responding to “kony2012”

let me begin this post by saying that i love uganda totally and unconditionally. i love having lived in uganda, i love learning about all the different cultures and languages, learning to ‘speak english’ and ‘eat food’ and am anxious to return to that diverse and beautiful place. i love the people of uganda with my whole heart and want nothing but good things for the country, the people, the region.

let me also begin by saying that i love this country, i love the united states and the people and cultures and food of this country. unconditionally and whole heartedly. i love living here and am glad to be living here right now. i love the people of the united states with my whole heart and want nothing but good things for the country, the people.

it is with this love and deep care that i write this blog-post.
love for the people of uganda that their voices be heard-and love for those in the united states who may not be hearing the whole story.

a second caveat before beginning–the group called “invisible children” has, indeed, had a positive impact in the united states and in uganda. i recognize the “waking up” of the youth of north america (and other countries in the global north), teaching a new generation the importance of their right to protest, their right to speak up and be heard, and the importance of being informed about the world around them. these are amazingly important things. as one of those youth who was asleep to uganda and was awakened by the original “invisible children” movie–which in many ways was the catalyst to get me to uganda the first time in 2007–it is my responsibility to listen, critique and challenge. in uganda ic has built schools, provided learning materials, dug wells and created jobs. i do not deny some of their actions are positive.

however.

major point one: “uninformed and oversimplified advocacy” (fp) is extremely problematic for not only the people of uganda but also for the members of the global north who are participating in the uninformed and oversimplified advocacy/campaign. 

lets start with some facts.

“but let’s get two things straight: 1) joseph kony is not in uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the lra now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.” Foreign Policy’s article “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda, and other Complicated Things”

if this “kony 2012” video was the only thing that i had seen regarding northern uganda, of if this was my only source of information since the original “invisible children” movie then it would be natural to assume that gulu is still a war-zone. and by watching twitter and facebook the past few days it is evident that many people have viewed this video and immediately agreed with no research beyond this particular video or the IC website.

wanting to give IC the benefit of the doubt/grace i do not think that they are purposefully trying to misinform the youth of the global north. however, as someone who has lived in uganda and knows the country and region more intimately than most americans i have to tell you of the incongruence of some portions of this new video. for time and space i shall mention two:

1) at least twice in the “kony 2012” a shot of the international criminal court’s (icc’s) list of “most wanted” showing joseph kony’s name as #1. just below his name in the #2  is vincent otti. vincent otti has been dead since 2008.

i do not point this out to say that kony has not committed crimes against humanity–he certainly has–nor to say that i do not want his reign to end–i do–but to draw your attention to how easy it is to use outdated facts, materials and sources. this material suits what IC is trying to say–“kony is number one, so lets go get him!” all of this is far more complicated than kony being a “a bad guy.”

2) at 15:01 in the online movie there is a map of uganda–showing in red the area where kony and the lord’s resistance army (lra) was located. this red area spans the entirity of the north of uganda, all the way to the kenya border in the east. this is simply not true. including the karamoja region as in the path of kony is simply untrue.

again, i am not pointing out this discrepancy to say that the lra did not commit atrocity, crimes against humanity and mass murder. they did. it happened and i have seen the scars and heard the cries with my own ears and eyes. however, i refuse to let these atrocities bleed over into areas that have their own grief to deal with–who do not need to be falsely lumped into a conflict other than the one they are dealing with. this is not a minor detail, not just a slight oversight on a graphic of a map, but is an infuriating oversight that gives me pause. how simple to expand the perceived theater of war! how irresponsible to show a larger area than truth dictates! my frustration and sadness is for the people of uganda–the people of karamoja who have been somehow now lumped into a conflict they have nothing to do with–but also for the people in north america/the global north who are watching this video who know little about uganda and now assume that this geography is correct and take that as fact. it is not fact. it is incorrect and is a small thing that shows a greater issue. it is easy to misinform and be misinformed.

from the justice in conflict blog, mark kersten writes, “the crisis in northern uganda is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the lra. yes, you read that right. the conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the government of uganda and the lra, as well as their regional supporters (primarily south sudan and khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. this pattern is what chris dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the ugandan government and the lra’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.” taking ‘kony 2012’ down a notch

northern uganda, and uganda as a whole is struggling for good governance. the most recent presidential ‘elections’ in uganda consisted of yoweri museveni bullying his way into continued presidential term for over 25 years now. is this democracy? from the deadly crack down on  the “walk to work” campaign  (where it suddenly became illegal to walk anywhere) to rampant corruption of leadership from the president to local government officials (including skimming [that is stealing money] done by military personnel as well as the police), to the “kill the gay’s” bill and the discovery of oil in the west (also),  uganda has a lot going on.

this problem is far more complex than joseph kony not being famous. far more complex than getting ellen to speak the words “joseph kony” or “uganda” on television.

major point two: i keep hearing that “no one is doing anything” or “no one was talking about uganda before yesterday” and “no one knew about this.” this simply is not true.

now, before getting upset with me, let me say (again) that i am thankful that people are talking about uganda. that people care and want to be engaged in social change and the end of war. but to say that no one was talking about uganda, or knew about the lra/joseph kony/child soldiers or ‘the situation’ in uganda/drc/sudan and south sudan/car is untrue and extremely paternalistic (google “whites in shining armor and read the aid-bloggers explosion regarding this issue. i shall leave to your own devices there.)

there are countless ugandans who “have known” and have been striving for the end of kony’s lra since the beginning of the conflict, and have continued even after kony and the lra have left uganda.

the acholi religious leaders peace initiative  (arlpi) is an interfaith and nonviolent group who organized as a response to the lra in 1997. not 2012. 1997. that is 15 years of knowledge and work. 15 years plus the wisdom and understanding that they possess by virtue of being from northern uganda.

sister rosemary nyirumbe [this video was published in 2008] and the sisters at st. monica’s girls vocational school who have been working with girls returned from and affected by the conflict providing not only extremely important vocational skills to these girls, but also love, counseling and holistic healing of the person.

archbishop john baptist odama, the catholic archbishop of the gulu archdiocese who packed his cavera (plastic bag) and went to sleep in the street with the night commuters when they were flocking to gulu in the mid-2000’s. he has been a member of arlpi, and a strong advocate for a peaceful resolution.

bishop macleord ochola ii, a founding member of arlpi who himself has suffered greatly because of this conflict.

angelina atyam whose own daughter* was one of the young women abducted from st. mary’s–these young women became known as the “aboke girls” who, through her own grief and loss helped to found the concerned parents association and recently the concerned children and youth assocation.

sister margaret acheng, founder of caritas counseling center in gulu who now shares her knowledge and passion for holistic care in the counseling program at gulu university.

and numerous unsung and unnamed women, men and children of northern uganda who have experienced the lra in every way. from surviving massacres, surviving mutilation and torture, living  for 20 years in internally displaced person’s camps, struggling with land rights and finding “home” again after leaving these camps and striving to live their lives fully. they know. and intimately so.

major point three: what does ic mean when they say “kony must be stopped”? addressing black-and-white good guy vs. bad guy simplicity.

lets just get this out of the way: i’m a pacifist. i do not condone nor rejoice in killing. my response to osama bin laden’s death and the celebration in the streets was to weep–for the loss of life and for a culture who would rejoice in murder–not to jump up and down. this is not what i consider justice.

and continually sending armed troops to “find and arrest” joseph kony/the lra leaves the door standing wide open for him being killed. i suspect he’s wise enough to know that and therefore will not present himself to the armed updf soldiers looking for him. he is not an idiot.

IF the lra is as strong as IC makes them out to be (it is highly unlikely that there are 30,000 troops roaming around central and eastern africa–most recent reports suggest hundreds, not several thousand) then “stopping kony” wouldn’t necessarily end the conflict.

at the beginning of IC’s video jason russell shows footage of his son’s birth–saying, “every single person in the world started this way. he didn’t choose where or when he was born. because he’s here, he matters.” i agree, jason, your son gavin does matter. his life is important. the link between young gavin and the children abducted in northern uganda is an important one to make.

but what about the worth of joseph kony’s life? did he not also begin as a baby who did not choose his station and time in life? is his life also not of value? the “there is only good or evil” in the world binary is false. joseph kony’s actions are bad, yes. however joseph kony is still a human being–created in the imago dei–whose life is still a life and still has value.

major point four: you want to help, that’s great.

“i want to get involved. what should i do?”
continue reading and researching. read or watch more than one news source and compare and contrast what you hear or see. take your time. ASK MORE QUESTIONS.

use your brain as well as your emotions. IC has targeted your emotions to get you to give money (they are so not alone in this–most, if not all, advertising plays on your emotions). this is true even if their intentions are good and noble in origin. you’ve seen the commercials with the dirty children with flies on their faces and distended bellies, you’ve seen the commercials of starving and injured puppies and your emotions are tugged (rightfully so, i say) but its what we do after we acknowledge the emotional content of the situation that really makes a difference. take those emotions and let them fuel research and question asking.

linked above were a few online articles. at the bottom of this post you will find an annotated bibliography (of sorts) of several blog posts, articles and other internet postings regarding “kony 2012.”  they are in no particular order.

“i want to donate money/start a fundraiser”
by all means, give money away. give a lot of it away. sell all of your things and give your money to the poor! yes!

do some research first.

i am working on contacting some friends and organizations who are in gulu and other affected areas in northern uganda to see what their specific needs are, if they would like assistance in meeting them with money from north america, and will post these options as soon as i hear back from them.

don’t want to wait? email me at [thera[dot]freeman[at]gmail[dot]com and i can tell you about:

an anglican diocese in karamoja (north east, uganda) who could use assistance in removing asbestos from schools, training primary school teachers, providing clergy with safe and reliable transportation through volatile areas to visit parishioners, providing food assistance to those who cannot afford/grow it, etc.

a new school and leadership program in central uganda seeking to provide holistic and affordable education as well as strong character and leadership training. they are just getting started and can use all the support you can muster.

numerous children who cannot afford to pay school fees (education is not free in uganda–there are fees, uniforms, books, pencils, paper, shoes, food, firewood and other expenses to provide for)

a seminary near gulu in need of resources, teachers and funding.
*angelina atyam’s daughter is charlotte awino, who made her escape from the lra and is now a voice against human trafficking.

_____ things worth reading ______

joseph kony is not in uganda (and other complicated things)
foreign policy.com

michael wilkerson, who has lived in and reported from uganda, critiques the “kony 2012” campaign mainly focusing on the “uninformed and oversimplified advocacy” that the invisible children organization offers, calling into question the threat of removing the 100 “american advisors” as there has been no mention of doing such. “that seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention of the government of withdrawing those forces – at least any i can find.”

the most important question wilkerson asks is “stop kony, then what? or what if the activism just results in the 100 u.s. advisors staying but no kony?”

acholi street. stop #kony2012. invisible children’s campaign of infamy
angelo opi-aia izama blogging at http://www.thisisafrica.wordpress.com

“many african critics unsurprisingly are crying neo-colonialism. this is because these campaigns are disempowering of their own voices. after all the conflict and suffering is affecting them directly regardless of if they hit the re-tweet button or not. at the end of the day the kony2012 campaign will not make joseph kony more famous but it will make invisible children famous. it will also make many, including p.diddy, feel like they have contributed some good to his capture- assuming kony is even alive. for many in the conflict prevention community including those who worry about the militarization of it in central africa this campaign is just another nightmare that will end soon. hopefully.”

taking ‘kony2012’ down a notch
justiceinconflict.org

questioning:
the problem being popularity:  “i would understand if this were the 1990s or even the early 2000s when teh misery laguing nothern uganda flew competley under the radar. i would understand if this campaign was about teh ongoing conflit in teh democratic republic of congo. but a campaign in 2012, premised on joseph kony not being famous enough is just folly.”
the lack of ugandans in the video “incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern ugandan victim, jacob, the voices of nothern ugandans go almost competley unheard.”

updf in kony hunt accused of rape, looting
emma mutaizibwa,  theobserver.ug

published before the viral video went live emma discusses charges of looting of lumber, minerals; selling of guns and munitions and sexual crimes against the updf on multiple occasions. sadly, this is not new news.

kony 2012: a critical perspective
lunamagazine.com

“this is not a new video.  it documents a political situation in uganda nearly a decade ago.  a situation that has changed dramatically in the past 9 years.”

“it also appears that the motives of invisible children may no longer be entirely altruistic.  three founders collectively received over 1/4 million dollars in payment… wages?… in 2011 alone. on top of that, the charity holds significant assets, including: $750,000 in computer equipment, nearly $290,000 in transportation equipment, and over $175,000 in video camera and recording equipment.  one estimate puts the percentage of donations to invisible children that actually goes to ugandan efforts at around 32%.”

ic has not complied with the better business bureau’s request for an audit.

“it wouldn’t be fair to say that invisible children are deliberately misleading the internet community to further their charity, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that they’re not either.  the film is undoubtedly carefully crafted to deliver a certain message – all films are – but is it irresponsible of them to only partially inform their viewers when the fate of an entire country may rest on their actions?

“there can be no doubt that joseph kony should indeed be infamous the world over; the atrocities which he has committed can barely be imagined by the tertiary-educated first-world sharing the kony 2012 video. but before you rush in and offer your support, make sure you understand where your money is going and that you’re doing it for the right reasons. support the cause, not the charity.

and stay informed so that half-decade old news doesn’t catch you off-guard. don’t let it take a viral event such as this to make you stand up and take notice of world events. kony isn’t the first man to commit atrocities of this calibre, and he won’t be the last.”

what you should be reading if you want to understand the us and the lord’s resistance army
chris blattman.com

“if the us and ugandans have ambitious and serious new plans, they are doing a wonderful job of concealing the fact. another well-concealed fact: capturing kony will probably mean going through a wall of formerly abducted children. kony usually prefers a bodyguard of 13-year olds, since he doesn’t trust anyone older. i’m not sure if there are many children with him now (most, i suspect, have now grown up) but either way it will be messy. don’t expect to see that in a press release soon.”

on kony 2012
the daily what

“but killing kony won’t fix anything, just as killing osama bin laden didn’t end terrorism. the lra might collapse, but, as foreign affairs points out, it is “a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence.” ”

“the bottom line is, research your causes thoroughly. don’t just forward a random video to a stranger because a mass murderer makes a five-year-old “sad.” learn a little bit about the complexities of the region’s ongoing strife before advocating for direct military intervention.”
visible children
grant oyston’s tumblr

“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. 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 somethingsomething isn’t always better than nothing. sometimes it’s worse.”

what does it mean to love our enemies? really.
michelle perry –www.fromtheunpavedroad.com

the response of a western christian living in the region. worth a full read.

“here are some personal thoughts to consider from someone who may have the people she loves very dearly caught in the middle of this campaigns unintended consequences on the field:

  1. vilifying, dehumanizing even the most vile of our enemies, over simplifying complex international issues into a social media frenzy that in the end result of things may actually promote more violence is not the answer.
  2. in a region plagued by violence, more violence is never the answer. what you sow, you reap.
  3. what happened to loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? those of us who have chosen to walk in the way of jesus need to model his heart when it counts most. 
  4. this is, in my view, a perfect social media storm in the making that in all likelihood will do more damage than good to the very people it purports to help”

unmuted-you don’t have my vote
http://innovateafrica.tumblr.com/

read it.

“i understand that ic is a us-based organization working to change us policy. but, it doesn’t absolve it from the responsibility of telling a more complete story, one that shows the challenges and trials along side the strength, resilience, and transformational work of affected communities.”

“when it comes to africa, we have seen the ic approach play out time and time again, whether it was ethiopia in the 1980s, somalia in the early 2000s to date, darfur in 2004, or now. history is on our side and it shows that these types of approaches often fail. at some point, we have to say enough is enough. africans, raise your voice! now and into the future.”

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20 thoughts on “responding to “kony2012”

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  4. Well written, thank you. I must say though your criticisms aren’t a complete rebuke of this campaign, just the fact that it seems rather simplistic, glosses over many thing and looks like it was done by a highschool student.

    Great!

    So what? I’m still glad that today I am thinking of this war criminal and looking to advocate the plight of those children and lives he has affected. Whereas yesterday I was not. Isn’t that the entire point of this campaign? Even if it does represent yet another good white guy vs bad black guy narrative, even if it does wildly misrepresent the areas Kony operates in, even if it wildly misrepresents and weakens those brave Ugandans who are fighting him. Despite all that, I am still thinking of Kony today, and millions of people who would never have given him a second glance are now thinking of him and looking for ways to stop him. Even if it is a letter to my congressman, for that alone this campaign is a success in my book.

    • thank you for your comments and engaging in discussion!

      my criticisms are not a complete rebuke of the campaign, you are correct. the reason for that is two-fold: 1)i believe in grace and 2) i am not naive enough to think that my rebukes against an organization like IC are going to change the way they function.

      that being said–yes, i am glad that people are talking about uganda and northern uganda. and i am pleased that people want to be involved in the uplifting of people.

      “even if it widely misrepresents and weakens those brave ugandans who are fighting them.” work well done and should not weaken those to whom the work is being done for or with. weakening the very people who are striving for survival only exacerbates the problem.

      yes. write a letter to your congressional representative.
      my urging is to not just write an organization (any organization!) a check without learning more. without digging deeper.

      good intentions alone are not enough to make good and lasting difference.

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  6. Thanks for another perspective! I published a post yesterday about the importance of learning more (specifically pertaining to Kony 2012) and wondering how people begin to gather additional information before jumping to conclusions or jumping on board with something. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  9. Thank you Thera! I haven’t yet watched Kony 2012, just hearing all the hubbub and trying to encourage people to understand that it is more than just a problem with Kony. I appreciate the way you’ve stated it!

    • thank you, kristine! glad to see your name here! if you do watch the video i would love to hear your thoughts. if you choose to not watch it, however, i woudl totally understand. i hope you are well!

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  12. Thanks Danut, its all grist to the mill. Kony2012 has arguably got more people taking an interest, passionately talking, getting engaged in the LRA problem and Uganda than anything has before. Its a changing world, the rise of the net and its unbelievable reach and the timeless thirst of youth for change has come together. Let’s keep our eyes on the opportunities this creates – they will not go away, they may just be missed. Its hard to tell a complex story simply, the video manages it by cutting corners and being selective, that is the stuff of good story telling. Whenever I sit in church and listen to a sermon I at some moment I hear the preacher filling in the details the Bible text writers left out, adding context and aiding interpretation. I don’t hear them saying this was a story badly told. Neither is Kony2012. Its not the end of the story, its the beginning, its the bit that grabs our interest and makes us passionate. Let’s all be passionate for things to be better.

  13. hi mike, thanks for your comment and thoughts.

    i agree to an extent of “its all grist to the mill.” but at the same time think that in many ways this gives us a way out. donating money or time to something that we do not understand has the potential to be just as dangerous as the silence of the informed.

    yes! let us all be passionate for things to be better! we are in total agreeance in that regard. it is not my intent to throw away the fervor this video has whipped up–but wish to challenge the mode with which the fervor has been whipped. to challenge people to think more. to think harder and longer before engaging.

    thank you, again, for engaging. for also being passionate. lets keep the conversation going.

  14. Very well written and interesting. I hope that through all of this, that the people involved will also be enlightened and educated in the details of this problem and hopefully something will change out of all this. I think anything that will get the teens of the US off their butts is a good thing. For me personally, its the bigger picture. But i appreciate your insight and educated standpoint. Grace and mercy sent your way 🙂

    Pastor Shane,
    New Hope AG
    Elizabeth, PA USA

    • hi shane, thanks for reading and for engaging in conversation.

      i am also a big fan of getting teens (and tweens, and young adults, and adults, and older adults…) “off their butts”. but, to quote ivan illich “to hell with good intentions. this is a theological statement. you will not help anybody by your good intentions.” just the good intention of getting people “up” and listening does not necessarily equal fruitfulness, faithfulness or “progress”. it also does not mean lack of paternal aid or overbearing american presence–which are the main questions in the big picture.

      grace and mercy to you as well. may peace reign.

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