent that Ugandans feel the information in the video is outdated and does not reflect their current issues. There must surely be a flood of donations coming from people moved instantly and emotionally by the video, so there is also nothing wrong with making a statement and apologizing (if need be) and then redirecting the organizations efforts towards healing current ills there.
This is all assuming that the campaign stems from a good place, and it appears that it does. I read a criticism that only 32% of the donations actually go to Northern Uganda, but a good interview by NPR’s John Donvan quotes journalist and ‘Kony 2012′ critic Michael Wilkerson saying that,
… I think Invisible Children is getting a little bit of a tough time on this because, yes, something like 32 percent, I think, is the number of their money actually goes to projects in Uganda. And so they’d been criticized heavily over that. But I think what needs to be stated is that a lot of what their actual operations are, are doing awareness and fundraising in the United States which involved road shows, going around to show their films on university campuses and things like that. And they’re really good at it. And you can see their success with the social marketing. They are really, really good at generating awareness.
So if there’s a criticism here, I think what it might be is that they’re simply trying to do too much. And I can tell you, unfortunately, they’re not that well-regarded for their on-the-ground projects by other civil society organizations that exclusively do things like education and livelihood support.
So if I were to suggest anything, it might be to focus more. You know, there are other great organizations active in this area, like the Enough Project, that do solely advocacy. And so I think part of the problem is that, you know, Invisible Children was born of its founders’ very first group called Invisible Children, where they accidentally found the conflict in northern Uganda and decided they want to do something about it. And so it evolves from showing their film at campuses around to raising money for scholarships, and there’s a lot of other projects, you know.
So I don’t think they’re misappropriating money is the short answer.”
All-in-all, if the current issues are more about helping Lord’s Resistance Army victims, and sufferers of “Nodding Disease”–an illness that plagues children in war affected areas–there is no shame in listening to the criticisms and redirecting efforts to create awareness for what is going on. Keep your calm and keep your head. It takes a lot of charisma to create this kind of stir, so use it in positive ways. There must be a better response to what’s happening than destroying property and lashing out in ways that stymie all the created momentum. Fizzling out now is a monumental waste of time and an insult to the people who are willing to help with a cause that can actually change lives for the better.
As always, I urge those who are interested in donating to a cause to do you research, first. Links to my references above are below:
Jason Russell Arrested: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/16/jason-russell-arrested-invisible-children-kony_n_1354455.html
Michael Wilkerson Interview, NPR News: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/08/148235383/fact-checking-the-kony-2012-viral-video
Michael Wilkerson’s ForeignPolicy.com Article: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things
Ugandans Respond with Anger: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/03/15/watch-northern-ugandans-puzzled-angry-with-kony-2012-campaign/