Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012?

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I was watching the news last night and the reporter was talking about this viral video with over 40 million hits. The video was about something called Kony 2012. Naturally, in typical news fashion, they didn’t explain a single thing about the video other than it was something that everyone should take the 30 minutes to watch.
Being the ever-curious person that I am, I saw the video. Being a compassionate person I’ll admit that I got suckered into it too. Luckily one of my friends was quick to send me over some other information that made me re-evaluate the video more critically.
I will summarize the video for those of you who haven’t seen it. The video brings to light the actions of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel army operating in central Africa. According to the video, the film-maker first learned of Kony in 2003 when he was visiting Uganda. He met a small child named Jacob whose brother had been murdered by Kony. Kony burned the schools and would steal away small children while they slept. The video shows horrible conditions of thousands of people practically sleeping one on top of another for safety. The interview with Jacob continues and the boy says that he’d rather die than stay alive because there’s no hope for his future.
It’s pretty heart-wrenching stuff. The video explains that the young girls that the LRA steals away are forced into prostitution rings. The young boys that are stolen are forced to shoot and kill their parents and become part of Kony’s army, which is, according to the video, more than 30,000 strong.
The video talks about how news about Kony has spread and that the US government finally went to help by sending 100 military advisors over to Uganda to help train and advise the Ugandan Army on how to find Kony. The video also explains that through the donations of people like you, new schools and jobs have been built and people have hope now.
The video further goes on to say that they need your help right now in order to keep the pressure up and ensure that Kony is stopped, and for a donation of just a few dollars a month you can receive a free kit that has posters and stickers and things that will make Kony famous and make the government bring him to justice, this year, before December 31st, 2012 so that our children can inherit a world better than the one that we were born into.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to watch that video and not feel something; anger, pity, bewilderment, something. However, as the link my friend sent me points out, not all may be as it seems. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that Kony is evil and should be brought to justice, that’s not the case at all, but let’s look at some of the other things.
First, there are some people who object to the video’s makers, Invisible Children, Inc, to wanting to make him “famous”. They argue that they should be trying to make him “infamous”. On this point I say that the opponents of this video are splitting hairs. It’s clear that the film maker is using the word “famous” as a synonym for “notorious”. Okay, so maybe vocabulary isn’t the guy’s strongest suit. To me that seems like a rather petty issue to argue.
Some of the opponents of this video take objection with the manner in which the message is spread. They argue that by using campaign signs that say “Kony 2012” that they are, in fact, endorsing him and his actions lending credibility where none is deserved. Really? Come on, give me a break. This is a basic marketing ploy. Film-makers do it. The news does it. Car companies do it. They feed you some tiny snippet of information to get your curiosity up so that you’ll go figure out what it is. In marketing terms this is called a “hook”.  Okay, so they see the campaign signs. I’m willing to admit that I might be suffering from false-consensus effect, but I would like to believe that’s not the case. I think that most people would say to themselves “Kony? I’ve never heard of Kony.” And then they would Google “Kony 2012” and stumble across their campaign to bring him to justice.
The rest of the arguments against the video are far more serious though. First, the video claims that “for a donation of just a few dollars a month you can get a free kit”. What they don’t tell you is that this “few dollars” is $15 per month, minimum. Anything less than that and you have to buy the kit at $30….oh yeah, and they’re backordered and they aren’t even guaranteeing that they’ll ship in time for their big to-do on April 20th either.
Okay, so you decide to give $15 a month a month and you got your free kit. Where is that money actually going? Well, the first thing that you should be aware of is that only 31% of the money that’s donated actually goes to helping anyone. Don’t believe it? Look at their financial statements (http://c2052482.r82.cf0.rackcdn.com/images/737/original/FY11-Audited%20Financial%20Statements.pdf?1320205055)
The video also alleges that they need to provide equipment to the people and the army to better stay on top of Kony’s movements. The video calls this “real-time tracking”. However, according to Page 9 of their financial statements (see Note 1, paragraph 3) it very clearly states that this technology will be used for a twice-daily broadcast.  Last time I checked “twice daily” is not “real time”.
So where is this money going and can you trust your donation? By default donations are available for general use. So they can use them to buy the $751,000 of computer equipment that they own, or the $177,000 it cost them to make that video. But, donors can “flag” or “earmark” their donations to go to a specific cause, like, you know, actually helping out the Ugandans and other Africans that they’re promoting help for. But, there’s a catch; this earmark is only temporary (as mentioned in their financial statement). Thus, all they have to do is sit on your donation until that time frame expires and then they’ll be able to use it for whatever they want. Pretty cool, huh?
There are some websites that do independent verification of charities to help ensure that you aren’t donating to some scam-scheme and pissing your money away. One such website is Charity Navigator. I went to that site and I looked up Invisible Children and four other similar charities who claim to help people in Africa. The other four charities were; water.org, Amref USA, Africare and Children of the Nations. (Links are posted below).
The first thing that I noticed is that Invisible Children has an overall rating of 3 (out of 4) and a score of 51.52 out of 70. Not bad, right? Would it surprise to learn that out of the 5 charities I looked at this one scored the lowest? All of the others were a rating of 4 with a score in the 60s.
Charity Navigator also breaks down where the money is going as well. In addition to being the lowest overall scoring charity out of the five charities it’s also the one that spends the most on “administrative costs” in comparison to the rest of their expenditures.
There are some opponents that claim that the Invisible Children is claiming that they want peace, when in truth they are just war-mongering bastards who want Kony dead, not tried. Their proof? This photo of the founders of Invisible Children holding weapons. (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_-PnDZmngAhM/Sa_KBGNySiI/AAAAAAAAAJY/uBOfiAysghs/s1600-h/IMG_2941.JPG) I say, so what? There’s a picture of them holding weapons. Just because they’re holding weapons doesn’t mean that they intend to use them on Kony. A) They’re guys. The vast majority of guys would pose for a picture with a weapon if given the opportunity. B) You can’t tell intent from a still photo that can be easily taken out of context. It’s possible that the soldiers of the army asked them to pose with them for thanks in bring the US troops and supplies over. I don’t know. There’s no other references thus making it impossible to know what this photo is all about. And if they are right and they really want Kony dead? Again, I say, so what? Let’s not forget that Osama Bin Laden was hunted down and executed while he slept for war crimes against America. Why should Kony’s treatment be any different? Sure, the ideal solution would be to peacefully arrest him and make him stand trial so that the ICC can sentence him to die. But, let’s be pragmatic about it. This man is a war criminal. He’s spent the last two decades of his life fighting one group after another; the National Resistance Army (NRA), the Ugandan Army and many other smaller warlords and tribal villages. Based on his prior behavior what in the world makes anyone think that this man will suddenly denounce his entire way of life and give up peacefully?  Especially after two of his top commanders; Vincent Otti and Raska Lukwiya had already been killed in action rather than surrendering.  Allegedly, in July of 2006 Kony told the Vice President of Southern Sudan that he is not willing to stand trial (although admittedly the proof of this statement is sketchy).
Next, I’d like to address this notion that the video puts forth; we should all write our elected officials and demand that they bring Kony to justice and insist that they keep the troops in Africa. First, I’d like to point out that the US had been involved with the search for Kony since 2008, with our assistance to the Ugandan Army in the unsuccessful Operation Lightning Thunder. They were successful in driving Kony out of Uganda, but he evaded capture.
Second, since American support is going on its fourth year let’s talk about something that the video fails to mention; US support is not likely to wane and US troops are not likely to leave. Why do I say this? Because in May of 2010 President Obama and the US Congress passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Ugandan Recovery Act. President Obama stated that this bill signed into law US Policy to “kill or capture Joseph Kony and crush his rebellion”. (press release is the links below).  The link to the details of the law can be found here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-1067. The funding of this law continues at least through 2014.  So hurry up, write congress and tell them to do what they’re already doing.
Other opponents of the video point out that this video is not relative any more. They point out that it was filmed in 2003, and most people are watching it now in 2012 for the first time. One person gave the analogy of watching a video of 9/11 today and then having someone ask for donations to help with the cleanup effort. In 2003 this story was legitimate and real. However, in 2006 the Ugandan Army pushed Kony out of Uganda and into the Congo and Sudan. Uganda has had 5 years of peace, and 5 years to develop a completely different set of problems. Also, as Dr. Ernesto Sirolli of the Sirolli Institute points out, not all “relief aid” to Africa is actually helpful. (http://www.sirolli.com/DesktopModules/UltraVideoGallery/UltraVideoGallery.swf?vId=33&portalId=0)
Many opponents of the Invisible Children video point out that their timeline to bring Kony to justice is unrealistic. There are 100 US military advisors supporting the Ugandan Army. However, the Ugandan Army is highly inept and they lack training, technology and discipline. The US Marine Corps, arguably the best, most capable fighting force in the world, could not find Osama Bin Laden in the deserts of Afghanistan for 10 years. Thus, it’s completely unrealistic to expect that an untrained rag-tag army of soldiers will find and capture or kill Kony in the Jungle in less than 1 year.
As one opponent of the video points out “it’s hard to take any documentary of Northern Uganda seriously when a 5 year old white boy features more prominently than any of the Ugandan children or survivors”. He makes many other great points too, and you can read about them on his blog here: http://justiceinconflict.org/
Other opponents of the video are quick to point out that awareness does not equate to action. As examples they cite; Osama Bin Laden, a “household name” for nearly a decade before he was killed, and all of America learned his name in one moment. There’s also Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi, and Hitler. These too were powerful, evil men that the world knew about but was unable to stop when they wanted, and certainly not for lack of trying.
The video makes several mentions of the fact that Kony is “top of the list” for wanted persons by the International Criminal Court in Hague. Interestingly, I have not been able to find a single delineated list of wanted persons issued by the ICC ranked by importance or notoriety. Sure, I can find arrest warrant information, and I can see that he is on their wanted list (which is housed over at Interpol), but nowhere does it indicate that he’s at the top of the list. The video also fails to mention that Kony is only 1 of 5 members of the LRA who are on the ICC most wanted list. One of those five is confirmed dead, killed in a shootout. Another of the five is presumed dead. But that still leaves Kony and two more of his top commanders. In this case there is a clear succession of leadership if Kony is removed. The LRA would simply replace him and keep on keeping on.
The video also poignantly portrays the image of Kony’s army being filled with as many as 30,000 child-soldiers, ready to fight and die for him. However, experts in Uganada, Central Africa and the LRA point out that this is simply nowhere near the current state of the situation.  Not to mention that Kony himself has not personally been since 2007. The last reported communication from him to the outside world was in April of 2008 when he backed out of peace talks with Uganda. There is some speculation that he may already be dead.
Probably the most alarming thing about the Kony 2012 video can be summarized by the follow quote by German Philosopher Frederick Nietzsche: He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.  What does that have to with Kony? Let’s recap; Kony is evil because he press-gangs children into his army, he’s bad because he kidnaps women and girls and rapes them and prostitutes them out, and he’s bad because he steals valuable resources from the people who live in the area. The Kony 2012 video asks you to support them so that they can help the Ugandan Army catch Kony before he causes any more harm or conflict in Congo or Sudan.
First of all, Kony isn’t causing much conflict in Sudan. In fact, Sudan gave Kony military support to fight against the Ugandans. Sudan only withdrew support for Kony after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest. Maybe it’s the whole, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but Kony isn’t causing trouble against Sudan, at least not right now anyway.
Secondly, let’s turn the focus onto the soldiers tasked with hunting Kony down. In 2001 the UN released a report stating that the Democratic Republic of Congo was guilty of forcibly recruiting child-soldiers into its army. The Ugandan People’s Defense Force also forcibly recruited young children into their army as well, according to the same UN Report. Hold the phone, isn’t that the exact same thing that Kony is guilty of?
But Kony killed innocent civilians and raped all kinds of women. As it turns out, so did the UPDF. In another report from the UN the armies of Uganda and Rwanda were responsible for crimes such as mass rape, targeted killing of civilians, and “other crimes against humanity”. These crimes took place between 1993 and 2003. And allegedly, after 2006 during their hunt for Kony the UPDF is responsible for looting diamonds, timber and other natural resources out of the Congo.
So, as the Kony 2012 video shows, it’s perfectly okay to use one group of people who commit crimes and atrocities to hunt down another group who commit the exact same crimes so long as someone profits from it in the end.

UPDATE:
The LRA attacked a small village in the Congo on March 7th. But, as this article explains, the LRA is now only down to around 200 soldiers, which is certainly a far cry from the 30,000 that the video alleges. Here's the article: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Keep-Calm/2012/0307/Lord-s-Resistance-Army-After-long-silence-the-US-tracked-rebels-attack

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.