Kony 2012: Hype vs. Critical Thinking

The Kony 2012 campaign is the sequel to the Invisible Children documentary released in 2006 by the non-profit organization of the same name. Invisible Children Inc. (IC) apparently sought to reinvigorate their efforts to rid the world of Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa, with a newly released video and carefully designed marketing push with two obvious objectives: awareness and money (donations). The video quickly went viral with over 80 Million views. The natural question is what will be accomplished by the awareness and money generated?

Awareness is a funny thing. The comical blog Stuff White People Like makes the following observation:

An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness.” Meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it.

It’s obvious that awareness for awareness’ sake is useless, and thus the attention moves to IC’s finances.

According to their own records, just over a third of their nearly $9 Million budget goes towards programs in central Africa. Compare this to recommendations by non-profit watchdog groups that 60% – 80% of expenses go toward programs. So where does IC spend the rest of their money? Awareness of course! In an attempt to skirt criticism and being labeled as a scam, IC has made awareness one of the organization’s three primary objectives thereby illustrating how the line between “awareness” and self-promotion can get very blurry.

After awareness/promotion and their on-the-ground programs in Africa, IC’s final objective is political advocacy. A whopping 1% of their expenses in 2011 was used to achieve one of their three objectives. It appears the $22,000 (remember, of nearly $9 Million) is funneled to a lobbying organization they established called Resolve. Their Kony 2012 video points to the decision of President Obama in October of 2011 to send 100 U.S. troops to the region in an advisory role to defeat Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army as the climax of the organizations success thus far. Obama’s decision to commit resources fell in line with the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act passed the previous year. It’s interesting to note that the Kony 2012 video leads viewers to believe that Obama’s commitment of U.S. troops to defeat Kony and the LRA was the first ever commitment of it’s kind. This however is not the case. It was President Bush who, 3 years prior, initiated “Operation Lighting Thunder” in which the U.S. military provided financial and logistical support to a coalition of armed forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan to attack Kony’s main camp. While air raids on the camps were largely successful at weakening the LRA and forcing them to go on the run, Kony escaped and vicious retaliation attacks were carried out by the scattered LRA remnants. It’s odd that IC choose to make no mention of this prior commitment of U.S. military resources and successful weakening and dispersal of the LRA. Whether it was to steer attention away from the ugly casualties of the military involvement and war they advocate, or to paint Obama in a heroic light, the misrepresentation exposes IC as politically motivated manipulators.

Invisible Children Inc.’s misrepresentation of the facts did not go unnoticed. Below is Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s response to the Kony 2012 video in an effort to shed clarity and apparently re-claim authority on an issue hijacked by a few American film-makers.

The fact that Invisible Children Inc. successfully used social media so effectively to recruit passionate activists to their cause and draw an unprecedented amount of attention in such a short time may be the most interesting aspect of the Kony hype. In accordance to the demographics of primary social media consumers, it can be assumed that it was largely younger folks who can be credited for the viral success of the Kony 2012 campaign. It is among this same demographic that Obama used social media more effectively than any prior presidential campaign to recruit what Jason Mattera referred to as “Obama Zombies”. It’s interesting that these same people who were so passionate about ending the “Bush wars” and getting troops out the middle east can so easily become advocates to establish a U.S. military presence in another unstable region riddled with corruption where, after pursing an evasive enemy, nation-building would likely ensue for an indefinite amount of time. It appears that content, contradiction, or consistency is not as important to this demographic as slick marketing and emotional appeal. To add to the oddity of it all,  those who were so thoroughly convinced of the nobility and selfless compassion of Invisible Children Inc. were shocked as one of their new found heroes, Jason Russell, was spotted and detained by police during a naked meltdown on a San Diego sidewalk.

Those who are actually familiar with the struggles and ailments of the people of central Africa (beyond a 30 minute donation campaign video) may be amongst those most frustrated by the Kony hype. They know that the largely defeated and scattered LRA, while unquestionably evil, pose an infinitesimally smaller threat to the people of central Africa than AIDS and malaria. Kony and the LRA, since about 1990, has been responsible for the murder of about 2,400 and the displacement of more the 2 Million. While not negating the gruesome atrocities committed by Kony and the LRA, it is valuable to those wishing to effectively reduce the suffering of those in central Africa to identify the greatest and most immediate threat to life. While Kony and the LRA have been driven out of northern Uganda since 2006 and significantly weakened since Bush’s “Operation Lighting Thunder” in 2008, malaria continues to kill an estimated 1-2 million each year, the majority of which being children under the age of 5. A child in Africa dies of malaria every 30 seconds.

Fortunately, in the late 1930’s Dr. Paul Muller developed a pesticide called DDT. It was discovered that DDT was extremely effective at killing malarial mosquitoes. Todd Seavey points out that it has been conservatively estimated that DDT has saved 100 Million lives. Thus, Dr. Muller was rightfully awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948. In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, popularized the theory that DDT was linked to the population decline of eagles and other species of birds. While further scientific research was needed to prove such a connection – let alone an analysis (assuming the theory’s accuracy) and consideration of the obvious net positive of DDT for human kind – environmentalists such as the Sierra Club, with complete and careless disregard for the millions of human lives saved by DDT, rallied until it was banded by the EPA in 1972. As the U.S. and England where among the largest producers of DDT, international pressure by these environmental groups can arguably be held responsible for the continued death of millions by malaria. Again, these environmentalist groups find some of it’s greatest strength among this same youthful demographic.

Hopefully, as the Kony 2012 hype fades and more people become aware of the threats facing central Africa, more will appreciate the life-saving chemical DDT and the great improvements that can be made in the fight against malaria world-wide. We can also hope that this experience has increased our ability to think critically and not be so easily persuaded by well-packaged emotionally-stimulating messages.

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One Response to Kony 2012: Hype vs. Critical Thinking

  1. indelibleman says:

    I still think that we should make it a priority to catch and kill that fucking monster.

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