• *UPDATED* Kony 2012 responses: criticism or cynicism?

*UPDATED* Kony 2012 responses: criticism or cynicism?

If you haven’t seen it yet, there is a movement online called Kony2012  that has gone viral regarding the horrors of child soldiers under Joseph Kony and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).

Here is the video from the advocacy group Invisible Children that has been at the forefront of it all:


The response has been swift and people have been sharing, Tweeting, and reposting the video by the thousands…

So much so, that blogs and articles have begun appearing which purport to offer criticism of the whole Kony2012.com movement and Invisible Children in particular.

Here is one such criticism, entitled “Visible Children” which seeks to point out the dishonest or irresponsible actions taken by IC.

Here is a similar critical article (with more profane language) by someone who claims to have worked with and for IC and believes they are not helping the situation and are naive/misguided at best.

And a few internet meme images have likewise sprung up poking fun at those who share or tweet about Kony2012:



UPDATE: Here is the official response from Invisible Children to the criticisms brought against them: http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

So what are we to make of it all? I will offer a few thoughts to Dojo readers for your consideration and to discuss if you’d like:

1. Sadly, this is nothing new. Joseph Kony has been committing the most heinous of crimes against women and children in particular for over a decade. In fact, SIX YEARS AGO Christianity Today did an in-depth article on the situation entitled “Deliver Us From Kony” which went largely ignored by the majority of Americans. You may remember the controversy last year when, after Obama dispatched 100 U.S. military personnel to Uganda to help advise local military there in their efforts to counter the LRA and apprehend Kony, Rush Limbaugh went off on Obama for backing military efforts against “Christians” (Rush was apparently clueless about the LRA and simply took the presence of the word “Lord’s” in their name as evidence that they were a Christian group!). If even one of the most (in)famous talk radio pundits in America was completely ignorant of Kony, how can one blame the general public for not being more aware?? The fact that it took a very well-produced and emotional video and viral marketing campaign by IC to generate any widespread discussion about Kony and the LRA is unfortunate, but not surprising.

2. Invisible Children is primarily an advocacy film-making organization it seems (readers can correct me if I’m wrong on this). As such, the bulk of their costs would naturally go to filming expenses. As an artist I can respect that art is not free or cheap, particularly when it’s on the scale of IC’s Kony2012 campaign. So critics who are upset that IC doesn’t give a high enough percentage of their income to specific outlets are missing the point of the organization at a fundamental level, I believe.

3. Ridiculing someone because they’re “jumping on the bandwagon” of a cause is overly-cynical and reeks of hipster-douchiness. I’ve known about Kony and the LRA for years now, yet I wholeheartedly welcome and rejoice in the fact that someone who knew nothing about the horrors of child soldier groups and Kony in particular yesterday have been stirred to some type of response at IC’s video. To belittle someone because they’re “just now” starting to care about such issues is one of the most unhelpful things imaginable. The ENTIRE POINT of the Kony2012 campaign is to get people to know about and care about something that they have not known about or cared about up until now.  This should go without explanation.

4. We should be knowledgeable about what we support…but that shouldn’t lead to cynical paralysis. If someone doesn’t like IC as a group or how they operate or even the solutions they have embraced, that is perfectly acceptable. I know a number of pacifists who reject to IC’s advocacy of military force to bring Kony to justice. That is fine. But that should only spur such individuals on to find and advocate for better solutions rather than wasting time and energy fighting IC’s efforts at raising awareness…which, again, is the PRIMARY PURPOSE of the Kony2012 campaign.

5. We should be thankful that the issue is coming to light! In our ridiculously-insulated, Kardashian-soaked culture of meaningless entertainment and celebrity gossip, it is a wonderful thing when social media is used for noble purposes rather than the trivial nonsense it normally focuses on. The Arab Spring served as an example (whether one celebrates the outcomes or not!) of the power of social media as a vehicle for change on a massive global scale. If the Kony2012 campaign results in Joseph Kony and the horrors he is responsible for becoming common knowledge around the world, then it is absolutely worth it, I believe.

I’ll end with the closing words from the previously mentioned CT article:

Michael Oruni, director of Uganda’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center, told CT he was urging Christians to get involved: “Imagine your own child taken away, being raped as your family is killed in front of your eyes. If it were you, what would you feel like?

“Kids in Uganda—kids just like yours—are taken every night and enslaved, raped, mutilated, murdered. You can make a difference. Talk to your government. Help us.”

How to HELP

Here are key Christian and charitable organizations that work with the victims of the lra conflict in northern Uganda.

Far Reaching Ministries


World Vision


Save the Children




Jesuit Refugee Service


Write your congressman: www.house.gov/writerep



Here’s a response from Sam Childers (aka. “The Machine Gun Preacher”), an activist that’s worked for years in Uganda/Sudan area that hopefully continues to broaden people’s awareness of the issues involved and moves the international community to take greater steps toward preventing atrocities:

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  1. […] the keyboard critics out there, my 2 cents… Kony 2012 responses: criticism or cynicism? __________________ JMS The Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org JM's Art of the Dojo – […]

    Pingback by Kony 2012 - Page 8 - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums on March 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm

  2. Christopher Bowers

    JMS, I wholeheartedly agree that we should take a balanced approach to this. People either want to “hate”, or be “enthusiastic” and buy into everything. As per usual the truth is in the middle.

    I agree with the criticism that “I watched a 30 min video and now understand African Politics”. African Politics is EXTREMELY complex and deals with cultures that as Americans we simply don’t understand. The problem of child soldiers has been a longstanding one, and sometimes it takes a facebook meme, and some such to bring these issues to light. I’ve been fighting against sweatshops myself since college, and it’s only with the apple internet meme that people are beginning to take that problem seriously.

    Having two good friends who have worked in Uganda doing conservation efforts, there is one thing I’m aware of: problems in Africa are difficult and intractable. Many states have a tenuous hold on democracy and peace, a history of ethnic clashes that we don’t understand, and differing cultural values. I would like to say that Uganda is actually a hope and a jewel within Africa. Many areas, despite the commonly held belief, have very nice, kind and productive people.

    In terms of solutions, no solution is easy. Military intervention has the same probbability to create a quagmire for the US or the UN. Most of Africa is a quagmire even to people that live there. Infrastructure is difficult, federal programs are virtually non-existant, travel is difficult and even NGO’s are constantly frustrated by intractable laws and chaotic, corrupt governments (or governments that are actually good, but they encounter corrupt officers).

    There are a legion of problems in everything from irrigation to bribes, to corruption, to water availability, water privitization !!!!, and many other problems.

    It is important first and foremost to recognize the problem, but solutions are difficult to come by, and the culture in Africa is constantly shifting, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.

    I think these memes are sort of a “wake up” call to people who have forgotten about the problems in the world. We forget out ipads are made by slave labor in china. We forget that our diamonds are mined for blood or by little children soldiers or slaves. Somehow we simply try to gloss over that for a few years and try to forget that real people have to do that. We want to assuage our guilt at being a first world country that third world countries work to support. We convince ourselves it’s all done by robots, that governments are okay and that there’s world peace right now.

    Then we are shocked out of that, because media is advancing at such a rapid pace. Then we jump to quick solutions rather than hard fought solutions of personal sacrifice and slow steady progress. It’s going to be a long hard process to stop sweatshops in China and Child Soldiers in Uganda, we have to constantly fight for it. Hot flashes of conscience and knee jerk reactions or overblown saber rattling is not going to do it. Justice is a long fight, hard won.


    jm Reply:

    Well said, Chris. I very much agree with you.

    I’m just glad that this issue is coming onto the social radar. That’s something that I believe everyone should be able to celebrate, regardless of their particular solution.


    hog Reply:

    …i respect the good they’ve done over the years but fear they may not have thought through the possible ‘blowback’ of the US Army training an elite ‘presedential guard’ to track down Kony. Some Ugandans are concerned this newly trained force will ‘turn’ and be used to abuse the Ugandan people fo years after the Kony thing dies down. Infact, some in Uganda have said this has already happened. Here is a video of three Ugandan s talking about this, its from a questionable news source but the discussion is revealing (esp. from 19 mins 53 secs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKH2CC52nuQ )

    I dont know anything about the people involved in the interview, just interesting to hear a Ugandan point of view.

    The way to catch Kony with the least bloodshed would be for people and countries to club together using sites like http://www.kickstarter.com to raise money for a multi-million dollar bounty on his head. Somebody from within his group would take the bait. The filmmakers could then concentrate on fiilming the road to democracy in Uganda and ensuring Ugandas vast oil wealth is spent on social and infrastructure projects instead of corruptiion).

    If the US could benefit from the oil but also help ensure the oil wealth benefits the people (unlike oil relationships between US companies & Nigeria, for example). And also helps ensures Uganda develops into a real civil democracy, things could get better. Only problem is Uganda’s close ties to Russia and China, so Uganda has options to move away from the US if the US gets to demanding…….v.complex and difficult situation.


    Comment by Christopher Bowers on March 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm

  3. Gordon

    Good balance, as usual.

    I think there may be good concerns coming from some critics that may wonder if taking out Kony will solve the whole problem… that maybe there is a situation in the region that would just produce more Konys. I saw one blogger mention that Kony isnt the only one using these tactics. That there is a long history here and the Ugandan Militia that we are trying to assist takes part in rapes and pillages as well. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I want to find out.

    But you are right on. I wouldnt be looking at all if it were not for the Kony 2012 video. If thats what the group’s purpose is, then they are doing a great job. And if the issues I mentioned are true, then the manner in which many of them have been critical is uncalled for, even if there is some truth to the criticisms. Honestly, from what I’ve seen, if these critics truly want more info to be known, then they should be thankful. They should play off the popularity of Kony 2012 to add to the global understanding of whats going on there. Instead, what I’m reading sounds more like the typical type of backlash we see from Mac fanboy haters who just seem to want to resist fads. This is just not that kind of issue. Whats happening is nothing new. As N.T. Wright mentioned, we certainly need a new ethic on blogging.

    Im sure there is much more to know here, but I can’t see how IC can be bashed unless they are just acting careless with donations or some hidden corruption is evident… but even if they are, they seem to have been successful with this venture. I’d never heard of Kony. Now I have.


    Comment by Gordon on March 8, 2012 at 12:29 am

  4. “To belittle someone because they’re ‘just now’ starting to care about such issues is one of the most unhelpful things imaginable.”



    Comment by Gina @ Oaxacaborn on March 8, 2012 at 3:34 am

  5. Ben K

    “Tell me more about how you’ve always cared about the Ugandan kids.”

    Like the other 99% of Americans, I actually was not aware of the situation (let the defamation of my character begin :P). If such a sick twisted tragedy it occurring, plain and simple- it shouldn’t be.


    Comment by Ben K on March 8, 2012 at 4:01 am

  6. jm

    Here’s a response from one of the IC staff that Gordon shared with me on Facebook and I thought it was worth sharing here as well. It addresses the claims made in the “visible children” critique:


    This is my own personal, response and does not reflect the views of any person or any organization besides myself.


    The above link. It is being posted as a response to KONY 2012. And so I would like to respond to it. This is my own personal, response and does not necessarily reflect the views of IC.

    I believe dialogue is extremely important and so I invite everyone to bring your concerns, comments, or compliments here and I will address them as best I can.

    “Visible Children: Viewed Critically”

    I will try to keep this succinct an address each point one at a time. Let me know if I miss any.

    1) The article links multiple times to this Foreign Affairs piece: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra?page=show

    This piece has many inaccuracies that are addressed here: http://www.theresolve.org/blog/archives/3071031127


    2) “Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production.”

    This is a gross misrepresentation of how Invisible Chilren uses their financials. Invisible Children’s financial statements are online for everyone to see. Financial statements from the last 5 years, including our 990, are available at http://www.invisiblechildren.com/financials. The organization only spent 16.24% on administration and management costs in FY2011.


    3) “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.”

    Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children’s programs its highest rating of 4 stars. IC’s Accountability and Transparency score is currently at 2 stars due to the fact that they currently does not have 5 independent voting members on our board of directors–theycurrently have 4. IC is in the process of interviewing potential board members, and their goal is to add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013.


    4) “The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports 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 of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries””

    Not to put to a fine a point on this, but… BS. At least for the part where they claim Invisible Children supports the UPDF and SPLA. IC never have supported the UPDF or SPLA with money and they do not hide their obvious human rights abuses. The UPDF IS the best equipped group even though they do not operate in Uganda anymore. Anyone who argues otherwise does not understand how ineffective the SPLA (S. Sudan military), FACA (Central African Republic Military), and FARDC (Congolese military) are.

    IC does not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army. None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.


    5) “Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting 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.””

    See above points about how IC does NOT support African militias and the irony of the FA piece accusing us of manipulating facts.


    6)” As Chris 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.””

    Our programs are Ugandan inspired and Ugandan led. As in they were created by Ugandans for Ugandans. Nobody is more aware of the dangers of the “White Man’s Burder” messiah complex than Invisible Children. Our programs actively seek to empower Ugandans to help themselves. Every. Single. Program. that IC starts is based on the advice of those who live in the communities and who came before us and know a lot about said particular projects. The only saviors here are the Ugandan people themselves. And soon to the Central African, Congolese, and South Sudanese people once the LRA is removed from their homelands.


    7)”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.”

    This has been taken into account and IC, Resolve, Enough and many other organizations have written extensive reports expressiong the important of protecting civilians. The military interventions did not slaughter the civilians, the LRA did. If the civilians were adequately protected by military forces, these slaughters would not have happened.


    8) “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 supports 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.”

    A very valid point. I would love to hear suggestions from the author on how they would stop Kony. The fact of the matter is that peace talks have failed six times and every time Kony uses the lull in fighting as a chance to rebuilding his forces and abduct and kill more people. So what is better? Another peace talk so this fight can drag on, or militarily ending this thing once and for all? Nobody wants violent solution. We all prefer peace. But what happens when peace talks fail repeatedly? What happens when peace talks actually exacerbate the problem?


    9) “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.”

    IC is not naive. They understand the complexities of this situation. The author fails to understand to power of public opinion and social media. His loss.


    That’s all I got, my friends. Please re share this or reply to it. I would love to start a dialogue on this.

    Much love,

    John “Pockets” Beaton
    Twitter – @Johrune


    Comment by jm on March 8, 2012 at 4:55 am

  7. […] the email update list.Here is where to get a kit.For helpful Christian commentary on this issue see JM Smith.*PS – I hope that those involved find a peaceful way of arresting Kony. I pray for peace, but […]

    Pingback by Make Joseph Kony [in]Famous! Join the Movement! | The Pangea Blog on March 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  8. I believe that a lot of people tear down something like the Kony 2012 campaign because it frees them from having to take action.

    In his book Be A Hero, the author Campbell says that “the greatest act of compassion is to acknowledge the poor.” Sadly we have become ok with turning our gaze away from the injustices in this world and pretending that they aren’t there at all.

    If people choose to give their money to Invisible Children and support the ideals of the organization, then good for them. Its their money and they can do what they want with it. If people don’t agree with how IC spends their support, as long as they haven’t given, than they themselves have not been wronged and don’t have a right to be offended.

    Thanks for this great post!


    Comment by Daniel on March 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm

  9. Matt Fortier

    I am one of the thousands (millions?) who watched the video never having heard of Kony before (although was generally aware of many of the terrible practices highlighted in the film). I forwarded the link.

    Simply watching it doesn’t make me an expert on all things Africa but as a father of two young boys I had an emotional reaction I couldn’t have foreseen.

    The criticism of this campaign seems to be coming uniquely from academics who are clearly more comfortable hypothesizing than taking action. So … Invisible Children pay their staff. So… they spend money on travel and filmmaking. What’s the criticism? That they are raising money so they can do their work and eat food?

    Many critics are stating that these issues are very “complex”. The subtext being that you need to have a Master’s Degree in political science to even begin possibly understanding the byzantine nature of African politics and the impact colonialism and tribal culture have had on … blah, blah, blah…

    Kids are getting killed. There may be a way to stop or limit this. Not so complex.

    Frankly, an “expert” in African politics at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is about as useful as a paleontologist at Carnival in Rio.


    Comment by Matt Fortier on March 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm

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