Movie Friday: Invisible Children becomes visible

The more I learn about the organization Invisible Children, the less I like them. I’ve known good NGOs who are on the ground and involved with communities in underserved areas – they are able to listen and react to the needs of the population rather than simply helicoptering in and ‘fixing’ whatever problem they (the NGO) thinks is worthy of their attention. There’s no quicker way to breed resentment than to walk into someone’s house and tell them how to fix their problems.

Unless of course you go into their house and just use them for a photo op:

Yeah… we probably could have called that.

The problem with the Invisible Children group is that they don’t seem to be all that interested in Uganda – they seem to be interested in Joseph Kony and in being responsible for killing him. The people who are actual victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army don’t seem to share IC’s zeal for single-minded justice at the expense of recognizing the plight of the victims.

Furthermore, it seems as though Invisible Children is in bed with some truly nasty people themselves:

Over at Alternet, Bruce Wilson digs in to the sources of funding for the group behind “Kony 2012,” and discovers 990 IRS tax forms and yearly financial disclosure reports from the nonprofit and its major donors “tell a story that’s jarringly at odds with the secular, airbrushed, feelgood image” it has cultivated.

The documents show that Invisible Children, Inc. received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the biggest financial backers of California’s anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8, with links to James DobsonThe Family (see Jeff Sharlet’s excellent book on the subject), and ideologically similar Christian Right entities.

For those of you who’ve been paying attention, these are also the same people who are partially responsible for the internationally-reviled “Kill the Gays” Bill in Uganda. Far from being a benign, starry-eyed bunch of kids who made a ‘whoopsie’, this campaign has taken on a decidedly sinister turn. Now, it’s entirely possible that since IC and The Family (a Christian Right political group) are both “interested” in Uganda, the Family kicked them a few sheckels. I’d be surprised if that was the whole of it, but we don’t really know enough to do more than speculate. What we do know is that that flashy video of theirs cost in excess of $1 million to produce.

If you’d like to get a more informed perspective on what’s going on in Uganda, I suggest you read this article, which provides the impressions of 5 women who are, perhaps, a bit more knowledgable about the region.

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  1. Knasher says

    I think you may be missing the last link in the article, where you mention another article from the perspective of five people in Uganda.

  2. Narvi says, which reviews charities, suggested that people who are considering donating to Invisible Children, instead give money to combat malaria. Far more children saved per dollar, and there are a lot of good malaria charities.

    Just thought I’d share. Sorry if highjacking or anything.

  3. 24fps says

    Here’s a tv segment with Charlie Brooker on the reality of who and what Invisible Children are – nice shot of IC’s head guy giving evangelising technique tips to an audience at Liberty U included:

    And what can I say? The British do snark so wittily, it’s a joy to watch.

  4. mynameischeese says

    I saw a video at evangelical christian college with one of the cofounders talking about bringing people to Jesus on the sly. Gross. And I’m looking at a news article now that claims he was arrested in San Diego last night.

  5. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    It would be great to get rid of Kony. The LRA left a path of abductions and murder in their wake for over 20 years. But there’s two points to remember: 1. Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for years; 2. the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it’s still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

    Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan Army and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the Congo, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, the last is where Kony is believed to be now. The LRA does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the video, refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA for over 20 years. Incidentally this is the same number estimated for the total killed in the conflict in Uganda.

    Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama has this to say:

    To call the [Invisible Children] campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

  6. says

    Despite all the flaming of IC, much justified some a bit off the mark. I’m impressed by the fact that the viral video production put the situation in Uganda and the Congo into the consciousness of the public.

    When people criticize IC they invariably discuss issues that were being more or less ignored. So much as you might revile this particular video and its creators, you must admit the good it has done. The world can’t help solve a problem until it is aware of the problem. Kony2012 has increased awareness considerably, not of Kony so much as of the entire Ugandan situation.

  7. says

    The video barely mentions the problems in Uganda. The only “issue” they discuss is Joseph Kony, and about how people need to organize to ‘raise awareness’ of him. Joseph Kony is, in no way, “the situation in Uganda and the Congo”, and the fact that people think it is is a reflection of both how woefully ignorant we all are about that region, and of how bad a job the video did of raising useful awareness.

    It is the critics that have done a better job of raising awareness, not IC. If one wishes to give retroactive credit to IC for forcing people to correct them, then I suppose we have al Qaeda to thank for ‘raising awareness’ about the Middle East.

  8. says

    Here’s what she (and you) are saying: “I don’t understand what’s going on, but I’m very emotional so I’m going to go do something”. Your intentions are good, and your actions are going to make the situation worse. This has nothing to do with “vitriol” – it’s about bothering to understand what the hell you’re talking about before running half-cocked into the fray. It’s like someone who doesn’t know how to swim jumping into the water to “rescue” a drowning person. Your “help” is likely going to make things far worse, and it would be better if you left it up to people who understand what they’re talking about.

  9. says

    Hey, nice job of telling me what I am saying. (“I don’t understand what’s going on, but I’m very emotional so I’m going to go do something”.) I don’t exactly remember saying that but, okay, It’s your blog. I’m a guest here.

    Funny though, I don’t feel very emotional, and I haven’t got a clue what I can do. All I do know is that people are talking about the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and that wasn’t happening a couple weeks back. So… I guess everybody is just emotional and we should flame whoever it was who got them talking and researching and thinking about something that was being pretty much ignored before they came along and spent eight or so years trying to shine a light on the area.

    Sounds constructive to me. Good one.

  10. nms says

    The Kony2012 people aren’t talking about the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, though, that’s the point.

  11. says

    “The Kony2012 people aren’t talking about the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, though, that’s the point.”
    True. But you are talking about it, and so are a whole bunch of other people who couldn’t find a reason to talk about it two weeks ago. And whether you like them or not, it’s happening now because of the work of Invisible Children. And that was my point. My only point.

  12. says

    We should thank Chris Brown then, for bringing the world’s attention to the realities of domestic abuse. And we should thank Charlie Sheen for his tireless work raising awareness about the danger of drug addiction. Never mind the fact that they’re sending the completely wrong message and will probably end up doing more harm than good – they’ve got people talking (about the wrong issues, but that’s not important either, right?) and that’s what really counts in the end.

    Your argument is bad and you should feel bad.

  13. says

    You need to learn to appreciate the difference between substantive criticism and flaming. I’m not simply insulting IC because it’s fun – their approach is harmful, they are associated with some shady groups, and the focus of their campaign is completely misguided. “Well at least they’re doing something” is not a counterargument to that.

  14. josh says

    Crommunist, that’s a BS line. IC, whatever dubious connections they may have, are not themselves kidnapping children or conducting a campaign of brutality. They aren’t Al Qaeda either. It’s fine to criticize them for taking the wrong approach in your opinion, but keep some perspective here.

  15. josh says

    Right, so when you think you’ve got a noble message, like “IC should be regarded skeptically and it’s possible that their methods will actually exacerbate problems”, don’t let your righteousness lead you into sloppy thinking. Be capable of feeling bad about your own argument. 🙂

  16. josh says

    Damn, that smiley comes out looking really obnoxious. I’m just trying to say, let’s have a little nuance in our discussion of others alleged lack of nuance.

  17. says

    I reserve the right to throw out nuance when responding to stupid comments made by other people about how “at least (soandso) is trying”, when the entire post (and one it links to) explicitly details why what they’re trying is nonsense. Sometimes you need to use a cudgel to get through a particularly thick skull. If you focus on the post proper, you’ll find that it’s pitched toward people who are capable of understanding the issue to a much greater degree than Mr. Scott seems to be willing. Maybe that’s my fault.

    In short: yes, I realize that IC is not al Qaeda; however, the point that he’s attempting to make could be applied in equal measure to any group that raises ‘awareness’ by making a problem worse, which IC arguably does.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Invisible Children, Inc. received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the biggest financial backers of California’s anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8…

    FTR: the same fat cats also throw some serious money at the Institute for Creation Research and the Discovery ‘Tute.

    Their propaganda mostly makes me want to have my awareness raised about why the hyperchristians (& B. Obama) want US military involvement in the wars of Central Africa at this time. If it succeeds, the IC video will deserve a place alongside the raped Belgian nuns of 1914 and the Kuwaiti babies thrown from their incubators in the lies-for-wars hall of f/sh-ame.

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