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The Kony 2012 Vanity Project


 

Watching the first four minutes of Kony 2012, the viral online video by Jason Russell, co-founder of the NGO Invisible Children, I thought I had clicked on a faulty link and was seeing a film-maker’s vanity project about himself, or his young son, or Facebook, or something other than Joseph Kony, the gargoyle who has run the Lord’s Resistance Army of child soldiers for the past three decades.

It turns out my initial impression was more or less correct, though I was in fact watching the right video, which has recently drawn support from U.S. President Barack Obama and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, among others.

After an opening sequence that includes statistics about Facebook, footage of the Arab Spring, and the birth of Russell’s son, the film shows Russell meeting a young Ugandan boy, Jacob, about a decade ago. Jacob was then on the run from the LRA and Russell, after hearing Jacob’s heartbreaking story, promises him: “We’re going to stop them.” At this moment, the screen fades to black, and Russell’s vow is re-played with a slight echo audio effect, lest its dramatic significance be lost on particularly thick viewers.

I don’t doubt the sincerity or the severity of the emotions Russell felt at that moment. I’ve felt the same, in war zone refugee camps and poverty-stricken orphanages. You desperately want to do something: adopt a child there and then, bring him home and introduce him to your wife and the children you already have; or, darker, but no less keenly felt, you want to kill whoever it is that has hurt such a small and innocent person. Most of us don’t do a thing. Aside from opening my wallet now and again, neither have I.

Russell decided to act. He launched a charity called Invisible Children. “We started something, a community,” he intones in the film’s narration. This is followed by a montage of young people unfurling banners, clenching fists, running across fields wearing matching t-shirts, shouting slogans, and the like. There’s also quite a bit of footage of Russell and his partners. Exactly how any of this helps a nine-year-old sex slave in Central Africa is unclear, but no doubt it makes those marching and chanting in places like New York and Toronto feel better about themselves.

Russell says Invisible Children also builds schools and creates jobs. But this sort of direct action only accounts for less than one third of the money the charity spent last year. The rest went to things like film production, travel costs, and staff salaries.

“We’re not an organization that does amazing things on the ground,” Russell told CNN. “We work outside the traditional box of what you think about charity.”

The point of the film Kony 2012, and the eponymous campaign, is to make Joseph Kony famous, to create a movement of people who will push for his arrest. A good rule of thumb when it comes to international NGOs and other charities is this: Anytime someone says their organization aims to “raise awareness” or something similar, don’t give them your money. Suffering people need help, not sympathy. Russell nevertheless says his campaign can “change the course of human history.”

His logic, such that it is, is this: Last year President Obama announced he was sending 100 American military advisors to Central Africa to help local forces track down Joseph Kony. Russell tells us who deserves the credit: “After eight years of work, the government finally heard us.” He presents no evidence that Invisible Children’s campaigning is what convinced Obama to make his decision.

Instead, Russell warns us that the troop deployment could be reversed any moment. “If the government doesn’t believe that people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be canceled.”

There is absolutely no evidence Washington is preparing to cancel this mission, certainly not by the end of 2012, when Russell tells us his film “expires” — which must be a source of great concern for LRA-disfigured orphans everywhere. But without a looming threat, there isn’t much point to a mass publicity campaign, which is what this film is all about. “In order for the people to care, they have to know,” Russell says. So we’re supposed to put up posters, wear bracelets, and write to Ellen Degeneres and Stephen Harper.

None of this will make a scrap of difference in Central Africa. Joseph Kony needs a drone missile dropped on his perverted, evil ass. His child recruits need to be freed, protected, fed, and schooled. Donors who want to help need to give money to charities that specialize in that sort of work. No one needs Jason Russell’s novelty bracelets.


 

The Kony 2012 Vanity Project

  1. I think your assessment of the Kony campaign is pretty weak.  Kony seems to be number one on the IntJustice hit parade, and has been for a number of years.  Somehow, perhaps with some help from our intrepid film maker, the US govt has invested the lives of 100 soldiers to try and deal with this issue…this will create change, provided the mandate holds, and it will hold if the US govt feels the people are behind it.  A fine example of international compassion…no talks about oil, diamonds, nuclear…just a lot of people who believe in international justice…let the banksters weep, the journalists cynicize, and the people rejoice at an initiative that is more about people actually mobilizing to help people…too bad cynical journalists can’t quite get their heads into this…

  2. The world needs more Jason Russells’ with passion and drive to make a difference. Look at the overwhelming international awareness he has caused.Obviously Kony is just one of many who need to be stopped for the discusting things he is doing, and because society can be so ignorant in ignoring what goes on in the outside world…. thumbs up for the facebook videos, posters and braclets to create the awareness it has. Because of these things, this is just one case that now surely won’t be forgotten and ignored until it’s taken care of. Now the world is watching and waiting. Great job Jason. His video is delivered in a personal manner as it was made to touch us all on a deep personal level. It worked. Not even half the numbers would have continued to watch the entire half hour if it wasn’t. 

  3. So I guess the rehabilitation centers that ic is creating for victims of the LRA and the radio towers that they built to warn villages of attacks is just a waste of time…your article is no different from everyone else criticizing invisible children, you all have the same weak arguments. They are not only spending money on education in Africa but also on educating the western world about what is happening, and that is very important in order to create change.
    Invisible Children never hid how they spend donations they receive. That is information which can easily be found, its just that most people do not bother to ask questions. IC has been around for 10 years!!! So to everyone who is acting all shocked to find out how their money is being spent, its your own damn fault. It’s so typical for Americans to take the focus off of a great cause and turn it into something negative so we don’t have to deal with reality and feel bad for someone else.

    Always ask questions, always do research. So you can support / oppose something based off of facts and for the right reason.

  4. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t but it is better than doing nothing. Nothing in this world is perfect, so if you can agree with most of what they are trying to do then it’s worth supporting. All charities have expenses and I thought this one seemed better than lots. I liked the video, you can choose to support this or not, but stop the judging, let people decide what they like. 

  5. Sounds to me like you have an inferiority complex. It’s people like you that cause me to lose hope.

  6. Must we launch a movement to get our government to intervene to get this bad actor, who no one has seen since 2006, and in addition may actually already be dead? http://exm.nr/zjO2zd

  7. Michael, you are absolutely right saying what you say but Russells actions are what really matters. He is doing something you nor I have ever done. It’s the spirt of his cause, that is why it has become so main stream. I am happy that his project does have a beginning and an end. It will be interesting to see what happens April 20th!!

  8. STOP KONY! I AM POSTING A BUNCH OF POSTERS UP IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD TO HELP GET HIM FAMOUS.

  9. I’m amazed by the amount of criticism from pundits, people with some connection to Africa, and other NGOs about Invisible Children and Jason Russell. Russell is intense, strident, perhaps naive and frankly, a bit annoying. People take exception to the way he presented the horrific facts about Kony and child soldiers as a simple right vs wrong, bad man vs good people, issue to his young son. Much of the complaints about IC is that they purposely spend about a third of their budget on “awareness” as if that mission goal somehow insinuates that the charity is corrupted. People are saying that central Africa has other problems and that Kony isn’t killing and abducting nearly as many innocent people as he once did, so move along, there’s nothing to see here. Clearly, the founders of IC were not thinking when they mugged for a photo holding the guns of the Sudanese army which was protecting them. Yes, IC currently exhibits a few of the typical governance and administration issues that most established charities experience as they transition from their grass roots, volunteer led beginnings. Naysayers complain that the 30 minute video has only garnered so much attention because of White Man’s Guilt and that the teenagers and youth that are made it a viral sensation will soon move onto 23 second drunk frat boy videos again.

    Most of the criticisms are complete nonsense, the remainder are either minor or irrelevant. Invisible Children has educated millions and millions of people around the world about a truly evil man who has committed the most horrific crimes against the most innocent of humanity, yet has somehow eluded capture and punishment for decades. Traditional journalists, media organizations and the other NGOs operating in Africa (and suddenly concerned about competing for donations) have repeatedly failed over many years to accomplish anything approaching what this video achieved in a few days. Yes, there are some complex reasons why Kony has not been brought to justice. But as Russell’s son Gavin, and the millions of kids who have watched and promoted the video instinctively know to be true, those reasons are just excuses. It is simply right vs. absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

    The world has not protected those children from one of history’s most evil and sadistic men. Millions of people now know that and are watching. Children and teenagers are expecting that their parents and governments will do the right thing. Each of them is wondering: What if it was me? Would you protect me? Would you rescue me? By any standard, Invisible Children has been awe inspiring successful.

  10. Michael, the editor,  all I can say is that you are the scum of the world. Discrediting a guy who makes something happen just because you don’t believe in it. Because you think dropping a bomb on something or somebody is a solution. YOU are outdated, you have played TOO MUCH “WOW”. You are the energy who directly feeds into Kony’s arms. The countless young people who have made KONY visible are MY heros. Go get a job at the mill, or in the oil sands, you are poison as a journalist.

    Kudos to the Kony 2012 movement, ever single supporter, SHAME on the editor of this article who missed the opportunity to support ratting out a war criminal with the simple too l of awareness. But the editor may bot be aware of such powers in the first place, yet ;-)

    cheerio …   
     

  11. I wish I could be a hero, apparently all it requires is a bracelet, placing a poster on a wall, and joining a facebook group. I’ve heard that if you go to a rock concert to promote “awareness” then you could possibly be awared the Victoria Cross.

    //Most of the criticisms are complete nonsense, the remainder are either minor or irrelevant. Invisible Children has educated millions and millions of people around the world about a truly evil man who has committed the most horrific crimes against the most innocent of humanity, yet has somehow eluded capture and punishment for decades.//

    Most evil men manage to elude capture and punishment from the authorities, including some in the western world. I don’t see why we should spent a large amount of resources on finding African warlord #127 when we can barely keep organized crime at bay here in Canada.

    //Traditional journalists, media organizations and the other NGOs operating in Africa (and suddenly concerned about competing for donations) have repeatedly failed over many years to accomplish anything approaching what this video achieved in a few days.//

    Most of those journalists, media organizations, and NGO’s also have a much better understanding of the issues there and have questioned whether the good intentions of some naive youth will actually be beneficial for the people of Uganda.

    //Yes, there are some complex reasons why Kony has not been brought to justice. But as Russell’s son Gavin, and the millions of kids who have watched and promoted the video instinctively know to be true, those reasons are just excuses. It is simply right vs. absolutely, unequivocally wrong.//

    Those kids will learn a valuable lesson, evil prevails.

    //The world has not protected those children from one of history’s most evil and sadistic men.//

    It’s not the responsibility of “the world” to do so. Do you really think we can just go into any country snap our fingers and re-start it from scratch. If Uganda wants change it’ll have to come from within.

    //Children and teenagers are expecting that their parents and governments will do the right thing. Each of them is wondering: What if it was me? Would you protect me? Would you rescue me? By any standard, Invisible Children has been awe inspiring successful.//

    The problem is that those children and teenages will not be the ones to deal with the outcome of this. Contrary to what the video indicated, the United States had sent the military to deal with a humanitarian crisis in Africa which had left hundreds of thousands dead. Originally it was only meant as a mission to feed a people but then escalated to a combat mission with the most liberal of aims.

    If you want, you can even watch a movie about it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnV6wM-vd9s

  12. “Joseph Kony needs a drone missile dropped on his perverted, evil ass.”

    My, aren’t we tough?

    You need to watch it again, until people are aware he’ll just keep on killing and raping.

  13. So you’ve gone into war zones, seen kids suffer, and haven’t done a thing.  And you think what?  That you can claim some sort of moral high ground from which to criticize a guy that’s informed millions about the Kony issue in less than a week?

    If the criticisms of Invisible Children were halfway serious, I might understand the cynicism.  But there’s no accusation of fraud, no charges of embezzlement, no allegations of inappropriate conduct in the field.  No, the major criticism is… “the movie is really lame.”

    Sounds like you’re just angry that Russell is a better person than you are. 

  14. //So you’ve gone into war zones, seen kids suffer, and haven’t done a thing. And you think what? That you can claim some sort of moral high ground from which to criticize a guy that’s informed millions about the Kony issue in less than a week?//

    Misinformed the world on the Kony issue. Most people know that child soldiers are used in Africa and they were used by the present government in Uganda to get into power.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/invisible-children-founders-posing-with-guns-an-interview-with-the-photographer/2012/03/08/gIQASX68yR_blog.html

    “I can’t bring myself to watch the video. I found all of their previous efforts to be emotionally manipulative, and all the things I try as a journalist not to be. After the peace talks in 2008, they put out another video, and I saw the footage used in these videos blending archival footage with LRA and SPLA and videos of them goofing off. It was the most irresponsible act of image-making that I’d seen in a long time. They conflated the SPLA with the LRA. The SPLA is a government army, holding weapons given by the government, and yet they did not create any division between them and LRA. That’s terrible.”

    //Sounds like you’re just angry that Russell is a better person than you are.//

    Maybe some people are just charitable and compassionate in their private life and don’t require constant public praise and attention to do it.

  15. not a very compelling article, seems like  Michael Petrou just wanted to get on the Kony bandwagon so had to come up with some opinion, even if weak! 

  16. Harper 2012

  17. It is a so horrible thing that I can never image without the video. I believe that Kony’s crime cannot be forgiven; moreover, it is also unbelievable that the government did nothing effective to stop him. The reason why Kony dare to do everything he wants is that only few officials work for their justice. The children victims are innocent, helpless, and hopeless; in their memory, the concept of colorful lives may be never exist. Indeed, the movie has a strong influence, not only it makes Kony gain the fame but force both Kony and the government to face the grand pressure and high degree of public attention. Personally, I am eager to see that Kony get the punishments that he deserves, and the officials who protect and connive at him get arrested. Though this movie, people including the creator and audiences show their justice by making Kony famous. Fortunately, this creative action did work. In fact, there are a few things we can do to assistant the poor children: propagandizing the meaningful movies; donating money and daily necessities, and so on. Showing our love is not difficult but it depends on our determination to do it.

  18. I do not agree with that no one needs Jason
    Russell’s novelty bracelets. Russell presents many things without evidences,
    which is true. However, Russell’s video positively affects arresting Kony.

    Kony has done a variety of evil things for
    more than ten years and no one stop him. Ten years is not a short time. The
    reason why no one stop him is that the countries which have ability to stop him
    do not think that it is necessary to stop him. The objective of Russell is to
    let countries’ governments can emphasize this problem. In addition, the only
    way let governments emphasize the problem which do not relate to the resource
    and money is that people think it is important. Therefore, Russell made a video
    and let more people know and emphasize this problem. I believe that it will
    work in the end. Also, we should support Russell’s action because his idea is totally
    right.

  19. One of the comments said, Kony, a truly evil man who has committed the most horrific crimes against the most innocent of humanity. I can’t agree more. The cruelest thing in the world is crime to kids. I suppose that everyone want to do something for the children when they saw the refugee camps and poverty-stricken orphanages. Therefore, I can not agree the opinion that no one needs novelty bracelets which is at the end of articles. Actually, people need these bracelets and “The Kony 2012 Vanity Project”, it will make them feel better after watching the cruel video. Also, the project which Jason Russell makes is providing a good way to express people’s sympathy and help Uganda’s kids. Although, it is said that less than one third of the money the charity spent on Uganda’s kids, the project is doing something for the kids, and everyone knows Kony now which is the main goal of the project.

  20. I completely agree with comments before mine. Novelty bracelets are necessary I completely agree with comments before mine. Novelty bracelets are necessary properties for Russell to sent the massages and the information which makes people notice kony.Although Uganda need money to rebuild their villages and rescue the children, the most important thing we should do firstly is to arrest kony. He is the mastermind of the children army, and own the private armed forces to control the residents of Uganda. That is the reason why Russell insists on adverting people to know and catch him. Mass media merely influences the developed and advanced countries. However, novelty bracelets can be used and sent to anywhere. According to bracelets, people possibly can gain kony’s exact position from local people, and it will may be helpful for United State to judge him. Personally, I think no matter which crime he commit, training children to be murder machines is unforgivable.I completely agree with comments before mine. Novelty bracelets are necessary properties for Russell to sent the massages and the information which makes people notice kony.Although Uganda need money to rebuild their villages and rescue the children, the most important thing we should do firstly is to arrest kony. He is the mastermind of the children army, and own the private armed forces to control the residents of Uganda. That is the reason why Russell insists on adverting people to know and catch him. Mass media merely influences the developed and advanced countries. However, novelty bracelets can be used and sent to anywhere. According to bracelets, people possibly can gain kony’s exact position from local people, and it will may be helpful for United State to judge him. Personally, I think no matter which crime he commit, training children to be murder machines is unforgivable.

  21. I think the campaign to “make Kony famous” is quite useful. We share the video online, in facebook or weibo to make more probability. The time we click the button to share, the more likely to make the government pay more attention to the arrestment. In Uganda, the government doesn’t know how to capture the bad guy, because the country is not well-developed. Kony has been disappeared for several years, but the disaster he brought to the small country will never disappear. The seemingly peaceful country would be trapped in the big disaster again if Kony comes back someday. His evil behaviors make people all over the world want to kill him. However, we have no way to help them to capture Kony more quickly, but to use the Internet to make more people know the horrible news.
    And also, if more people pay attention to this matter, the government would face up the matter more seriously. Even though it makes no use at the end,  one thing we should never deny is that  justice is always strong in the defense of evil. So just keep on and make the bad guy famous.

  22. I spent about number of years working in southern Africa as part of the “development community” and completed a couple degrees in the field (economics). Then, in the mid-199s, our CDN government cut CIDA funding in a huge way, steering a lot of people like me out of the sector because of bleak job prospects. When I saw the Kony video, I honestly thought to myself–now someone has finally figured out how to amass opinion and get something done. Rather than critique the lack of understanding or naivety or whatever, I thought to myself, “right on…imagine if someone used this approach to keep overseas development and peace a Canadian priority (beyond the political rhetoric). You can never fully communicate the issues of any of this stuff to someone who has less than 2 months to sit down with you (obviously I’m not a savvy marketer)…but apparently you can cultivate emotions that lead (fine, okay, maybe in a messy way) to a positive outcome. I’m somewhat dismayed by Stephen Lewis (interviewed on CBC about this) and others like Petrou who talk about this as if we have to attend to a standard of academic honesty to make gains in world peace. Or that financial allocations should be more focused on “charities that specialize in that sort of work.” Sorry, but that really hasn’t worked overly well for the past….errr, ever. I know that many charities ease the pain, but little happens without political will on the part of powerful countries like the US. It appears that some people might be disturbed at what actually works in our new wired world. I’ve been impressed with Lewis in the past, but this time I think he has to think outcome, not process, and step to the side of the debate.

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