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Kony 2012 campaign ignites support, scrutiny

It’s been almost 10 years since a trio of young adults from San Diego took off to Uganda with their video cameras in tow. It’s been about 26 years since guerrilla war leader Joseph Kony began his militant group that abducts children, turning them into sex slaves and soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

After a decade of raising awareness about the LRA, Invisible Children has established a new campaign. Led by Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, IC describes itself as being more than a nonprofit, but exists as an awareness organization. Their mission is to support the war-torn areas in East and Central Africa and to stop LRA violence, according to its website.

Kony 2012 is IC’s latest campaign focused on finding Kony, and is centered around a 30-minute video that went viral in the last week. With more than 72 million hits on YouTube on Sunday, the video has sparked many tears, fits of action and criticisms. One OSU professor says the mission of Kony 2012 is a difficult undertaking, but to make real change, African governments need to coordinate and work together.

The video shares the message that in order to capture Kony, he must be come famous. It says he must become a household name and everyone must know who he is so the U.S. government sees that America still cares enough for them to financially and militarily support the efforts of tracking down this war criminal.

“The point of the Invisible Children and Kony is that it’s our responsibility to, as humans and as individuals, to pay attention to this crisis,” said Katie Babcock, president of the Invisible Children OSU chapter. “We need to care about that to change the future of the world.”

The Kony 2012 video has an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2012, because this is just the beginning of the movement, Babcock said.

“There is an expiration date on the video (because) this action needs to take a year,” she said. “(It’s) to show the power that mass media has.”

While the point of the video is using the power of social media and the Internet to spread the message, it has become a double-edged sword.

One of several claims against Kony 2012 and IC is the issue of money.

“The whole movement is very misleading because the campaign has made a lot of exaggerated claims,” said Kendra Gallagher, a first-year in business. “Invisible Children also only spends about a third of its money on central African programs … so there has been a lot of controversy about where the money has gone.”

As a nonprofit, and in their efforts to be financially transparent, IC offers public information regarding their finances on their website.

IC garnered nearly $13.8 million in revenue for the 2011 fiscal year, and spent about $8.9 million. Of this budget, the largest percentage of it, 37 percent, went to programs in Central Africa; 26 percent went to awareness programs and 16 percent to general management. The rest of the money was allocated to various areas such as fundraising, media and film creation and awareness projects.

In an interview with NBC on the Today show, Russell responded to financial criticism by citing that they do not follow a traditional model where 100 percent of proceeds go directly to one cause.

“Our model is three-fold: the movie, the movement and the mission,” Russel said. “The mission is to end the war and rehabilitate these child soldiers. It’s a three-prong approach, we think different, it’s unorthodox on purpose.”

The International Criminal Court indicted Kony in 2005. And while he is not the only war leader in the world committing such acts, it’s important he be used as an example, Babcock said.

“You can’t just commit genocide and all these atrocities, and then get away with it,” Babcock said. “It’s not to say that he is the only one, it’s not to say that this is the only issue. Just to say that, to capture Kony is to make an example of it.”

Kelechi A. Kalu, director for OSU’s center for African studies, said the movement’s success is debatable because the campaign is coming from outside of the affected countries.

“(Collective African governments) need to go after him, that would be the best way to capture him, try him if possible,” Kalu said. “Coming from the outside to try to capture him is not going to be easy. Kony 2012 is not a regime, is not a government … to the extent of what I do know of them, they do not have the logistics to capture him. It has to be coordinated government efforts to go after him.”

Another judgement about the human rights organization is in regard to its partnership with the Ugandan government, an army known for looting and raping in their own villages.

IC responds by saying they do not financially support the Ugandan government or any other governments.

“The reason we partner with (the Ugandan government) is because out of all of the governments around there … the Congo is a failed state, they don’t have an army,” Babcock said. “The Ugandan army is the only one that is equipped and well-trained enough to actually do something about this.”

Kalu cited other parts of Africa, such as the Congo, Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo, where no governments took action during times of turmoil.

“You have very weak governments in Africa across (the) board, very concentrated … without serious capacity to maintain rule and order across the countries and many of these governments are allies to western governments, and to the extent that they are doing what the western governments desire,” Kalu said. “They practically have no fear of being held accountable. The system of governments in their own countries cannot effectively hold them accountable.”

The organization also receives a rating as a nonprofit called a Charity Navigator rating, which IC received a three out of four stars in 2011. The organization received two stars for accountability and transparency — Babcock said this is because they do not have five independent voting members on their board of directors, they have four.

Some Ohio State students support the movement.

“(Kony 2012) is an amazing way to spread awareness about an issue that has been quiet for way too long,” said Samantha Quintell-Lenzi, a first-year in international studies and Spanish. “I am very intrigued to see where this will lead, and the effect Facebook, of all things, will have. Who knows? Maybe it can save their lives.”

On April 16, IC representatives will be traveling from San Diego to Columbus for a screening of Kony 2012 and will be available to speak, answer questions and sell merchandise. April 20 marks the nationwide “Cover the Night” event. Invisible Children chapters and followers across the country are called to blanket their cities with pictures, posters, signs, stickers and more, all with Kony’s name and face on them.

“The city will go to sleep Friday night and wake up Saturday morning with Kony’s face everywhere,” Babcock said. “They want Kony to be a household name, and for people to know who he is.”

Other OSU students are less likely to follow the crowd supporting the organization.

“It’s easy to see that what Kony is doing is completely and totally wrong, that goes without saying,” said King Collins, a first-year in biology and psychology. “However, I feel that simply liking a status on Facebook or reiterating this sentiment does nothing to help the situation. So many people got caught up in the bandwagon effect that they forgot to actually take the time to learn the facts.”

Despite her passion for the issue, Babcock encourages everyone to do their homework and make their own judgement on the organization and the Kony 2012 movement.

“It’s OK to be skeptical, but just research all sides,” Babcock said. “When you see the Kony 2012 video, don’t blindly support it; research what you are supporting. But if you see one blog that’s against Kony 2012, don’t blindly believe that either; research all of your options … form your own opinion.”

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