What to Think About KONY 2012

By now, many of you have probably seen the short film “KONY 2012”, which has had well over 60 million views since being published to the Internet Monday by the nonprofit group “Invisible Children”. It’s been making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook about as fast as anything I’ve ever seen, and has been generating a lot of talk. In case you haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll take the time to watch it here (but stick around for a bit of discussion afterward):

What are we to make of all this? Here are a couple of my thoughts.

First, the good:

  • This video is really well done. This is an example of how great art has the power to move people to action, and potentially to bring about cultural and political change on a global scale.
  • There is also something very powerful about a moving visual presentation to force people to engage with an issue they might otherwise overlook. We might compare it to the efforts of William Wilberforce to show people (he also targeted influential culture- and policy-makers) the horrors of slavery first hand, through various means such as showing them up close the conditions under which slaves were transported across the oceans.
  • Surely, if there has ever been a nonpartisan issue worth supporting, it is bringing down the man responsible for these unthinkable crimes. While there may be disagreement as to how it ought to be done, hopefully everyone can agree that seeing Joseph Kony brought to justice in 2012 would be a good thing.

Next, some reservations:

  • I’m not going to rush to send money to an organization about which I know nothing. “Invisible Children” may turn out to be a very worthwhile cause, but the track record of financial accountability and effectiveness of similar humanitarian organizations is not great. Is a monthly donation to IC the best way for me to get personally involved in improving the plight of children in Central Africa? Maybe it is, but I don’t know enough to make that judgment yet. But even some very superficial preliminary research turns up results that aren’t very promising.
  • I have no way to fact-check this video, and would like to give those who can do this the opportunity to do so. Already, articles like this one (published last year after Obama deployed U.S. Troops to Uganda) and this one (from back in 2009) call many of the video’s statistics into question.
  • The question of responsibility for dealing with international humanitarian violations is a complex one. Absolutely, Joseph Kony is a bad man, but there are many bad men. Is it the responsibility of the American government/military to bring them to justice? I would lean toward saying “no”. Let me balance that out, though, with the caveat that if our country is going to use the military to intervene overseas, I’d much rather see us helping foreign nationals apprehend a criminal than waging unconstitutional preemptive wars and maintaining an active military presence all over the world. Also, a democratically-driven and Congressionally-approved use of force (which the video advocates) is far preferable to the Executive Order when it comes to putting our troops in harm’s way.
  • I’m skeptical that a few million Facebook posts are going to make much of a difference. After all, it’s not like this guy was a total unknown last week. I first learned of Joseph Kony back in 2006, and as the video itself shows, he has been the #1 Most Wanted criminal since the International Criminal Court put together their list. Will a bunch of young people (who probably can’t find Uganda on a map) giving money to a filmmaker really help apprehend him?
  • So far, I’ve been granting the film’s premise that apprehending Joseph Kony is actually what is going to best help those he has hurt. My biggest reservation is that I really don’t think that this is what the people of Central Africa need most (and neither does this survivor of Kony’s atrocities). For those moved to compassion for the people victimized by Kony (and the many other warlords like him), there are many other reputable charities with a very long track record of real success.

A few other assorted observations:

  • Because I try to never miss an opportunity to point out what an uninformed windbag Rush Limbaugh is, the beguilingly popular “conservative” talk show host accused President Obama of sending American troops to “wipe out Christians in Uganda”, after defending Kony and the LRA as a Christian organization with valiant objectives. How anyone can ever take this guy seriously is beyond me.
  • It never ceases to amaze me how inconsistently pro-life almost all Americans seem to be. Many on the political Left rightly accuse conservatives of only caring about children until they are born, and showing very little concern for the plight of children like those highlighted in the video. Yet the fact that this video has garnered so much attention makes me wonder how our nation as a whole can be so blind to the fact that America legally slaughters more children each month than Kony has abducted in 30 years.

At the very least I will be interested to see whether or not this video campaign succeeds in maintaining the level of interest it has generated in its first week. Will people continue to care about Joseph Kony after the novelty has worn off?

For some more well-thought reading on the topic, please check out these articles:

  • Breathe — Tim Challies also counsels patience in discerning the value of the KONY 2012 campaign
  • Missions 101 — Darren Carlson, a fellow former CAMP-of-the-WOODS music staffer, is now the president of a missions organization called “Training Leaders International” (affiliated with Bethlehem Baptist Church and Desiring God Ministries). His thoughts and reflections on this topic are excellent.
  • Growing Outrage in Uganda Over the Film — Apparently the people in Uganda aren’t too thrilled about this thing.
  • Why You Should Feel Awkward About the KONY 2012 Film — Which accuses the filmmakers of appealing to the “white man’s burden complex”
  • Invisible Children’s Response to Critique — In the interest of fairness, be sure as well to check out the filmmakers’ responses to many of these criticisms in their own words.

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