Unfortunately the video is misleading on many levels and possibly violates the Better Business Bureau’s standards for charities (indeed, the organization has declined review by the BBB, according to the BBB's web site).
The video shows scores of young children traveling from their homes in the bush to the city of Gulu in Northern Uganda to sleep on the streets to escape Kony's marauders. This footage is old and the situation has not occurred in many years. Graphics depicting the movements of Kony’s army make the viewer think the army is huge and the narrator never discusses its size (estimates today say it is comprised of only about 200 or so core members). The video also misleads viewers to believe that there is still a “war” continuing (Kony’s army decamped to the Central African Republic from Northern Uganda where the war had occurred. Today it survives by raiding villages, stealing food, and kidnapping children, but is not at war with any government). Yet there are political and other reasons that are behind the fact that Kony exists to this day that the video never addresses.
I got a glimpse of this reality when I lived in Uganda in 2005-06 with my husband, the journalist and author Peter Eichstaedt. There he worked for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting for Uganda Radio Network alongside Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire. Rosebell is on the ground in Africa and writes on human rights issues, offering the perspective and expertise that only a local journalist has. She offers her expertise in this BBC spot, one of many this week.
While living and working in Uganda, Peter interviewed former child soldiers, Kony’s ex-wives, victims, and traveled to peace talks with Kony, which formed the basis for his book, “First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army,” a Colorado Book Award-winner in 2009. Peter went on to work with African journalists monitoring human rights abuses in Africa for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Peter Eichstaedt and soldiers on DRC and South Sudan border, awaiting Joseph Kony's arrival at peace negotiations.
I tagged along on many of the interviews and journeys. One of the most amazing days of my life was spent talking with eight of “the Aboke girls,” young girls who had been kidnapped from their school in Aboke and dragged into the bush to serve as wives and workers for Kony and his soldiers before they bravely escaped. Their resilience was inspiring.
Today I work in the charity world in the U.S. I believe the Kony 2012 fundraising video is not about providing information about Joseph Kony and The Lords Resistance Army. It is about tugging at human emotions to raise money to perpetuate the organization (check out its Charity Navigator ratings).
The human impulse to help others is a wonderful thing, but that impulse is abused when disinformation is circulated to raise money by implying that Africans are powerless to help themselves or a situation and donations cannot change it either. This continues the legacy of paternalistic attitudes in a post-colonial world. Issues are rarely as simplistic as they are presented in a video.
I am not condemning Invisible Children for wanting to stop Joseph Kony. But I do want to urge people to inform themselves about organizations' backgrounds and the issues they support before donating to ensure their money makes a difference. You can check out a non-profit's rankings on Charity Navigator, BBB, and Independent Charities of America. These rating agencies determine how a group ranks with regard to its overhead versus the money it donates to help its constituency; provide independent audits; and determine an organization's commitment to transparency.
I also urge people to give to grassroots organizations with homegrown solutions. These are the organizations that are on the ground, with employees who are living and working and in the communities they serve. They are doing hard, unglamorous work every day, while refusing to compromise the dignity of their people to fundraising for their causes.
There are also great organizations doing good work right here in America addressing great need. The trick is to separate the hype from the reality to determine if your money can match your intentions to do real good. Every donor deserves that.
In the case of Joseph Kony, as with regard to most things in life, things are never as simple as they appear to be.
You can check out Peter’s thoughts about Kony 2012 on his blog.