KONY 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By now I’m sure most of you have seen Kony 2012, or at the very least have heard about it.  Considering that the video has had over 70 million views since it went live less than a week ago, it’s safe to assume that if you somehow missed it, there’s a good chance you just woke up from a coma. Or maybe you are Amish and don’t have electricity.  In which case, you wouldn’t be reading this, so scratch that idea.  Maybe you were wilderness camping, eating berries that you hoped weren’t poisonous and wiping your ass with what you prayed wasn’t poison ivy.


Whether you somehow missed it or if you haven’t taken the time to watch it, the Cole’s Notes on Kony 2012 is that a film maker named Jason Russell travelled to Uganda 9 years ago where he met a young boy named Jacob, a child who had been abducted by rebel forces along with his brother.  The group that kidnapped him was the LRA, led by a man named Joseph Kony, who for the last 26 years has abducted more than 30,000 children, turning the boys into soldiers and the girls into sex slaves.  According to the video, these children are often forced to mutilate other humans and kill their parents, amoung other atrocities.

In the video, Jacob reveals that his brother tried to escape and a soldier slit his throat.  Although unclear, it seems as though he somehow escaped because he was at a refugee camp of some sort while being interviewed.  In an interview, he states very matter-of-factly how it would be better for the rebels to kill him, because he had no one taking care of him and no future.

Sleeping Refugees

The camera-pan of a room full of refugees packed like sardines coupled with Jacob’s heart-wrenching sobs while talking about his brother are enough to chisel at the iciest of hearts, so of course it had a softy like me in tears.  It once again opened my eyes to how easy I have it and I will try not to complain when Mike rolls over onto my two-thirds of our king-sized bed.

To make a long story short, the purpose of the video is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony and by doing so, hopefully stop him.

Like any video that’s gone viral, there’s never a shortage of opinions on the subject.  People love to insert their two-cent’s worth, although most of the opinions are worth less than a penny.  My thoughts, however, are worth at least a dime.

The Good

It can’t be said that Jason Russell and Invisible Children didn’t meet their objective of spreading the word.  The world now knows who Joseph Kony is. Or at the very least, 72 million people know.  Awareness is the first step in changing the world.  If we don’t know, we don’t care.  And after watching the video, it’s hard not to care.

I would argue that Russell’s passion is real.  He has spent the last nine years of his life speaking to politicians, schools, and the like to get the word out.  He co-founded a not-for-profit group called Invisible Children which, according to their website “uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity.”  When watching the video, you can tell that Russell cares and is genuinely passionate about fighting for the injustices done to countless innocent children.

The Bad

Without even trying, one can find countless naysayers who either disagree with KONY 2012 and Invisible Children’s methods, downright disrespect Russell’s cause, or fall somewhere in the middle.  One critical site, a blog written by Gary Oyston called Visible Children, which has had over 2 million hits, brings to light a lot of issues with KONY 2012 and Invisible Children, and these concerns seem to have a lot of merit.

For starters, Oyston talks about how Invisible Children’s funds are allocated.  According to its public finances, only 32% of their funds went to direct services, while the rest went to staff salaries and awareness programs such as the video that has taken the world by storm.    Oyston writes, “This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness.”

The founders of Invisible Children posing with members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

Beyond their finances, Oyston is concerned over the fact Invisible Children supports the Ugandan government’s army and other military forces, who themselves have been accused of raping and looting.  When in Rome, do like the Romanians.

Another concern Oyston brings up is documented information stating that U.S. Africa Command has actually launched multiple missions over the years in which the purpose was to capture Kony.  Apparently, when they’ve failed each time, they have provoked unsavoury responses resulting in increased retaliation from the LRA.  This information is in direct conflict with Kony 2012, who maintain that, until very recently, no support has been given to aid in the capture of Kony.

What I like about Gary Oyston is that he’s clearly done his research.  All of his points are well documented, which is more than I can say for many of the negative nancies out there, spouting written diarrhea about why Kony 2012 sucks but having nothing to back up their loud-mouthed opinions.  Plus, he’s Canadian, so he can’t be completely out to lunch, right?

The Ugly

War is ugly.  Joseph Kony is a bad man and should be stopped.  But the ugly truth is that I don’t think stopping one man would solve anything.  There would be a dozen men ready to step in and take his place.

At one point in the video, Russell talks about the International Criminal Court, which was started in 2002 to find the world’s worst criminals.  The video pans up a list of 27 names, and while you can only catch a glimpse of numbers 18 through 27 and number 1 and 2 (Kony is at the top of the list), every hunted man visible on the list resides in Africa.

Africa’s past is ugly.  Africa’s present is ugly.  And there’s a good chance Africa’s future will be ugly.  Even if we manage to stop men like Joseph Kony from terrorizing and tormenting innocent children, we have a lifetime of physically, emotionally and mentally scarred children who for the rest of their life will bear testament to life as a rebel slave.  You put Mother Theresa in that environment and even she couldn’t come out unscathed.  What will happen to all these children?  How can they lead normal lives?  How can they raise their children?  How can they set a good example when they are undoubtedly full of rage and hate and anger, and rightfully so?

I have always had a heart for Africa, but what is one lowly little person to do?  Sure, I sponsor a child.  I click on The Hunger Site every day.  I buy chickens and goats and farming supplies as gifts.  I’ve planted the seed in my children’s head and we’ve agreed to donate the money from the sale of any toys to African charities (it was awesome to see Hayden cheer when I broke the news to him that his chair had sold: “Yay!  Now we can give the money to the African children!”).  I know every bit helps, but I know it’s not enough.  I know I have so much to be grateful for, but I forget every day how blessed I am that I don’t have to fear for my children’s lives, that I have have food on the table, a bed to myself, medicine at my disposal.

Regardless of whether Kony 2012 is all it’s cracked up to be or not, at least Russell did something.  At least he got the attention of millions of people.  We may or may not catch Joseph Kony.  We may or may not change the course of history for thousands of Africans.  We may or may not see Africa come out of their oppression in this lifetime.  But if we don’t take steps in the right direction, the ugly truth is that nothing will change.  So let’s just try and see what happens.  We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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