Are you right to criticize Invisible Children for Kony 2012?

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Editor’s Note: Geffken first wrote about Kony 2012 on Wednesday. He wrote this as a follow-up in response to reader’s comments.

Daryl Geffken

It has been interesting to see three waves of iteration on this campaign/viral/whatever hit over the last 24 hours.

Wave 1: Emotionally charged excitement and the desire to do something. Getting on board.  It is interesting to note that the video went viral during about a six-hour window a few days after its release.

Wave 2: Kickback from those challenging the movement in some way or another. This has taken the form of Internet updates linking to a few blogs/posts/articles that criticize Invisible Children (IC) as a non-government organization (NGO) fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Points include: IC’s lack of transparency, lack of support from the Better Business Bureau, poor management of funds — specifically that roughly 39 percent of its budget ends up in “Africa” (more on that later).  The more poignant form of challenge comes from those who argue the methodology employed by Invisible Children. Specifically, supporting official (and corrupt) authority in Uganda and supporting a violent resolution to the issue by “stopping Kony.” I greatly appreciate those who have articulated this. In my opinion, as a person that has worked with and in proximity to Invisible Children for a while, a high percentage of the counterpunch blogs I have researched lack substantive content, providing a form of insight that is misleading. Ironic, in a way, because that is the very thing IC is accused of doing. Perhaps more importantly to me, many of the people utilizing these links are justifying their stance on one or two pieces of documentation found by an Internet search — eerily similar to the very phenomenon they are critiquing as an emotionally based response that relies on a single manipulative source.

Wave 3: Counter response. This has taken the form of reminding people from either extreme that many people will pursue information and assess their activity, seeking out the legitimacy of critique, or mere frustration. I can understand the third, but can only support the first two.  For me, it is important to see what Invisible Children has done in response to the critique. They have provided an explanation for many of the topics of critique issued against them. This is commendable and verifiable. This satisfies me regarding many of the issues.  It may not satisfy you.

I see the challenge that some are issuing regarding the methodology of Invisible Children. Perhaps the three strongest arguments are the suggestion that this is a form of “white savior complex,” the need to challenge the use of violent tactics to remove Joseph Kony, and the complexity of bringing transformation to a region where opposing combatants are literally family members (How do you sort through the issues of stopping an army composed of your own sons?). These are deeper issues that form the true complexity of how to bring peace to this region as well as establish a more egalitarian global community.

That being said, IC is about as close to the situation as anyone else (even though academics have studied it with a niche expertise). I think that its proximity and its ability to bring up the issue can force others to weigh in and bring nuanced complexity and wisdom to the issue — others, such as academics who would have had very little voice otherwise. Working on a college campus, I have a hard time criticizing a movement that effectually started this many conversations, real conversations about what to do next. Some peripheral mudslinging is going on, yes. And there are some real idiots voicing up. But sincere effort is being made to advance the conversation. In the previous 24 hours, I have had deep conversations with people from nine different campuses in the northwest. Half of them I met for the first time today. That would not have happened at this rate without IC. So challenge the cause and its methodology, but don’t dismiss it or justify a lack of activity.

What do you think?


9 responses to “Are you right to criticize Invisible Children for Kony 2012?

  1. Hear, hear! Thanks, Daryl, for following up yesterday’s post. Indeed, it was a mix of disappointment, dismay, frustration, and even humor as I participated in sharing the post, considering and reconsidering whether it is important enough to share still, knowing at my core that there is (for me) nothing to recant about the post on any level. Your post poked and prodded at my sense of awareness or lack thereof. That doesn’t diminish the evil behaviors and intentions of Joseph Kony, and it doesn’t hold the work of Invisible Children above all others. It does provide (in my humble opinion) an occasion for considering evil in its many forms, holding in tension the assumptions one makes about any opportunity, AND the call to DO something–anything–with our lives to confront evil in any of its variables.

  2. Excellent! Thank you for this. I went thru each wave! A great lesson for us all. With the social media explosion, this is a great article to keep.

  3. Marj and Diana, thank you for your encouragement and more importantly, your depth of thought on these matters!

  4. Daryl, this site is covering a lot of on the ground orgs, Ugandans, leaders and high info reporters…I’m not sure your analysis fits here:

  5. Eric, thanks much for the encouragement and the challenge. Great thought and as always, well-discerned comment. I appreciate that. The Guardian site has been one that I have been watching from the start, and actually helped me to form my analysis. I might have been clearer had I said, “I believe IC is one of the organizations closest to the Kony issue…” and gone from there into my next statements.
    IC’s campaign is Kony, not simply Uganda. They changed their focus a few years back. I have to go back through the film to see if they point to Uganda in any way other than in telling the story of Kony and building the groundwork for why they believe he must be stopped.
    What I have seen on The Guardian site are mostly from informed people within the field, supporters of other NGO’s or academics. They have differing opinions and estimations of IC and the movie. Some are commenting on IC directly without having seen the movie. Many are placing a direct emphasis on Uganda, which is not IC’s directive at the moment. Some are wishing that KONY2012 had included some of the aspects they are researching closely. As I have worked through my PhD, I have had to come to grips with the idea that I must be a specialist in certain areas of certain fields… whittle, whittle, whittle. It has been difficult in some ways, but has given me great clarity in one or two things. Which in turn, has made me more knowledgeable and passionate about them, and I can understand that people are wanting their area of expertise covered, offerred and valued. I applaud that.
    At the end of the day, I still maintain that the volume of experts communicating through this site, and hopefully their common area of exchange will lead to a more public, more holistic and more collaborative continuation of the work to address issues of disparity, colonization, power and privilege, etc. My personal opinion: I don’t think it would have happened to this degree if the film had not worked as the catalyst.
    Thanks again, and continue on.

    Love God, love others.

  6. Yep, I agree. That link is up in the post as well. To be honest, I think that this explanation is better than any I have heard them vocalize on national media (Good Morning America, for example… who in my opinion, would have been wise to do a point-counter-point or something along those lines).
    Eric, I hope my responses don’t come off as defensive or upset at your posts. I have a great respect for your experience and your opinions as I have read them here and in your own posts. A heartfelt thank you.

  7. Pingback: What I might say if I were externally audited | SpokaneFAVS

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