Invisible Children receives unexpected publicity

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) first developed in Uganda in 1987. Joseph Kony, its first and present leader, intended to take over the government there and transform it into a Christian theocracy. After failing, however, he and his illegitimate army left Uganda and began invading and terrorizing neighboring countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo.

The LRA has survived for approximately 26 years, forcing children into fighting by using brutal methods to ensure against army defectors. Children may be forced to kill their own parents in order to have no one to return to after joining the LRA. It is infamous for its grotesque mutilations of countless victims, including cutting off people’s noses, lips, ears and various limbs.

Invisible Children (IC) is a nonprofit organization intended to end the existence of the LRA and bring justice to Joseph Kony, freeing the LRA’s child soldiers from forced combat. On March 5, IC posted a video on Youtube intended to publicize the horrors of the LRA and its leader. In the video, it introduces an awareness campaign called Kony2012 and asks viewers to “make Kony famous.” Since Saturday, this video has attracted more than 85 million views, a hugely popular hit.

Unfortunately for Invisible Children, a growing amount of the attention it is receiving is not the kind it wants. Upon digging deeper into the workings of IC, some have discovered that of the $13 million it receives annually, only $2.8 million actually goes into work in Uganda. That means a hefty chunk of the leftover money funds IC’s advertising (such as fliers, posters, action kits, apparel, etc.), worker salaries and maintenance. Also, its board of directors includes no one from Uganda, or anyone of color, for that matter. Two moves some people call questionable.

Speaking of advertising, the makers of the Kony2012 campaign video really succeeded in appealing to the masses. The issue of the LRA and Joseph Kony has been simplified in order to reach as many people as possible, which some people criticize. They say IC is not taking a serious topic seriously enough, portraying it instead as some feel-good campaign to buy cool Kony2012 bracelets and t-shirts. The Kony2012 video relies largely on sensationalism, using emotional footage with little factual evidence to describe a very complicated situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some critics also see Kony2012 as demeaning to Uganda, claiming that it is just another white American plan to tramp around in others’ problems and become the hero that saves everyone in Africa—again. Many watchers of the Kony2012 video believe Kony is making the news for the first time, which angers the various governments and other organizations that already have been working to capture him for decades. Who is IC to say, with the backing of millions of riled-up ignorant high school and college students, that it will stop Kony?
The world of media is an incredibly volatile place. Stories, like Kony2012, spring out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly. It’s likely that very soon, most of the high school and college students supporting Kony2012 will begin to forget about the LRA altogether and just get back to their homework.

Jason Russell is a co-founder of Invisible Children. He also is the narrator of and a main character in the Kony2012 video. On March 15, police officers arrested him in San Diego for allegedly running naked in public, vandalizing cars and masturbating, possibly intoxicated. Now hospitalized and held for psychological evaluation, Russell will spend a number of weeks in recovery. It is possible that because of the high stress and many hours of work placed on him since IC’s news eruption, he experienced a major meltdown.

IC is encouraging people to focus instead on bringing justice to the LRA, thanking many for their support of Russell.

So much unexpected criticism has knocked the wind out of Invisible Children as a whole; it didn’t expect the intense popularity (positive or negative) of its Kony2012 video. But despite some of the disapproval it has received, people should keep in mind its good intentions. Thanks to IC’s Youtube sensation, millions of people are learning about a very attention-worthy issue in Africa. Maybe, in accordance with its yearlong goal, the elusive Kony will actually be stopped in 2012.

But keep in mind that the end of the LRA is the goal in all of this, not thinking you’re part of the solution by buying T-shirts and bracelets and “liking” a popular online video. Endorse Kony2012 for the sake of humanitarianism.

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