Culture, Current Events — March 7, 2012 10:11 am

“I’m Strongly Opposed to the Kony2012 Campaign.”

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Here’s an article that was shared by Two Door Cinema Club’s, Alex Trimble via his twitter. It’s an interesting take on Invisible Children’s Kony2012 campaign that is currently viral all over the Internet. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this post are solely held by the author. The Public Queue gives voice to different perspectives, but all feedback should be directed towards the author. You can visit the site here:


You do not need to ask my permission to share this. Please link it widely. For those asking what you can do to help, please link to wherever you see KONY 2012 posts.

I do not doubt for a second that those involved in KONY 2012 have great intentions, nor do I doubt for a second that Joseph Kony is a very evil man. But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the KONY 2012 campaign.

KONY 2012 is the product of a group called Invisible Children, a controversial activist group and not-for-profit. They’ve released 11 films, most with an accompanying bracelet colour (KONY 2012 is fittingly red), all of which focus on Joseph Kony. When we buy merch from them, when we link to their video, when we put up posters linking to their website, we support the organization. I don’t think that’s a good thing, and I’m not alone.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 31% went to their charity program (page 6)*. This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that.

The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money funds the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations ofrape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission.

Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on funding African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking. Which can be great, except that Foreign Affairs has claimed that Invisible Children (among others) “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.” He’s certainly evil, but exaggeration and manipulation to capture the public eye is unproductive, unprofessional and dishonest.

As Christ Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, writes on the topic of IC’s programming, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

Still, Kony’s a bad guy, and he’s been around a while. Which is why the US has been involved in stopping him for years. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent multiple missions to capture or kill Kony over the years. And they’ve failed time and time again, each provoking a ferocious response and increased retaliative slaughter. The issue with taking out a man who uses a child army is that his bodyguards are children. Any effort to capture or kill him will almost certainly result in many children’s deaths, an impact that needs to be minimized as much as possible. Each attempt brings more retaliation. And yet Invisible Children funds this military intervention. Kony has been involved in peace talks in the past, which have fallen through. But Invisible Children is now focusing on military intervention.

Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re helping fund the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem.

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on funding ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s somethingSomething isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.

If you want to write to your Member of Parliament or your Senator or the President or the Prime Minister, by all means, go ahead. If you want to post about Joseph Kony’s crimes on Facebook, go ahead. But let’s keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012.

~ Grant Oyston,

Grant Oyston is a sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. You can help spread the word about this by linking to his blog at anywhere you see posts about KONY 2012.

*For context, 31% is bad. By contrast, Direct Relief reports 98.8% of its funding goes to programming. American Red Cross reports 92.1% to programming. UNICEF USA is at 90.3%. Invisible Children reports that 80.5% of their funding goes to programming, while I report 31% based on their FY11 fiscal reports, because other NGOs would count film-making as fundraising expenses, not programming expenses.

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  • Thanks for posting Billy.

  • Hey, I’m finding some other counter arguments to this online pointing out that this article not actually accurate. I’m not sure and haven’t dug deeply into this, but here’s their Charity Navigator page:

    Thanks for the important reminder to be thoughtful in our methods of awareness and engagement… keep up the good conversations!

    • Thanks, Stephanie for the fact checking. Again, this is not our original post, but it seems that the data can change over time. Perhaps the data is out of date for the article. Looks like they’ve improved their rating a bit, which is good news!

      Thanks again. Blessings.

  • How funny, I was just thinking about writing something about Invisible Children. Anyway, this article offers a really interesting perspective. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ethics of Invisible Children – while I don’t own a pair of TOMS shoes (ha), I do own a couple IC t-shirts and have supported them financially. Part of me is hesitant for the U.S. military to become more involved in the conflict, and part of me thinks about how America hesitated to become involved during the Rwandan genocide, and consequently 1,000,000 people were murdered.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this! It was a really interesting read.

  • I’m actually really glad that this was posted for a few reasons:

    I have worked in the non-profit sector previously in the area of anti-human trafficking, which is also a very “hot” subject in the news on a very regular basis. I worked both over seas in Southeast Asia as well as here in the U.S. I agree with Oyston that what is happening is terrible and that Kony is a man that needs to be stopped. There is no doubt about it. But I also strongly agree and appreciate the fact that we are actually looking at the approach to the problem. The organization I worked for was a coalition, working with many other organizations towards the same goal. With that, I have seen many different methods of how to work towards solving a problem of this magnitude. I firmly believe that there is a wrong way to assist with social issues such as these.

    The need for victim based care is the most important thing that needs to happen here. If we want to help to the best of our abilities, then we need to be doing research as to what is best for the VICTIM and not what is most convenient. Incredible amounts of research needs to be done in order to determine what creates the least negative impact on the victim(s) and quite frankly I have seen many organizations in the western world and overseas make a very poor attempt at that. I want to emphasize what Oyston said, “Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.”

    Also in regards to the finances of the organization, I believe that it comes down to what you believe is the goal of the organization. In the link that was shared by Stephanie earlier in the comments, the money that was used for the films Invisible Children has made is included in the program expenses. Now with the amount of money that IC has taken in, the amount of money that is being used for film making is an incredible amount. We don’t know this amount exactly because the amount used on film making is grouped into the general program expenses category. If what Oyston says is true about 31% being the actual percentage going towards their program, that is a lot of money. Now it’s up to you whether or not you believe that that expense on film making is worth it or not. I would like you to consider though, is the awareness that the films IC have made actually contributing to the solution of the problem in the best way possible? Especially considering what I said about victim based care.

    I have seen several of the Invisible Children films and as an artist myself have great appreciation for well made films and other art with social commentary. But with my experience in working towards the end of a human tragedy, I have seen how incredibly important it is to be conscious of how we approach this situation. I know the issues are different but I do think that the approach has many similarities. I love how he finished his article about saying “let’s keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012″. There’s really no simple answer but we can start by focusing on the victims best interests in mind.

  • I’m all for this idea. KONY 2012 is a great thing. Donating $3-10 isn’t hard for someone to do. If it ends up helping get Kony found then wonderful! If it happens to not work at least someone tried to do something and it can’t be any worse then it already was.

    • I don’t think anyone, including the author, is AGAINST bringing Joseph Kony to justice. But the means by which that happens is important and can’t be overlooked. I think that’s the issue here.

      Here’s a quote from Award-winning Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama concerning the campaign.

      “To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

      If six years ago children in Uganda would have feared the hell of being part of the LRA, a well documented reality already, today the real invisible children are those suffering from “Nodding Disease”. Over 4000 children are victims of this incurable debilitating condition. It’s a neurological disease that has baffled world scientists and attacks mainly children from the most war affected districts of Kitgum, Pader and Gulu.”

  • Today as your average all American young mom I was told of Kony 2012 while at work. The story was so shocking to me that I thought to myself, “How could this be & I’ve never even heard a whisper of this evil?”. I could not wait to get my hands on reading material & start to open my eyes to what in the world was going on in Uganda. So right about now some of you might be rolling your eyes at my simplistic mind & thoughts, but I am just that! I am your everyday average American! I want to help because I do have a deep rooted love for others but am caught up in “my world” & I do not allow myself time to investigate & find a purpose other than my weekly grocery list & needs of my immediate family. Today however, my mind has been lit! Before children & becoming entrapped in the rat race I had ideas of how to help others in need… you know, your typical homeless community soup kitchen and convenient donation to Goodwill. I feel alive after a long time, alive, aware & able to help someone who truly needs my help. To me this movement is not just Kony 2012, Joseph Kony, Nodding Disease or any other serious ignored issue all, it’s an effort, an encouragement to reopen my eyes. As a mother I cannot get Jacobs cries for his brother’s death out of my mind & my heart is brought to a moment of complete brokenness for his suffering & forever implanted memory of that tragic moment. I DON’T want to ever forget his cry, I DON’T want to ever grow complacent, I DON’T want to be your average American! So you see I am so grateful for this message & film due to an awakening, a disconnection from apathy! Is it a perfect resolution, no, but I can truly appreciate your thoughts & input here, you too expand my knowledge.

  • To add to the conversation, IC has now posted a defense in light of many of the criticisms today:

  • Kony 2012 is a lie, scam. People who fall for the lie…Are you that blind and naive that you get swept into every movement without even fact checking or doing research? SCARY bro, scary. This is pure BS. This is so staged it isn’t even funny. It shows how easy it is to fool 16-29 year olds and a bunch of compromised idiots in Hollywood. This reminds us of the osama bin laden bs where college kids were recruited to show up on white house lawn chanting, 3 minutes before Obama even made the announcement. Wake up young people you are being led into deception. Mass shared psychosis. THINK. THINK. THINK. DOn’t get caught in the web of deceit. This is a diversionary tactic. Think hard. There are millions of AMERICAN kids suffering right now in the streets and in homes. Being abused, tortured and neglected and yet, SUDDENLY, there is a viral video alerting us to give aid to a foreign country to help their alleged tortured kids, as if this is an acute situation. This is such a joke. To see young people used and to further a sick and covert political agenda is beyond insanity, but God is watching every move these freaks behind this make and there’s nothing they can hide from God. He knows the truth. Kony 2012 is a LIE> “The production targets an age group between thirteen and twenty-one, and uses a level of academic vocabulary appropriate for a young adult audience with a limited attention span,” says website Prison “KONY 2012 is produced like any other sleek marketing campaign – instead of stimulating elements of self-satisfaction like advertisers would do to promote a product, US military intervention..” How IRONIC that Hollywood stars would support this, when it is fueling public support for another US invasion of a foreign country, when we can’t even TAKE CARE of our OWN CITIZENS.

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