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In defence of the bandwagon: Kony 2012 makers should check their facts, but so should critics

Would you have recognised this man before today? chris shultz

“Kony2012” is trending worldwide on Twitter.

Really, people? Why couldn’t we just stick to making tweets about the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, Angelina Jolie’s leg and sexist hashtags?

Snark aside, I knew who Joseph Kony was before this week, but then again I’m not the target market of the Kony 2012 campaign.

If what Invisible Children wanted to do was get its message out to a lot of people in its target demographic using the methods used by that demographic, it’s achieved that target several times over.

But the responses haven’t all been positive. Many have criticised the charity for the campaign.

Ironically, those criticising the Kony 2012 campaign, or the organisation behind it (Invisible Children), are falling victim to the very thing they accuse those who have linked to the video of doing: forwarding something without assessing its content or debating the quality of the evidence.

The key anti-Invisible Children messages are that the not-for-profit organisation is financially suspect, that it supports the Ugandan or Sudanese governments who are accused of some of the same horrors perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army, that it calls for military intervention, and that Joseph Kony no longer threatens the people of these countries (or the threat posed by the LRA is greatly diminished).

Most not-for-profit organisations do not spend 100% of their donations on direct services. That said, I think Invisible Children’s inability or refusal (so far) to have their financial details audited by an independent third party deserves scrutiny, although the organisation says it is aware that this is a problem.

While much has been made of charity watchdog Charity Navigator’s two-and-half star (out of four) rating for Invisible Children in terms of its financial transparency, but few of the organisation’s virulent critics have acknowledged that it rates the maximum four stars for the delivery of its programs.

The campaign might be misguided, but do you know any better? chris shultz

Invisible Children denies ever having funded the governments of the countries in which the LRA operates. Indeed, proof of this is very difficult to come by, unless a photo of the filmmmakers with members of the Ugandan army counts as proof of their financial contributions to the Ugandan government.

Is it proof that Invisible Children are in cahoots with these governments? Certainly, as an international not-for-profit organisation, it has to work within the confines of the system set by the state (and its security apparatus).

The Red Cross and Red Crescent must work with what it’s given by the Syrian government. Appreciating that the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are larger, more established and more financially accountable or transparent organisations, the fundamental analogy is still pertinent – does working with Syrian authorities prompt us to ask if the Red Cross and Red Crescent are supporting the Syrian government and military?

The main blog posts being circulated in favour of a more robust critique of Kony 2012 and Invisible Children do not link to evidence of the organisation’s or the campaign’s supposed support for military intervention.

The documentary calls for Kony to be hauled in front of the War Crimes Tribunal, and includes as part of its case interviews with UN prosecutors. Calling for the prosecution of one of the UN’s most wanted men on charges of crimes against humanity is not supporting military intervention – but then again, do we want to get bogged down into a conversation about semantics?

chris schultz

Technically speaking, there are already US military advisers on the ground and a form of military intervention already exists in Uganda. Is it correct to simplify the issue (which is a key argument levelled against the campaign and Invisible Children) by saying military intervention is always a flat out mistake? Was it a mistake in Iraq? How about Libya? Would it be a mistake right now in Syria?

That Invisible Children exaggerates the scale of the problem in Uganda and neighbouring countries is a valid criticism that should be looked into further. But attacking the campaign for being too late misses the point, which is that Kony is still on the run.

Is it conceivable to attack the UN war crimes tribunal in Cambodia on the basis that it’s a couple of decades too late, and that the Khmer Rouge no longer represents the threat it once did to Cambodia?

There are also conceptual issues with the campaign that its critics have raised, such as the video’s narrative containing an implicit “White Man’s Burden” undertone.

I thought the video was well made, but I don’t want to argue that Kony 2012 should be above questioning.

I do believe that criticism, however, should be subject to the same scrutiny that opponents of “Kony 2012” say is lacking in the campaign, the organisation behind it and the people who support it.

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