Kony 2012

Saturday, 10th March 2012 at 21:55 UTC 3 comments

An awful lot has already been said about Kony 2012, the campaign to draw Westerners’ attention to a hitherto rather forgotten warlord in Africa. Its covered the internet, and has received its share of criticism, primarily its reliance on white people to tell an African story, the focus on lobbying US senators not Ugandan diplomats, and the connections with military interests. But where has this campaign even come from? Who’s actually asking us to give them a voice? Who’s paying the piper and thus calling the tune?

As a campaigner, there are times when I resort to campaign messages that aren’t a perfect fit with my opinions. My ‘job’ is to get people to understand why an issue should be important to them, not to me. Free healthcare is free healthcare – and people like free things, so despite my strongly held convictions that healthcare should be a community good, and that people should not use rank or wealth to claim better treatment, I’m quite happy to talk about the NHS largely from the perspective of end user payment or lack thereof.

When you have a crisis as big and sudden as Kony2012 claims itself to be, outcomes matter. In a famine, pictures of half-naked people that arguably damage their dignity can just about be justified by the haste with which they cause aid to flow in to the area in question. When we criticise a campaign, its worth bearing in mind that sometimes messaging that works isn’t the choice we’d pick in the vacuum of academia. Life sucks like that. On the simple metric of “talked-about-ness” this campaign has been successful thus far, even if we don’t like its tactics or long-term strategy. But whilst the tactics may be cringe-worthy at best, I think there’s a deeper, more worrying, underlying set of questions that we need to focus on as a priority.

Invisible Children, the organisation underpinning Kony2012 has a remarkable amount of money – $8million according to paperwork that others have seen. It has avoided thorough auditing, leading to obvious questions. Boring as the money issues are, I think this is where the questions have to start. Its hardly likely that something that wasn’t being much discussed would pull in $8million in small donations before going viral, so someone is putting in enough money to earn themselves some say in the organisation.

Uganda has huge oil reserves, and anyone who has studied Development will know that the discovery of oil in a country with poor governance and low economic power is very likely to lead to large problems. To many countries, oil is a curse, not a blessing. Could a hefty chunk of those $8million have come from someone with an interest in Uganda’s oil? At the moment, we simply don’t know either way – its time the campaign came clean on where its start-up cash has come from.

Uganda is also within a continent, Africa, that is slowly and quietly emerging as the battle ground in a war of influence between China and America. China is investing in Africa like nobodies business, and certain American interests are chomping at the bit to get a version of the cold war back on the road. A corporate interest might well have “beating the Chinese” as an objective as well as, or instead of, the oil pay-off. The other industry that stands to make huge money in the event of a war is the arms industry, and this too could be implicated. The need for answers to financial questions becomes stronger…

Its worth mentioning here that we’re told that Kony himself is not actually in Uganda, and may have been out of the country for years. He may be as far away as Angola, and he may also have passed away already. Whoever is trying to make Joseph Kony the new Big Bad has it in for Uganda on some deep level.

I must confess I’m deliberately overlooking one possible avenue of connections – Obama. The world’s first Social Media President has ancestral connections to the tribes involved, but probably little desire to ‘take a dump in his own backyard’, as it were. I wonder if this particular set of allegations might rely too heavily on people projecting a White Western mind-set onto a Black President.

Obama himself has few reasons to need another war. There’s no need for a feel-good humanitarian adventure at a time when you’re solidly panning the opposition every time the economists draw another month of upward lines on their graphs (or downward if you look at the jobless figures). Obama is also not the most oil-interested President going, although his rejection of Keystone and Tar Sands could make him desperate to look elsewhere.

History has told us that time and again, wars come down to who has and who wants the natural resources. Gas pipelines and oil wells are two of the regular themes in International Relations Crises since we stopped fighting over high-sea trade routes. Perhaps Uganda is about to add itself to the list of examples of terrible Imperialist Adventures motivated by resources, but passed off as a humanitarian operation. Any US intervention of this kind would smack of a repeat of Kosovo under Clinton. If we could focus on the money, I reckon there’s a fair chance a bigger picture might emerge.


Entry filed under: Activism, America, Barack Obama, Corporations, Development, Economics, Imperialism, Social Networking.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joel Lewis  |  Monday, 12th March 2012 at 8:19 UTC

    Now, I haven’t watched the vid … largely because i already knew about Kony and LRA. I have, however, read a lot of accusations about Invisible Children (IC) and also read their response as well as looked at their charity navigator report, source of some of the criticisms. I’ll happily say that I don’t support some of their policy positions – but i’ll also say they look like some of the work they do is very worthwhile.

    I’m confused by the point of your post though. Is it that a charity with an $8m turnover must be somehow suspicious if you haven’t heard of them before? That’s how it comes across. It’s actually not that difficult to have an $8m turnover if you tour us high schools selling $30 apiece ‘advocacy packs’. So why all the unevidenced insinuations?

    The audit thing is a red herring too. Enron had ‘proper’ auditing. So did RBS. On audit Charity Navigator gives points for having independent auditors, and extra points if those auditors have a separate oversight commmittee. IC have the first, not the second. Not exactly a hangable offence. In fact, as a small charity your proportion of admin spending is likely more affected by the cost of your audit than the mega-charities. So you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

    Me, I wouldn’t give to them because i’m unconvinced by the value of the advocacy and awareness raising activities that they spend 2/3 of their money. But on the issue of money from oil co.s and arms co.s I would apply the ‘put up or shut up’ test. If you’ve any evidence whatsoever then let’s see it. If not, then you should maybe ask what exactly your post contributes to anything?

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 12th March 2012 at 11:43 UTC

      If you already know about Kony and LRA, I’m guessing you already know about the work of organisations local to the situation – some of whom are doing exceptional work at a far higher efficiency given the resources they are getting, and who are not implicitly calling for US military aggression on a continent already at the centre of a power-struggle with China.

      The problem here is what the advocacy is advocating – namely military intervention. As someone pointed out elsewhere, given we’re dealing with an army the majority of who’s troops are children, we’re being told to ask the US government to send in the marines on a bunch of child soldiers. No where are we being asked to do anything to sort out the situation on the ground. Chomsky’s writing on such events as the Kosovo war is a good cautionary tale here.

      Motivations matter – we mustn’t stop questioning our own motivations and neither must we stop questioning the motivations of others. Just because something has the label of being a charity doesn’t mean it has some kind of aura of goodness to it. Any campaign can cause irreparable damage, and being a charity makes no difference on that score.

      Besides change.org masquerades behind a .org web address, but is a commercial enterprise who’s privacy statement categorically says they will sell your data when they sell the outfit. The whole advocacy sector is looking less and less voluntary by the day, as the industrialisation of goodwill continues.

      Values also matter, and, as noted elsewhere, the campaign is framed heavily around colonialist language and attitudes (and is definitely far from pacifist in its outlook). Also noted elsewhere, the US is without a “big-bad” to justify its military interventions right now. Whoever is behind this campaign, it’s clearly an attempt to frame a replacement for Bin Laden. Look how Afghanistan has been treated in the hunt for a man who has probably been hiding in Pakistan for a good chunk of that war’s duration.

      Also, you’re suggesting they sold packs in over 260k schools, ball-park, that’s an average of one school per thousand US residents. This seems unconvincing, but perhaps that’s possible in the US, and as I say, its a very crude statistic.

      • 3. Joel Lewis  |  Monday, 12th March 2012 at 14:50 UTC

        I use the packs as just an example of where money can come from (also my understanding is the packs are targeted at individuals, so more than one per school easily possible).

        That’s by the by though. You make some valid points in your response – but I still think your original post is pretty flaky – and you still offer no evidence for the inferences.

        And the idea that this is part of some US govt sponsored Bin Laden replacement exercise sounds nuts to me. Kony is no threat to US interests or citizens, and US politicos aren’t foolish enough to think their voters will care enough to keep their war industry going for that. Try Iran maybe ….

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