Take a few moments and think about a crisis or two that has gained recent popularity. Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is Syria or South Sudan. What are your initial responses to hearing about the atrocities taking place in these countries or the massive amount of refugees fleeing their homes?
Two common responses that I have noticed among myself, my peers, and even politicians are either to feel crippled by the immensity and complexity of the problem or feel hostile towards the issue, not wanting to take part in it in any way. Perhaps these reactions are due to the way we have been educated about these crises and how the media portrays the information. I think it’s time we switch our way of thinking about war and genocide to a way that will lead people to take action against it.
What would happen if we stopped looking at the victims, as if they’ve done something to deserve this treatment, and start focusing our attention on the ones committing the crimes and atrocities? What if we no longer associated wars and genocide with countries (or generalizing to Africa), and instead attributed them to the individuals responsible for starting it all?
By narrowing the scope of focus to a single man or army, the issue becomes more real and identifiable. Suddenly, we no longer see it as something that’s “happening to those people in Africa,” but we start putting faces to numbers and hear the individual stories of people’s lives. As this happens, we start to recognize our role in bringing these issues to light and bringing justice to the ones carrying out evil.
One organization dared to take on this new way of thinking in the year 2012, and the result was revolutionary. Perhaps you remember the campaign slogan Kony 2012.
For a quick refresher, Joseph Kony was marked as number one on the list for the “World’s Worst Criminals” by International Criminal Court in 2012 for committing crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, abductions, etc. He is the former of the bloodthirsty Ugandan guerrilla organization the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), comprised of thousands of child soldiers.
After travelling to Eastern Africa himself and hearing stories from the children hiding in fear of being abducted or killed by the LRA, a man named Jason Russell decided to do something about it. He started the organization Invisible Children, to bring attention and aid to the children living in fear of Joseph Kony and the ones forced to become soldiers. In 2012, Jason Russell uploaded a 30 minute video on youtube to make Joseph Kony so well-known that he could no longer hide or get away with these atrocious acts. Now, I won’t give away all the details for you, because you can view the video here for yourself: KONY 2012
The video was a hit and spread like wildfire. Within the first six days of publishing the video, it received over 100,000 million views. That year, Invisible Children’s revenue totaled $31.94 million, exceeding their wildest dreams. For the first time, an issue disconnected from US security and financial interests caught the attention of US citizens and government officials and moved them to action. In 2014, Invisible Children reported what had been accomplished by the tremendous support:
– Obama signed the ‘Rewards for Justice’ bill into law on January 15th, 2013.
– The African Union, European Union, United Nations and the US made fresh commitments to seeing an end to this 28 year long war.
– Eight countries and institutions sent representatives to attend Invisible Children’s Global Summit on the LRA in Washington, DC, to discuss stopping the LRA
– With funds raised from KONY 2012 we expanded our Early Warning Network. 74 communities are now protected from LRA violence.
– 2 out of the 5 top LRA leaders have been removed from the battlefield.
However, Before we celebrate this campaign and the efforts of Invisible Children too quickly, we must force ourselves to take a step back and ask some tough questions. This report was made in 2014. Now it’s 2016. But there is still no word about catching Joseph Kony. So, what happened? With all the money and awareness raised, why does the LRA still exist? The short and disappointing answer is that Invisible Children took on more than they could handle, and no one bothered to take the time to ask where their money was going.
Ten days after the video went viral, founder Jason Russell went on a naked, expletive-laden rampage through the streets of San Diego, and TMZ caught it all on video. He had suffered a psychotic breakdown, making everyone stop and question his leadership. Perhaps even more shocking was what Russell did with all of the money brought in by the campaign.
According to Invisible Children’s end-of-the-year financial report, a large portion of the profits went to film production and further advertising for Invisible Children, and only 32% of the money raised by the campaign went to direct services. On top of this, what’s being done with the 32% put towards direct services has undergone harsh criticism. A Youtube video made in response to KONY 2012 states that Invisible Children used this money to support the Ugandan Army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to track down and fight the LRA and Joseph Kony. The problem is that the Ugandan Army has been accused by the UN and other NGOs of looting and raping, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army is no better. Just like the LRA, the SPLA has utilized child soldiers in the past, and as of 2014, the UN still could not confirm that they are child-soldier-free.
So, this means that in order to stop children from being abducted and forced into child soldiering, these criminal groups must fight Kony’s army composed of children. Ironic much? So while Invisible Children has accomplished their goal of making Joseph Kony famous and have made notable strides towards disbanding the Lord’s Resistance Army, they have also made some pretty questionable decisions worthy of criticism.
The lesson to be learned here is five-fold:
- Educate yourself on the issues taking place around the globe. Today’s technological age has made accessing information basically effortless, so you really have no excuse to be apathetic.
- Catch yourself before you blame crises on entire people groups or countries. This will perpetuate the problem, hurting the people who are in these situations only because of their location and time of birth.
- Before you act, think. It’s a typical reaction to want to go out and do something to make a difference as soon as you hear about an issue like child soldiering (trust me–this is often my first reaction too). But no action at all is often better than hasty decisions that are based off the assumption that you know all the right answers. So, take time to think about your role as an advocate before storming the field.
- Before you donate, call. If you don’t know where your money is going, keep the organization you’re donating to accountable and ask! Nonprofits are required to allow the public to have access to their finances. So pick up the phone or type out an email–it will only take 5 minutes of your day.
- Before you support, research. Know what cause you are supporting and what other people have to say about it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge someone’s thinking. There is often two (or ever ten) sides of the same story. So, don’t assume that everything you hear at first is true or worthy of your time, money, and voice.