Kony 2012, the YouTube video that’s taken the world by storm, has generated a lot of support.
When the video was released on March 5th, it went viral almost immediately. To date, the video has garnered almost 75 million views, and countless well-meaning but ill-informed people from all over the western world have shared, tweeted, and discussed Joseph Kony and his victimization of children.
The film, which is about 30 mins long, boasts Hollywood production value, heart-wrenching moments with children who were kidnapped by Kony and forced to join his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as well as interviews with authorities on the subject (such as Luis Moreno Ocampo, a prosecutor for the ICC at the Hague).
There are numerous problems, however, with the video and its creator.
Invisible Children, the charity which produced the Kony 2012 YouTube video, has drawn fire from critics for the organization’s use of its massive 13M+ annual revenue.
The Better Business Bureau’s 2011 Wise Giving Report was unable to accurately review the charity, as Invisible Children refused to disclose the required information regarding their finances.
And despite the recent denial by representatives of the organization, it’s clear from its 2010 & 2011 financial statements (see page 7) that only 31.5% of its nearly 9 million dollars of total expenses go to direct services intended to benefit the African people. The rest is used on travel, entertainment (i.e. creating videos like the one so many are currently fawning over) and, yes, administrative compensation.
The man who made and provides the voice-over for Kony 2012 is named Jason Russell. He draws a hefty 90K dollar salary from the charity’s donation plate on a yearly basis. The CEO, Brian Keesey and Co-Founder, Lauren Poole take almost identical salaries. The total amount of administrative “compensation costs” amounts to almost 20% of annual company expenditures.
Alex Antonetz over at The Lantern comments:
This begs the question: Where is the money you’re giving them going? If you indeed paid $40 for the now-sold-out action kit and bracelet, and assuming the group’s spending habits hold true, fewer than $13 of your money will be going toward the campaign to stop Kony in Uganda.
Ties to Radical Groups
Invisible Children has long advocated military intervention in order to stop Kony, and has stated publicly that they believe the Ugandan army (UPDF) to be “more organized and better equipped” to do so than any other military organization in the region.
The Ugandan army, however, has for years been accused of atrocities as shocking and severe as anything in Kony 2012, including forcibly recruiting children to fight against the government’s enemies, including Kony himself! Alfred Nhema, in his book The Resolution of African Conflicts, writes:
The government has been accused by international human rights and humanitarian organizations of recruiting children into the UPDF ranks to fight the LRA, although the government denies this. Human Rights Watch has alleged that former LRA child soldiers are recruited into the Uganda army, often against their will. These allegations constitute a war crime within the meaning of the Rome Statute, but they are also a crime under other international legal instruments…[Additionally] the UPDF has perennially been accused of committing rapes and sexual attacks against the female population of northern Uganda. Human Rights Watch has documented and published torrid accounts of women who have suffered sexual assaults at the hands of the Ugandan army. Although these might not constitute a systematic attack, they are so widespread as to constitute a crime against humanity or a war crime under the auspices of the Rome Statute. The government has denied these allegations, just as it has denied allegations of recruiting children into its armed forces.
Journalist Emma Mutaizibwa from The Observer also comments that:
…UPDF soldiers bring alcohol from Uganda and sell it or give it to young women, including underage girls. Allegations of sexual exploitation of children by UPDF elements were reported by various sources. A representative of a UN organisation said there were reports of several girls, some as young as 12, involved in prostitution with Ugandan soldiers. An internal report for a UN organisation based on investigations from field staff states that it is not “unusual to see girls and women sneak into the UPDF base at night, or find UPDF personnel embroiled in brawls over girls or women”. The report cites at least one very serious case of sexual violence by a Uganda soldier against a 16-year-old girl. Abducted at 14 by the LRA near the town of Obo, the young girl returned home at the beginning of 2011 and, in unclear circumstances, was raped by a UPDF soldier at the Ugandan army base in Obo in May 2011. According to the girl, who became pregnant as a result of the rape, the perpetrator eventually left for Uganda, leaving her “in the custody” of another soldier who continued to abuse her at least until August 2011 when she spoke to a UN worker.
Indeed, the government of Uganda and the UPDF seem to pose more of a threat to the general health and well-being of Ugandans than Kony and his LRA ever did. It was reported last year that armed militia groups, protected by the Ugandan government and acting on behalf of the British-owned New Forests Company (financed by the World Bank), violently displaced upwards of 22,000 people in order to make way for its vast fields of monocultures.
An Oxfam report records the experiences of farmers and laborers who were forcibly evicted by government thugs. One survivor described the eviction:
“My land was taken by the New Forests Company. People from New Forests came with other security forces and started destroying crops and demolishing houses and they ordered us to leave. They beat people up, especially those who could not run. We ran in a group, my children, my grandchildren, my wife and me. It was such a painful time because the eviction was so forceful and violent.”
And a former farmer lamented at the time: “I no longer own any land. It’s impossible to feed my children – they have suffered so much. Some days all they eat is porridge from maize flour. When people can’t eat well their bodies become weak – there have been lots of cases of malaria and diarrhoea. Some days we don’t eat anything at all.”
If only he had 90K dollars to make a YouTube video.
The founders of Invisible Children have also posed for photographs with members of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), though they’ve recently attempted to explain away these pictures as a “joke”. The SPLA has also been accused of numerous crimes against humanity, including “rape, torture and killing of unarmed civilians.”
Distorting the Facts
Invisible Children has been accused of distorting the facts surrounding Kony and the LRA, as well as exaggerating the group’s influence in the region in order to obtain political support and increase donations.
It’s been well-established that Joseph Kony has not been active in Uganda for at least 6 years now, and in fact speculations are rampant that he may have died 5 years back.
But whether Kony himself is dead or alive is practically irrelevant at this point, as his army, the LRA is widely recognized as being largely defunct. Jeff Sparrow, of ABC Australia, writes that the Kony 2012 video “is seriously misleading, falsely implying there’s war raging in Northern Uganda when there’s not. In fact, Kony has not been in the country for six years; his group is a much-depleted rump, numbering a few hundred people at most.”
Even ForeignAffairs.com, an arm of the CFR, states unequivocally that organizations such as Invisible Children
have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan government atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.
Meanwhile, critics have pointed out that while Kony’s group is practically non-existent, Malaria claimed the lives of 655,000 people in 2010, and of these, 87% were children. The cost for supplying potentially life-saving medication to all those who died would have been less than what Invisible Children spends on “entertainment” in one year. The roughly 2.2 million dollars (31.5% of expenditures in 2010-11) that Invisible Children actually spent on direct action in Africa could pay for medication to prevent all worldwide deaths from Malaria, 7 times over.
Angelo Izama, an Ugandan journalist, had this to say about Kony 2012:
At the end of the day the Kony2012 campaign will not make Joseph Kony more famous but it will make Invisible Children famous. It will also make many, including P.Diddy, feel like they have contributed some good to his capture – assuming Kony is even alive. For many in the conflict prevention community including those who worry about the militarization of it in Central Africa this campaign is just another nightmare that will end soon. Hopefully.
The Oil Connection
Joseph Kony has been around (as the video states) for almost 30 years. So why are we hearing about this now?
Well, back in October of 2011, Barack Obama quietly ordered 100 combat-equipped troops into central Africa, supposedly to assist the Ugandan government in capturing or killing Joseph Kony. Observors commented upon the oddity of President Obama committing American soldiers to a fight that, even at that time, seemed all but finished. ForeignAffairs.com remarked:
Obama claimed that he decided to act because it “furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy.” Yet it is not entirely clear how that could be true, since Kony and the LRA have not targeted Americans or American interests and are not capable of overthrowing an allied government.
Others leveled a more specific criticism of the President’s newfound interest in a missing, African warlord. Numerous critics, including Steve Horn at AlterNet.org, accused the Obama administration of starting another war for oil under the pretense of concern for the people of Africa.
Oh yeah, did I not mention? In 2009, Uganda found oil. Lots of it. Estimates range from 700M to 1.5B barrels of commercially viable oil lying underneath those African sands.
The administration denied their interest in the newly discovered Ugandan oil fields, of course. Despite our complete and total inaction and disinterest during the preceding 30 years, when Kony and the LRA were at their peak, and despite the fact that Kony’s group had all but disappeared from Uganda and central Africa by 2011, President Obama and the U.S. government only had the African people in mind.
So what might be the connection between an American oil grab and Invisible Children? Well, since at least 2009, USAID (a government agency, supposed to be devoted to humanitarian and charitable goals) has assisted Invisible Children in its mission in Uganda on and off, informally. This may appear to be above board, but countries that have first-hand experience of USAID, its true aims and purposes, have very few positive things to say about them. For instance, Ajit Randeniya at Infolanka.asia, warns of USAID operations in the region, stating that they’ve long been recognized as a CIA front:
USAID has long been a conduit for CIA funding to subversive activities overseas and a front for CIA intelligence gathering. USAID is the collaborator and executor of CIA plots, and secret plans of the State Department. Its role is to act as an instrument of CIA penetration into civil society by enabling the “legitimate” funding aimed at promoting U.S. foreign policy abroad and influencing internal politics of foreign nations. The US Embassy’s propaganda line that USAID is the ‘development agency’ of the U.S. Government should not be believed…USAID is one of the empire’s principal weapons in maintaining its dominion over the developing world. The history proves it.
The American author and historian William Blum agrees, stating that USAID has, throughout its history, maintained “a close working relationship with the CIA, and Agency officers often operated abroad under USAID cover.”
That said, Scott Creighton over at American Everyman reports that Invisible Children received an enormous increase in their funding between 2010 and 2011: “Invisible Children NGO recently had a huge increase in funding from somewhere (according to their numbers they increased their operating budget from 2010 to 2011 by a multiplier of 6, roughly a million per year to 6 million).”
As Invisible Children refuses to disclose where their money comes from, it’s impossible to know whether or not the Kony 2012 campaign may have been inspired by a particularly large government donation. But, since Invisible Children has openly called for military intervention to rid the world of a criminal (who may already be dead), what better charity to utilize if you wanted to get boots on the ground?
It may be of interest to note here that all official reference to USAID has been scrubbed from the Invisible Children tumblr site.
Is the Obama administration using a private charity to drum up support for yet another grab at natural resources under the guise of a humanitarian mission? Or is Invisible Children simply inventing a scandal to enrich its administrators? Either one is possible.
What’s clear is that there’s much more to Kony 2012 than meets the eye. And the American people need to do their homework.
UPDATE 3.13.12: “KONY” RESOLUTION INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE TO EXPAND US TROOPS IN THE REGION
The resolution, introduced by Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) “calls for, among other things, expanding the number of regional forces in Africa to protect civilians and placing restrictions on individuals or governments found to be supporting Kony.” – CBSNews.com