A closer look at Kony 2012

By now you have seen Invisible Children’s new video, “Kony 2012.” It has, after all, nearly 74 million views on YouTube since posted on March 5. But in case you haven’t, you can read the synopsis in the box next to this column.

The video seems noble enough. After all, who could find fault with an organization whose goal is to bring an internationally-recognized war criminal to justice? But the video and Invisible Children have come under fire in the wake of the video’s release. Accusations leveled against them range from the organization’s use of donations to the misrepresentation of facts to the perpetuation of the “white savior” mentality. So, are these criticisms fair? Let’s take a look.

First, let’s deal with the accusation of perpetuating the idea of the “white savior,” a term which is today perhaps more accurately called the “first-world savior” or “Western savior.”

Indeed, much has changed since the concept was first introduced in previous centuries in which the “civilizing mission” ideas of white Europeans and Americans were so prominent.

Since my first encounters with Invisible Children’s campaigns, this has been a concern of mine. When watching the videos, one cannot help but notice that the efforts of Westerners are put in the spotlight while Africans are largely ignored, except for their role as the victims of the story.

This can help create a false and dangerous mentality that Westerners must help Africans, who are incapable of being agents of their own change. This line of thinking has been used in the past to justify such evils as colonization, segregation and apartheid, which had devastating effects on those who lived under these systems.

At the same time, I recognize that the goal of Invisible Children is to mobilize support for the efforts to stop Kony, and telling young people that they can make a difference is an incredibly effective method for accomplishing this.

Some have accused Invisible Children of wastefully spending donated funds. A look at the organization’s spending reveals that, compared to transportation, awareness programs, and film production combined; only a mediocre amount is given to programs within Uganda. At first glance, this does seem incredibly wasteful. However, one should bear in mind that the organization exists mainly to raise awareness and that is where they focus their spending.

Finally, in regard to the misrepresentation of facts: watching Kony 2012 gives the impression that all of these problems still plague Uganda. This is not the case. The video does make a brief allusion to the LRA’s move into other parts of Central Africa, yet remains potentially misleading. Whether this is sloppy editing or deliberate misrepresentation I cannot say for sure.

Despite this, it is clear that Invisible Children has accounted for the recent changes. Their early-warning network spans Central Africa, and the American military advisers in whose favor they are advocating have been dispatched throughout the region. John T. Bennet writes in U.S. News that progress has been made against the LRA in Central Africa.

All in all, Invisible Children has several flaws that I would like to see changed. The movement is not perfect. That being said, I feel that Invisible Children’s founders, employees and volunteers want what is right. They are doing what they can with what they have, in a situation that is not ideal, to bring about a better tomorrow.

I have decided where I stand on the Kony 2012 campaign through careful thought and consideration. But you shouldn’t blindly accept anyone’s views on this matter—not mine, not Invisible Children’s, not its critics.

Instead, I challenge you to do the following: watch the video with an open mind. Read the criticisms of the movement in the same manner, as well as Invisible Children’s responses, which are available on their website: invisiblechildren.com.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with Uganda and Central Africa. Then make an informed decision on where you stand.