Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Viral Kony 2012 raises ethical issues

The debate over the Kony 2012 video and the Invisible Children organization raises a host of ethical questions.

The video, the filmmaker Jason Russell, and the Invisible Children organization present themselves as committed humanitarians striving to help the people of northern Uganda free themselves of the terrible rebel militia leader Joseph Kony.

Yet Kony and his army have not been in northern Uganda for six years. The war is over, Kony is on the run in central Africa, and northern Uganda is rebuilding.

Information posted on the group's website shows that only about a third of its $13 million annual budget, which comes largely from small donations from college students across the country, goes to projects in northern Uganda.

That most of the group's money goes to the group's salaries and overhead, its travel and fundraising budget, and its filmmaking efforts, is now being dismissed by Invisible Children and its devotees as not important.

The devotees now say that the group is not really a humanitarian organization, but a "messaging" outfit. Their purpose is to simply tell the world about Joseph Kony, which it has done with enormous success.

Does that mean that the group is actually a news media outlet? If it is an "advocacy" group, the definition of which is vague, does that mean the message does not need to be accurate? Or, if the group is advocating the kill and/or capture of Kony, does that make it a vigilante group?

If Invisible Children is presenting itself as a legitimate information dispersion organization, it needs to assume the mantle of responsible delivery of information. But it is pretty clear that the Kony 2012 video uses historical images to create false impressions about the realities of northern Uganda, Kony, and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Yet, this is being dismissed as less important than the "message." Does the end justify the means?

The filmmaker also uses his wife and son as vehicles to infuse the film with exaggerated emotions. Is this any different that any other stage mom or dad in America? He then uses baby talk -- "there a bad man who makes children to bad things" -- to explain an historical conflict of a terrible, but localized consequences.

The key Ugandan character in the Kony 2012 is a former "night commuter," one of the many thousands of children who at the time were fleeing the LRA. These children no longer exist in northern Uganda because Kony is long gone. These children, along with the tens of thousands of former child soldiers who escaped Kony's army, are now grown and getting on with their lives.

Whether Russell and Invisible Children are videographers, "messagers," advocates, or vigilantes, it is puzzling as to why the filmmakers never talked to any of the former child soldiers who populated northern Uganda then by the thousands and who remain there. Isn't that a much more real and compelling story?

The video asserts that by giving money to the group, the situation can change in northern Uganda, that "you can make a difference."

But giving money to Invisible Children, as the group now admits, does little to help northern Uganda, nor does it help to get Kony captured. That dirty business has to be done by Ugandan soldiers who have shown little will in the past 25 years to get the job done.

There are U.S. Special Forces advisers in Uganda now helping with this, just as they did before in 2008 when the Uganda's army failed to carry out a "surprise" attack on Kony's camp in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kony was warned and fled.

Now that Invisible Children has raised millions of dollars, everything is going to be different? How? Why?

Uganda has financial and military aid reasons to keep Kony alive, just as it has done for 25 years, despite its appeal for help in 2003 to the International Criminal Court to bring Kony to justice.

All of the emotional videos, all of the money, all of the marches, and all of the notoriety generated by Invisible Children does not solve the singular problem that remains: capturing Kony.

Nor does it help the people of northern Uganda.

The truth is that Invisible Children makes people feel good. They tell people they can do something about an obscure problem in a distant land, with no pain or effort. It is nice to think so, but is not true.

This says more about the emptiness of lives in America and the need to be relevant, than it does about solving Africa's problems.

It also reeks of neo-colonialism, which is what angers my African friends, such as Rosebell Kagumire, whose video is also posted on YouTube and typifies the African response.

Ironically, this conversation over the Kony 2012 video is taking place while 50 to 100 people per day are being killed in Syria, right before the world's eyes. Syria is a problem in front of us NOW that can be stopped, but world sits and watches. Where is the viral outrage?

And just across the border there in southern California where Invisible Children is based, there is a drug war raging in Mexico that has claimed some 40,000 lives. Where are the cries of anguish?

This viral video in question is not about any of these more pressing and immediate horrors, but is about a man, Joseph Kony, who is on the run in the remote forests of central Africa, and has been for six years.

Is Kony a perhaps more safe and lucrative thing for the group to focus on?

1 comment:

Runs Like A Gay said...

Do you think this week's conviction of Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, when coupled with the additional international pressure that may be brought to bear as an indirect affect of this video (I wouldn't give money to the organisation but getting the headlines and the press going can't be a bad thing) will galvanize the Ugandan Army into action on capturing Kony?