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Kony 2012

March 9, 2012

Much has been already written about this video and the organization that made it, and I won’t purport to follow the international development world as much as I once did. But nevertheless, I have some non-vehement opinions about it.

You can condemn the amount of money Invisible Children spends on things like kits and bumper stickers but the fact remains that it was their campaign that got American advisors in Africa to begin with. To those who suggest the video is demeaning to African armies’ abilities to capture the man, I will paraphrase Zuckerberg via Sorkin: “if they were going to stop Kony, they would have stopped Kony.”

So they spend more on filmmaking and promotion than directly helping fight Joseph Kony? What exactly can people in the United States do to directly help fight Kony outside of quitting their jobs, moving to Africa and taking up arms? Invisible Children has to spend most of its money on filmmaking and promotion and movement building because it’s primarily a war of awareness in the States.

We pay a lot of tax money for a whip-smart, powerful army – the battle is making sure that they’re being deployed in ways that reflect our actual interests and moral compass. Stopping genocides falls into that category, for me and for a lot of other Americans. If that means I’m giving money to a bunch of people who’ve dedicated their lives to that cause to make films and bumperstickers and influence policy, then so be it!

The thing that confuses me is that this critique of Invisible Children (and others like it) assumes… what exactly? That a bunch of people got together and said, you know what, we should start a non-profit that sustains itself largely on the pocket money of college students (I know that’s where I hope my salary comes from one day!) and live in this perpetual state of self-sustaining self-righteousness, pretending to care about Africa, traveling across the country to give presentations and talk to indifferent legislators because that sounds like a super-fun, not-at-all-frustrating venture!

I’m not saying that good intentions always translate to positive results. I think non-profits and advocacy organizations should be held to high standards of efficiency and transparency – as should government or, I wish!, corporations. Once Kony is removed, I’d hope Invisible Children would redirect much of their funds in building schools, reconciliation proceedings, job retraining for soldiers, and the like. But, until then, this and other campaigns are largely about awareness.

Do-gooders are frequent targets for this kind of backlash – perhaps because when we’re made to feel guilt, helplessness and shame about what’s going on, it’s easier to shoot the messenger.

UPDATE: Kristof, as always, says it better than I.

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