The Real Story About the “KONY 2012″ Video

March 8, 2012

Nothing is more dangerous than a populist backlash. When groups of people begin chanting, reason of the individual often gives way to the mindless rants of the collective.

Nothing could be more obvious about this than the recently-viral video put out by the political-activist group Invisible Children (IC) called “KONY 2012″. This video has gone viral, getting millions of views in an incredibly short amount of time.

The organization exists to get a “movement” set up to apply political pressure from international governments to be more heavily involved in Africa, specifically to focus on supporting Uganda and other nations fighting Joseph Kony, a terrorist leader. The image to the left is a picture of the founders of the group posing with militants. These founders of the organization have taken sides and are trying to manipulate the American people to do so as well.

It’s both dangerous and fascinating.

Please Note: If you found yourself emotional after watching the video, don’t feel bad at all. If you hadn’t yet studied the topic, then you reacted as you should — with horror at the rights of children being violated. But now let’s focus on the rest of the story — including the part of the story about the organization behind the video would prefer you not see.

About the KONY 2012 Video.

The video is a self-labeled “experiment” in social media, and focuses on building up an over-the-top emotional platform for the story about Joseph Kony, a Ugandan guerrilla group leader who is known for using thousands of child soldiers and making millions of people displaced throughout Uganda and Africa for decades. Make no mistake: he’s an evil guy, just like a lot of other evil men in the area.

Like many “youth” targeted movements these days, the focus of the video is extremely vague about what exactly social media “activists” are supposed to do, while making it seem incredibly romantic and important that the social media users have the ability to click the “share” button to help their organization become more famous. It’s a clever way to get users pumped up on powerful soundtracks and clips to click the share button. And it’s worked.

Sounds innocent, right? What could be wrong with starting an organization dedicated to raising awareness about an evil man? In this case, a lot. Experts in foreign affairs and politics have long known that extremely emotional, shallow, and one-demensional views are often just as bad as they are useful in whipping up the “masses” into a violent fervor set to the drums of war.

Let’s look at Invisible Children as well as the situation in Uganda with Joseph Kony.

Invisible Children: The Marketing Group.

The Invisible Children organization spends only a third of its budget, according to their own documents, directly helping anyone in Africa. The rest goes to administration, salaries, and the media campaign mostly in the US. A huge portion of the proceeds go to self-marketing.

There’s nothing wrong with all of this, of course. A marketing campaign can be important if the marketing campaign is actually getting people to do something that helps rather than hurts, then that’s wonderful. This is not one of those times.

The reason so much is not spent on helping children is simple: this is not primarily a charity. It’s primarily a political action force with the goal of getting more international governments to get violently involved in other continents. That’s literally the goal.

When it comes to international relations and violence, reposting emotional stories, dressing up in melodramatic gear, and raising up artsy red flags and posters all over the place in some sort of V for Vendetta wannabe style achieves absolutely nothing except getting politicians in the US to sit up and take notice. Politicians love a good populist cause — that’s one of the reasons wars are so common. It’s easy to get people to support a war and the politicians get a huge short-term popularity boost. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.

I’ll talk more about this in a second. First, let’s cover the troubling facts about “Invisible Children” that are unavoidable and should make everyone stop and pause before donating a dime.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire.

Posting a well-made, proudly-emotional video on Facebook and believing that suddenly that makes one some sort of crime fighter is a wonderful-feeling narrative. It’s also a completely unearned emotion, especially in this situation. It stirs people up into thinking a single new policy can “fix” the situation, even though sometimes the best policy is the most difficult one — that of not using bombs, more soldiers, or getting the US involved violently in another continent. A crazy viewpoint, I know.

The reason is this: the idea that Kony is the biggest problem in the region is absolutely absurd. He’s a relatively small fish in a very big pond. It’s like there suddenly being a world-wide campaign with kids going crazy over a small criminal gang in the middle of New York — it’s completely missing the fact that organized crime won’t go down if one small-time thug is taken out, especially if that thug gets replaced.

Even Foreign Affairs agrees with this, saying:

“The violence in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan has been the most devastating — anywhere in the world — since the mid-1990s. Even conservative estimates place the death toll in the millions. And the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.”

Even then, the “activism” of Invisible Children isn’t just about helping schools or rehabiliate the children victimized. They support an international violent intervention. Anyone with any sort of background in international relations should instantly see why this is an all-around horrible approach — it’s dangerous, it’ll mess up the power structure, rekindle even more decades of violence and achieve nothing. There will still be violence, killings, murders, rapes — and possibly even more.

Just because you figure out who one of the small-time bad guys is doesn’t mean that the solution won’t lead to more lives saved. It’s not that simple. If it was, we’d all be living in Utopia by now. In almost all wars in the history of mankind, the conflict wasn’t between “good” and “evil”. In almost every situation, the wars were about “evil” against “evil”.

There can be more than one bad guy in town at the same time.

Africa is a screwed up place. The idea that taking out Kony would be a huge event in the history of Africa is completely backwards and makes no sense. It’s misleading and it’s manipulative. This is absolutely unavoidable, and only seems plausible to anyone who has absolutely no idea what the dramatic, violent, and bloody history of Uganda, Sudan, and the surrounding area has gone through over the last decades. It’s not just Kony. Sorry. He’s just a very small player. All intervention will do is make more angry people remember that it was the US who invaded their country, further invigorating them.

Uganda is Evil Too.

Perhaps the most insane thing about the movement is the attempt to essentially have the international community take sides and support Uganda. The founders make it clear they don’t support the torture, murder, rape, and crimes against humanity that Uganda inflicts — but yet they still say they support the Ugandan government for being the best equpped government to fight Kony.

This is insane. Supporting evil men to fight other evil men is what causes terrorism, mass killings, and who knows what else. It’s also wrong.  Maybe I should make an extremely “artsy” video making Uganda’s government famous. Then we could support Kony to fight him. See? That’s where this insane logic gets us.

The founders of the movement support better empowering Uganda in the region, essentially taking sides in a “bad guys against bad guys” conflict as though it will somehow do good. Uganda, who they have made excuses for, is famous for torture, being one of the most corrupt governments on earth, arresting opposition members for purely political reasons, and other absurd violations of human rights. They’re also internationally known for murder by their troops, rape by their troops, and other atrocities.

Right now, there’s a movement in Uganda to kill all gay people. Uganda’s government is evil, and yet that’s who these people support. It’s crazy.

The “White Man’s” Burden.

Perhaps the most embarrasing of all of the many problems with this shady organization is the “white man complex” that exists in such a brazen fashion. Many movements have existed in the past of treating people of other races as though they are hopeless altogether and need a superior race and group to save them. The narrative is a common one, leading to many privileged white kids to indulge in the egocentric storyline by going on “missionary vacation” to a place where there are people of color, and then get the cliche’d cute picture which is –obviously– for Facebook friends to see how charitable they are to those little colored children. It’s nauseating.

One of the most succinct explanations I’ve seen about this comes from another blogger, who sarcastically explained the “White Man’s Burden” approach to marketing:

“White people only care about White people and the only way to save Black people is to get White people to care about them, so to save Black people we need to talk about White people.”

Just watch almost any “activism” movie about Africa, and you’ll usually see this riddled throughout the movie.

If you watch this video in particular again, you’ll begin to see how this is fascinatingly obvious when you know what’s being done in the social media “experiment”. It’s about the “activists”. It’s about the viewer. It’s about the white guys saving the black people who need the white guys to do the saving.

I’m probably the last person in the world to scream out “racism” during a discussion, but I have yet to see any marketing campaign this obvious. Even Ugandans can see right through this, even though their government would be on the receiving end of the power shift:

The U.S. activists are “selling a pack of lies to unaware youth to raise money for themselves,” said Ugandan blogger TMS Ruge in one of a series of critical tweets.

Not a single African is a member of the executive staff or the board of directors of Invisible Children, he noted. Instead, he said, Africans have been relegated to a “sideshow” without a voice in their own story. “Stop treating us like children,” he said. “I refuse to let my voice stay silent as one more NGO continues to perpetuate an expired single story of us.”

It’s not just the obviously crass tactics, either. The organization is also shady when it comes to money, like many emotional-based charities are, unfortunately. Just because something is a “charity” doesn’t mean people aren’t living it up because of that charity.

Shady Finances

The finances of the institution have been incredibly controversial. Charity Navigator gives them a 2 out of a 4 star for accountability and transparency because of a lack of accountability. One of the reasons is that the group refuses to have their paperwork — so far — audited by a committee.

The Better Business Bureau has repeatedly contacted them and Invisible Children has flat-out refused to provide the appropriate information, saying

“While participation in the Alliance’s charity review efforts is voluntary, the Alliance believes that failure to participate may demonstrate a lack of commitment to transparency. Without the requested information, the Alliance cannot determine if this charity adheres to the Standards for Charity Accountability. A charity’s willing disclosure of information beyond that typically included in its financial statements and government filings is, in the Alliance’s view, an expression of openness that strengthens public trust in the charitable sector.”

IC responded with a link to a pretty graph, but essentially ignored the problems above or just said a non-statement like how it’s “voluntary”, so they’re not required to submit the documents. Of course it’s voluntary.  This isn’t Uganda, after all. But they should also do it for accountability.

The Undeniable Facts About Invisible Children (IC):

Less than a third of the budget goes to helping anyone in Africa.

No Africans are serving in positions of leadership. Only non-Africans lead the organization.

IC is publicly calling out for more international violence and meddling in Africa.

The three young founders are enjoying $85,000+ per year salaries, plus expenses paid and other perks, at the very least.

Invisible Children refuses to provide documents to BBB for accountability.

Removing Kony empowers Uganda even more:

  • Uganda is working on literally mass slaughtering its gay population.
  • Uganda’s government is one of the most corrupt in the world.
  • Uganda is constantly using torture and murder and other crimes against humanity.

In the end, while reading up to check my facts for this article, I stumbled across a comment left on one of the articles that presented an important point: just because it’s easy being a Facebook “slactivist”, as marketers call it, doesn’t mean that it should be done without research.

the problem with Kony 2012 is that it proposes an idealistic and overly simple solution to a deeply complicated and longstanding problem. Social media is an amazing way to distribute and share information but it doesn’t alleviate people of their responsibility to do their own research instead of just believing whatever they see in a video just because all their friends have liked it.

Kony is an unbelievably evil man. So are almost all the regional leaders and governments. One is planning on slaughtering all of the gay population. It’s literally that bad. But dumping guns into the hands of governments that are internationally famous for being evil, and sending our military? That’s just not the solution.

Copyright Capitalism Institute, 2011-present.