Kony 1986

I opened my Facebook yesterday and was greeted by a flood of Kony 2012 faces all over my news feed. I watched the 30 minute documentary, and then thought about it for a bit. How did a 25-year-old conflict suddenly become so popular? How did the video go viral? Of all the documentaries I’ve seen, this was definitely nowhere near the top. And it’s not like Joseph Kony just abducted hundreds of children; he’s been doing it for a while now. Yet obviously, regardless of all that, it’s an amazing cause. It’s not like Invisible Children are greedy pigs. They unquestionably have good intentions, and while they do glorify themselves a bit too much, they are clearly trying to do good.

The question is, are they succeeding? They’re definitely raising awareness. But the problem with these massive campaigns whose main goal is to simply raise awareness is that people often tend to forget that simply raising awareness doesn’t in and of itself change anything. Everybody was extremely aware of the fact that US and EU troops were murdering Iraqi civilians, but that didn’t stop any of them from dying. People are often quite aware of massacres, but that rarely has any effect on the massacre coming to an end. Raising awareness is only useful if people act upon it. If, once they are aware of the problem, they then do something about it – start donating some money somewhere, volunteering for a while, or collecting money on the streets. Simply changing your profile picture to ‘Kony 2012’ won’t do very much for a child being abducted by an extremist religious terrorist, except inform your friends that you know about it happening.

Now this is where the arguments start. For some reason, it seems that people think that since Invisible Children were so good at raising awareness about Kony’s disgusting crimes – which they were undoubtedly good at – then they must automatically also be the best cause to donate to as well. But that isn’t necessarily true. There is a big difference between raising awareness and saving children’s lives. To raise awareness, you hand out leaflets, put up posters, share the documentary, and change your profile picture. But to then go on and make a difference to orphaned child soldiers, it is necessary to actually start doing something: donating money to a charity, for example, or, if you’re really dedicated to the cause, fly off to Uganda and join an NGO there. Just because Invisible Children are the best at raising awareness, does not mean they are the best at making a difference to the children in Uganda. To understand who is, it is important to do just a little bit of research into what different charities are in the region, and what they are doing. If Invisible Children were the only charity in the whole area, then obviously they would be the best ones to donate to. But they’re not, so once you’re aware of the problem (probably thanks to Invisible Children, who did a great job of bringing our attention to the conflict) and are willing to make a difference, say, by donating some money every month, it is important to see where your money will make the biggest difference.

This is not to suggest that donating money to Invisible Children won’t make any difference at all. Of course it will. It will obviously save some children. It will probably save many children. But when you buy a TV, you don’t just buy the first one you see, thinking that either way it will allow you to look at a programs on a screen. You try to buy the one with the best quality for the best price. The same thing applies to charities. Just because a charity is making a difference, doesn’t mean you should be donating to it. If there are charities in Uganda that can do a much better job with the same donation (and there are several), then donating to them will ultimately save a lot more children. Not doing so will also have a negative effect in the long run, because it allows ineffective charities to continue to be ineffective. If people are going to keep donating to charities that are inefficiently using their money, then what incentive do they have to stop wasting money? Some local charities that have been making a massive difference in the country for a long time are Art for Children, the Uganda Red Cross, Friends of Orphans, and Children Chance International. But they don’t even have to be local to be the most effective. Going on some independent charity watch website, such as this one, is a good way of checking out what charities are doing the greatest good with your money.

It is extremely important to distinguish between raising awareness and actually making a difference. Awareness is only helpful if people are going to act on it. And assuming that just because a charity is good at advertising their cause makes them the best ones to donate to is dangerous. Invisible Children received a lot of criticism for their financial record. People responded by posting their financial record all over the place. Excellent. They have a public financial record. Does that necessarily make it a good financial record? Certainly not. And is it, in actual fact, a good financial record? Comparing it to some other charities seems to show that it definitely isn’t the best. For one thing, they spend 16.24% on “management & general”, 3.22% on fundraising, and 7.87% on “media and film creation”. That’s 27.33%, which is hardly impressive. Oxfam came under significant pressure from the public a while ago because they were supposedly spending way too much on administration costs, and they were only spending 17% of their revenue on those same things. And that’s including all of their ‘raising awareness’ programs, which were not included in the Invisible Children statistic. Include that, and they spent 62.86% of their income on things that don’t directly help any children. The remaining 37.14% is spent on “Central Africa programs”, which means they either don’t do anything at all to help Jacob and Uganda (Uganda isn’t in Central Africa) or else is a pretty ignorant mistake on their part.

To sum it all up, don’t donate to Invisible Children unless your specific intention is to raise some more awareness. And even if that is your intention, that’s not the best way to do it. Share their video on Facebook. Change your profile picture to the ‘Kony 2012’ images that are circulating. Attend the ‘Cover the Night’ event and put up posters. That’s all great. But when it comes to donating your money and actually making a difference for children like Jacob, take a little bit of time to think, and research what other charities are doing similar, better, things in the area before jumping on the bandwagon and getting swept up in the latest fad.

And lastly, the fact that the entire ‘Kony 2012’ campaign has angered many Ugandans and the documentary has mostly been met with criticism in the country it is supposed to be helping says something. Who exactly are Invisible Children trying to help? Ugandan children, or our consciences?

March 8, 2011 / Julian Modiano

Links to some interesting articles, some supporting and some criticizing Invisible Children

You Don’t Have My Votewritten by a Ugandan activist

We Got Trouble; published on Tumblr, and received significant attention

Visible Children: Viewed Critically; published as a response to the above article

Respect My Agency; written by another Ugandan activist

Critiqueswritten by Invisible Children themselves as a response to criticism

On Kony 2012posted on The Daily What

Kony 2012: What’s the Real Story?; general news from the Guardian 

7 thoughts on “Kony 1986

  1. Very true, and I definitely agree that raising awareness does not solve the problem – it only…raises awareness. However, raising awareness, on ANY issue, is always the first step to finding a solution. Because if we don’t know about a problem, we can’t try to solve it. So, I donated to Invisible Children to thank them for raising my awareness of this issue. Now I can look into more and better ways of solving the Joseph Kony problem – and I will start with the four local charities you mentioned in your article – which was great, by the way!
    Nicole4

  2. This is great and i agree with a lot of what you have to say in terms of distuingishing between raising awareness and actually doing something. Sure, Kony has been brainwashing, raping and abusing thousands of kids in Uganda for a couple of decades now, but i highly doubt as many people were aware of this incident in the past 10 years, until invisible children came along. The more ignorant people are about events such as this, the less good will be done in our world and we’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over. Little to nothing has been changed in Uganda in the past 25 years simply because no one was aware of it and no one believed they could make a change. Now that Invisible children has come to publicize reality in front of our faces, im sure that the entire world will atleast consider helping Uganda whether its simply putting their profile pictures as KONY 2012, so that atleast one or two people that see that picture, will be interested in donating towards the cause (in one charity or another.) Even if the statistics of only 37% of money going towards the cause is true, ll atleast know that 37 cents from my dollar donated are going to help kids there. It’s better than sitting at home and buying another coke. Although yes im sure theres more trustworthy and secure charities out there. Great article.

    • I definitely agree, that’s why I think Invisible Children did a great job of raising awareness. I really do think they are amazing for doing that, and good for them for getting such a good campaign going. That being said, I think that people who have become aware of what is happening shouldn’t just right away start donating to Invisible Children. Good for Invisible Children for making them aware, but once aware, they should donate to a charity that is spending more than 37 cents of your dollar to doing some good.

      • Yeah trust me, I’d like more than just 37 cents of my dollar to be given to the actual cause. Because for many kids our age, its either Invisible Children or nothing. All other charities for this certain cause are non-existant for many. Which, to a certain point is true, greater charities need to start publicizing more, especially to the younger generation. Which is a competely different argument. However, back to this, to be honest, id rather have people donate to Invisible Children than nothing at all.

  3. Sure Invisible Children is doing a great job spreading awareness, but one doesn’t become a social activist by changing their profile picture and spreading the KONY 2012 video. This is only proving itself to be the latest fad. The has been around for a quarter of a decade and now it’s something college students are immediately upset about. One can post pictures of Kony around the city and wear the cool wristband, but when it comes to actually writing to congressmen, writing to the president, and supporting the United States entering another country then I don’t believe people will do anything. Most of the activists who support Invisible Children’s idea to invade Uganda with special forces but oppose the American hand in foreign affairs are really contradicting themselves. I hate to be honest but this “fad” will only last until people find something else amusing.

  4. I find it inspiring that the youth of the world are actually engaging themselves in something important, and possess the ability to make a true change. Although I do not support a “war” so to speak, I would not be opposed to a highly specialized strike team of Navy Seals assassinating this monstrous figure like they did with Osama Bin Laden. At any rate, hopefully this movement, if nothing else, awakens the public’s long dozing sense of civic duty.

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