KONY and the Invisible Children – Does the truth matter?
I’ve not heard much about Kony… apart from of course the COUNTLESS facebook, twitter, blog, news, counter-blog, etc etc reports about the issue. Honestly, I’m kinda a bit tired of hearing about it, but I’m also intrigued by the controversy about the organisation, Invisible Children, that has made some headlines.
I haven’t watched the video, by the way, and have no intention of doing so. Why not? Because I think I’ve got the gist – Kony is a bad guy, top of a few wanted lists, uses and abuses children and kills people. Frankly, screaming at me about a “highly emotional video” is just pointing out a hyped, hyperbolic piece of propaganda at best, or at worst a manipulative money-spinner.
A few things stick out to me. First off, Kony is bad. I don’t think anyone out there questions that, and he should be caught and brought to justice. So that’s right off and dealt with. Bad guy is bad – clear and deserving of support.
However, Invisible Children and the controversy is what I’m finding most interesting. Let’s start with the most ‘damning’ – the allegation that they fund the Ugandan Army, which is guilty of many of it’s own abuses, and have posed for at least one photo holding guns. For their part, they have said that neither do they endorse nor fund the Ugandan Army and acknowledge it has it’s own problems, however they claim that as the best organised army in the region, they simply must work with these people to catch Kony. Further, they claim that the photo was a joke posed photo for family, and they hate guns.
If indeed the Ugandan Army are the most capable outfit in the region, it’s kinda obvious you have to get their help – I doubt anyone believes that Invisible Children can go tramping around the jungle themselves hunting him down, and if this man is so dangerous, you have to have a military or police force to combat him. So this criticism is unfair and stupid in my opinion. One could argue that as Kony is no longer very active (apparently) the money could go to fighting the Ugandan Army abuses? Perhaps. Another argument is that as Kony uses children, military action against him will cause many children to die. Unfortunately, what can you do on this one? It is a lose-lose, but at least catching the guy is for the greater good. The photo is pretty goddamn awful. Not only is it a terrible photo 😉 but it really portrays them in a strange light, and their explanation isn’t very good either. They could at least have lied, and said that everyone needed to give the impression of being armed, for safety. However, idealistic people need to wise up a little. You aren’t going to catch this guy with rainbows and fluffy bunnies.
The other prong in the criticism is of their charitable structure. The critics claim that only 33% goes to front-line work in Africa, while the rest goes to video campaigns, merchandise and wages, as well as miscellaneous and travel expenses. Their rating is only 2/4 from some ‘Charity Watch’ organisation, denied the external auditing of accounts, and they have not signed up with the US Better Business Bureau, a voluntary organisation with a respected code of conduct.
I’ll be honest, if it helps a charity survive, and if it helps spread awareness, and if it encourages donations, what does percentage matter? Every little helps, as the Tesco saying goes. Surely, the ABSOLUTE value of their monetary benefit to the good causes is what is important? Moreover, before you criticise people for “only” donating 33% to front-line services, calculate for me your percentage charitable donation from your salary. Sure, they could donate more, but couldn’t you? Doesn’t the net result of their awareness raising encourage more donation, thus leading to a net gain in front-line product? As an example, I develop a mobile phone app. I can charge £5 for it, and maybe it’ll sell to 100 people willing to buy it at that price. Or, I can sell it for 50p, a 90% discount, and I would expect to sell to more people. If I sell to 1000 people at the low price, I still make the same money, but I have 10x the market penetration, 10x the word-of-mouth advertising.
As for their charitable status, their audits are a matter of public record in the US, and they pass their inspections year on year it would seem. Their failure on the “Charity Watch” and “BBB” are more curious, and they claim that this is because their management board has only 4 people instead of the required minimum of 5. They say this reflects their grassroots nature, which might suggest a small, loosely-governed organisation. This might indeed be a bad thing, although again, if these guys are passionate and good at being charity volunteers, they might not be so good at the bureaucracy, but does that matter? They should definitely use some money and hire a few people who can help them be a better organisation, but does this reflect on their charity potential? I’m not sure.
That about sums up the criticisms, and it’s easy to read this post and assume I’m on the side of Invisible Children. I’m not. I’m certainly on the side of stopping evil people, wherever they are, but I’m not about to jump on some bandwagon because a video tells me I should, or a bunch of Facebook posts say I should be feeling guilty right about now. I can assure you I won’t be donating to this cause, because rightly or wrongly I don’t really care about it. It evokes little in me beyond the usual “How terrible”. Maybe I’m desensitised to all these causes but there it is. Maybe I just prefer to devote my time and money to causes closer to home, where I can see the change and use it as a better motivator. Maybe I accept that capturing / killing one man won’t cure a problem. Be suspicious of anyone purporting to do good in your name.
Moreover, don’t guilt people for not ‘caring’ enough to donate. If you donate, fine, but do it because your values and your wits tell you that you should, not because someone posted it on Twitter, or because some video made you cry.