Visible Children: A critical analysis on the ‘Kony 2012’ movement


The following two articles being presented below is published here to raise legitimate awareness on the pro-imperialist ‘Kony 2012’ campaign being propagandized by the Invisible Children organization. The prison gates are open… will not tolerate this neo-liberal campaign to continue moving forward without it being exposed for its true intentions to more and more politically conscious people. I’m presenting this here in the hopes that everyone reading will spread it far and wide and build a collective response against the ‘Kony 2012’ propaganda: 

Kony 2012: Watch this before donating *Must Watch*

March 7, 2012

A brief look at what the KONY 2012 video DID NOT TELL YOU:

There are other charities through which you can help those children… an example is “Children of the Nations” who spend 86.9% of donations on the actual program. They have 4/4 stars in all categories and do not advocate for foreign intervention, hence much more trust-worthy.

This is to help you make an informed decision and more importantly to get a discussion rolling and encourage the charity to respond to these important points for our clarification. PLEASE SHARE.


ONE: Last years account for the charity (on page 6) showing that only 31% of donations were actually used for the charity program…
TWO: Charity Navigator gives low ratings to this charity, mainly for lack of transparency
THREE: Ugandan military accused of heinous crimes such as rape and murder… yet the charity funds them…
FOUR: Foreign affairs claim the charity exaggerates to manipulate viewers…
FIVE: US Marines have failed to take Kony down, each time leading to harsh retaliations and death of many children (same link as FOUR)…
Detailed article about this:
New York Times report about oil found in Uganda, “Gift that may become curse”…

Visible Children: We Got Trouble

March 7, 2012

For those asking what you can do to help, please link to wherever you see KONY 2012 posts. And tweet a link to this page to famous people on Twitter who are talking about KONY 2012!

I do not doubt for a second that those involved in KONY 2012 have great intentions, nor do I doubt for a second that Joseph Kony is a very evil man. But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the KONY 2012 campaign.

KONY 2012 is the product of a group called Invisible Children, a controversial activist group and not-for-profit. They’ve released 11 films, most with an accompanying bracelet colour (KONY 2012 is fittingly red), all of which focus on Joseph Kony. When we buy merch from them, when we link to their video, when we put up posters linking to their website, we support the organization. I don’t think that’s a good thing, and I’m not alone.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that.

The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them,arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.

Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking. Which can be great, except that Foreign Affairs has claimed that Invisible Children (among others) “manipulates 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.” He’s certainly evil, but exaggeration and manipulation to capture the public eye is unproductive, unprofessional and dishonest.

As Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, writes on the topic of IC’s programming, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

Still, Kony’s a bad guy, and he’s been around a while. Which is why the US has been involved in stopping him for years. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent multiple missions to capture or kill Kony over the years. And they’ve failed time and time again, each provoking a ferocious response and increased retaliative slaughter. The issue with taking out a man who uses a child army is that his bodyguards are children. Any effort to capture or kill him will almost certainly result in many children’s deaths, an impact that needs to be minimized as much as possible. Each attempt brings more retaliation. And yet Invisible Children supports military intervention. Kony has been involved in peace talks in the past, which have fallen through. But Invisible Children is now focusing on military intervention.

Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem.

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s somethingSomething isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.

If you want to write to your Member of Parliament or your Senator or the President or the Prime Minister, by all means, go ahead. If you want to post about Joseph Kony’s crimes on Facebook, go ahead. But let’s keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012.

~ Grant Oyston

Grant Oyston is a sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. You can help spread the word about this by linking to his blog at anywhere you see posts about KONY 2012.

6 responses »

  1. ok 32% might go straight to africa but most of the other money is used for the cause in the western world. Correct?
    So not all the 68% or hopefully not even an unpropitious amount of money is going into their own pockets?

    • That’s not exactly great to know. If the situation in Uganda was as serious as they claimed it to be (which it isn’t!), they’d have provided much more funds than a mere 32%, whereas the rest went into travel expenses, film production, etc.

  2. We can’t save the world all the time… but I believe this project whether its been exaggerated or not is still worth taking part in. Even if our money is not going directly to the aid of the situation in Uganda (a lot of people I spoke to about this didn’t believe it would in the first place), the money we do send would go to wages which would make the video possible, the design and production of posters, flights to Uganda, and any sort of organisation of events or anything of the sort. So yes it might be profitable but the overall aim is making Kony famous and the video expresses that in the clearest way. I mean obviously some people will feel deceived because the number may be exaggerated or the way they made the video made them all emotional. But it didn’t force on donations, it literally just says to us, make Kony famous. And now I’d say he is, so the pressure is on for the American government to find him! Which was the main aim!

    All this aside, I think most of us know nowadays that when we watch a motivating video and we are given information that we have no way of finding the truth about, we all realize that it may not even be true, so we don’t all start crying and give money, but when you don’t have to give money, you just show support, who loses? I personally think… if they are doing this and making an extensive profit, it doesn’t matter, cause they’re also stopping a killer.

    I also noticed that this article states that the army of Uganda take part in looting and raping? This is a whole separate issue, it’s terrible but should the Americans really not make use of them if they’re helping with the operation? I feel awful for saying this out loud but, the US cannot barge into another country, armed, without consulting Uganda’s military and making an agreement with them, it would damage relations! Although I feel that a separate operation to help train the military in Uganda and prosecute those who offend would really be something to do. But having said this, it puts us into a huge pool of criminal activity that is currently occurring not just in Uganda but in every single country out there, some that are suffering without any awareness whatsoever! I mean I heard someone say – what’s Uganda? There are almost 200 countries, and admittedly I don’t know them all but I can guarantee somewhere, people are suffering and have tragic stories like these children from Uganda, and they will probably live this way for years. We can do something, but so much needs to be done. One thing at a time is the only way. Now Kony’s time is up and this is thanks to the campaign, so if they get profits in their pockets, I don’t mind.

    Just a personal thought


    Please read and this open letter by Dr. Adam Branch. He is expert on Uganda and the LRA. He has just published a book on Uganda’s conflict and has extensively written about Invisible Children’s problematic role in this conflict in Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda. Please learn and do more research on your own.

    I am posting link to Dr. Branch’s syllabus and works page on San Diego State’s website for those of you who have been asking for it:

    Kony 2012 from Kampala

    Adam Branch
    Senior Research Fellow
    Makerere Institute of Social Research

    March 8, 2012
    Kampala, Uganda

    From Kampala, the Kony 2012 hysteria is easy to miss. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and I don’t watch YouTube—but over the last twenty-four hours, I have received dozens of emails from friends, colleagues, and students in the US about the video by Invisible Children and the massive on-line response to it.

    I have not watched the video. As someone who has worked in and done research on the war in northern Uganda for over a decade, much of it with a local human rights organization based in Gulu, the Invisible Children organization and their videos have infuriated me to no end—I remember one sleepless night after I watched their “Rough Cut” film for the first time with a group of students, after which I tried to explain to the audience what was wrong with the film while on stage with one of the filmmakers.

    My frustration with the group has largely reflected the concerns expressed so eloquently by those individuals who have been willing to bring the fury of Invisible Children’s true believers down upon themselves in order to point out what is wrong with what this group of young Americans is doing: the warmongering, the self-indulgence, the commercialization, the reductive and one-sided story they tell, their portrayal of Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white Americans, and the fact that civilians in Uganda and central Africa may have to pay a steep price in their own lives so that a lot of young Americans can feel good about themselves, and a few can make good money. This, of course, is sickening, and I think that Kony 2012 is a case of Invisible Children having finally gone too far. They are now facing a backlash from people of conscience who refuse to abandon their capacity to think for themselves.

    But, as I said, I wouldn’t have known about Kony 2012 if it hadn’t been for the emails I’ve been receiving from the US. I have heard nothing about Kony 2012 here in Kampala because, in a sense, it just does not matter. So, as a response to the on-line debate that has been going on for the last couple days, I want to explain why, from here, Kony 2012 can be ignored.

    First, because Invisible Children is a symptom, not a cause. It is an excuse that the US government has gladly adopted in order to help justify the expansion of their military presence in central Africa. Invisible Children are “useful idiots,” being used by those in the US government who seek to militarize Africa, to send more and more weapons and military aid, and to build the power of military rulers who are US allies. The hunt for Joseph Kony is the perfect excuse for this strategy—how often does the US government find millions of young Americans pleading that they intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources? The US government would be pursuing this militarization with or without Invisible Children—Kony 2012 just makes it a bit easier. Therefore, it is the militarization we need to worry about, not Invisible Children.

    Second, because in northern Uganda, people’s lives will be left untouched by this campaign, even if it were to achieve its stated objectives. This is not because things have entirely improved in the years since open fighting ended, but because the very serious problems people face today have little to do with Kony. The most significant problem people face is over land. Land speculators and so-called investors, many foreign, in collaboration with the Ugandan government and military, are trying to grab the land of the Acholi people, land that they were forced off of a decade ago when they were herded into camps. Another prominent problem is nodding disease—a deadly illness that has broken out among thousands of children who grew up in the government’s internment camps, subsisting on relief aid. Indeed, the problems people face today are the legacy of the camps, where over a million Acholi were forced to live, and die, for years by their own government. Today’s problems are the legacy of the government’s counterinsurgency, which received full support from the US government and international aid agencies.

    Which brings up the question that I am constantly asked in the US: “what can we do?”, where “we” tends to mean American citizens. In response, I have a few proposals. The first, perhaps not surprising from a professor, is to learn. The conflict in northern Uganda and central Africa is complicated, yes—but not impossible to understand. For several years, I have taught an undergraduate class on the conflict, and although it takes some time and effort, the students end up being well informed and able to come to their own opinions about what can be done. I am more than happy to share the syllabus with anyone interested! In terms of activism, I think the first thing we need to do is to re-think the question: instead of asking how the US can intervene in order to solve Africa’s conflicts, we need to ask what we are already doing to cause those conflicts in the first place. How are we, as consumers, contributing to land grabbing and to the wars ravaging this region? How are we, as American citizens, allowing our government to militarize Africa in the name of the War on Terror and securing oil resources? That is what we have to ask ourselves, because we are indeed responsible for the conflict in northern Uganda—however, we are not responsible to end it by sending military force, as Invisible Children tells us, but responsible for helping to cause and prolong it. In our desire to ameliorate suffering, we must not be complicit in making it worse.

  4. Pingback: U.S. House resolution calling for imperialist intervention of Uganda « The prison gates are open…

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