Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Thoughts on Kony2012 and Its Critics

Kony 2012 has taken social media by storm, and fortunately, has opened up a medium for discussion about foreign affairs. Having been involved with Invisible Children (IC) and other organizations working to bring Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to justice, I am ecstatic to see this conflict becoming world news. The LRA has been terrorizing East Africa for more 25 years, with the majority of it being completely unseen. I must admit that the debate between the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments, and bringing Joseph Kony to trial in Uganda, is undecided for me. Regardless, unseen conflicts cannot be resolved, so I am happy to see the media splash.

One of the most interesting outcomes of the Kony 2012 movement has been the hordes of criticism thrown at IC. I had the chance to work as a full-time volunteer for the organization last year, and I'll be the first to admit I wasn't entirely thrilled. Though the founders were present in some of the work we did, I spent most my time with middle management and under the watchful eye of kids around my age. I have many things to say about the underlying Christianity, the rhetoric I was strongly advised to use while speaking about the organization, and other unsettling issues if you would like to hear more, but this blog isn't about my time in the organization. I want to address some of the true and ill-informed criticism I have seen paint the pages of blogs, reputable news sources, and Facebook. The two articles that really caught my eye were this article from Foreign Policy magazine's website, and this blog.

The thing that has really rubbed me the wrong way, especially about the Foreign policy article, is the blatant shots at IC as an organization, based solely off of a 30-minute 2012 update video. Invisible Children has been an official 501(c)3 non-profit since 2006, so basing an entire argument off of one video is ludicrous. Foreign Policy's blog states that, "Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren't important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands." This is underlying theme for them and is an idiotic statement. I know there are going to be droves of youth who latch onto this video alone, and that is scary, but for a magazine such as Foreign Policy to make judgments on an entire organization's practices by only watching their 30-minute “simplistic,” video is absurd. If you want to make a blanket statement such as the one above, you better know your facts. The last film produced by IC, Tony, gives a very solid overview of where the conflict is currently. The Protection Plan IC has in place for the Democratic Republic of Congo shows they are well aware of current events in regards to the LRA, and how to rehabilitate those who have been affected. Are there flaws in this plan? Yes there are, but it is a start.

One fair criticism that has been brought up is that of IC's finances. Many people have pointed out that IC spends about 30% of their budget on film and other outreach projects. This, as par their mission, is understandable. IC is an advocacy group whose mission is to bring awareness to a war they want to end. For those of you upset about this aspect, don't support their organization. The statistic that does stand out to me is that they spend about 16% of their budget on their administrative costs. This is decently high for a non-profit. I do understand that this goes to travel and their office in a pretty expensive part of San Diego, but 16% is a lot to be taken out of a budget.

Other criticisms, such as those found in the Siena Anstis blog, claim to be about development, but tend more to quote people knocking Jason Russell and the other founders about the pseudo-sincerity in speech, their films being based on themselves and not Africans, and other film critiques passed off as developmental debate. This is where I find myself closing my computer and going outside to get fresh air. I'm not a film afficiando, and I'm not going to comment on the "White Savior," ideas that are being thrown at the organization. I'll leave that up to the film experts.

I am not an avid supporter of IC, I will be blatantly honest in that sentiment. What I am a fan of, though, is open discussion on what is effective aid. I am a firm advocate of sustainable development. I don’t believe in handouts and I think creating dependency is the worst thing an organization can do. So my question is, if we are actually talking about sustainable development, why are we bashing IC and not talking about other programs who actually falter when it comes to development? Blake Mycoskie and TOMs are aggressors in passing dependency off as development. TOMs one-for-one premise of buying a pair of shoes, which are made in China, and another pair of shoes will be sent to some unknown child in a certain area is garbage. There isn't a shed of economic or community development in this plan. This one-for-one model keeps kids in poverty dependent on the wealthy, instead of creating sustainable opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty. Blake also profits off of his speaking engagements, and this organization is lauded not criticized. You can knock the Kony 2012 campaign all you want. Let’s be real, it’s weird, but if you want to knock IC's develompental practices, check out MEND and VSLA first. There definitely are flaws in these programs, but they create sustainable opportunities for LRA-affected Ugandans to lift themselves out of poverty.

In closing, I'm not an expert in international relations. I have an undergraduate degree and I will be the first to tell you I have a lot to learn. IC has made a lot of mistakes in the past, and I personally won't be attending their "Take Over the Night," event. I do admire their creativity though. This is a movement, and like any movement, it can have an array of consequences. The one thing that can be said about their organization is that they definitely have changed the game. They have mobilized youth in a way that politicians have failed for decades. They have made caring cool, and hopefully now, will have made a generation of activists aware that they need to be critical of the organizations they support. If you want to see a sustainable model of development, I implore to visit BeadforLife's webpage. I am quite biased, as this is my employer, but the reason I have devoted a quarter of my life volunteering and working there is because we create sustainable opportunities in Uganda. Most importantly, we work on a horizontal level with the women in our programs to make sure what we are all creating works.

Don't take your aid work lightly. These interactions will decide the future of foreign policy and diplomacy.
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