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Kony Island

March 9, 2012
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Our inboxes have been inundated with calls to action to Stop Kony. Yes, we know. Ugandan geurrilla leader Joseph Kony is an evil fuck, and he should be stopped. Anyone who read this memoir a few years ago is probably still haunted by the images of brutality and unspeakable violence perpetrated against innocent civilians who were victims of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which he cobbled together by kidnapping children and training them to be violent and sadistic through brainwashing, drugs and forcing them to kill their own families.

Yes, Kony should be stopped. Though the viral video released by controversial nonprofit organization Invisible Children may be the first many Americans have heard of Joseph Kony, established charities have been going into Uganda to help the nation’s people and rescue and rehabilitate child soldiers traumatized by years of abuse under the LRA. Child Soldiers International, for instance, and the International Rescue Committee, which protects women and children in Uganda from violence.

So then there’s this Kony 2012 video. On the upside, it’s got people talking about Joseph Kony and Uganda and atrocities that befall child soldiers in a way that not even the most well-written books have been able to. It’s captured people’s attention and it’s gone viral.

On the downside, it’s intentionally misleading, and the charity that produced it seems to exist more to further its own cause – marketing itself, its efforts and its really well-made movie – than it does to actually get on the ground in Uganda, helping people who really need it. Which would be OK, except for the fact that there are some other questionable things going on with this organization that make it hard to entirely trust them.

In its effort to spread the word about the Stop Kony 2012 campaign, Invisible Children (which, by the way, is possibly secretly evangelical and not the secular organization it appears to be on the surface), fails to mention that Kony is pretty much a has-been warlord who’s been hiding like a rat in a hole for the past few years. He was indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court, and he’s been on the run ever since. Some claim he still wields power from a hiding spot deep in the jungle, but by most accounts, the Lords Resistance Army, Kony’s former band of thugs (many of whom were Kony’s victims as well, kidnapped and drafted as child soldiers), has been reduced to just a few hundred desperate rebels who steal food to survive. They say the LRA is finally just about stamped out, and in some regards, this new focus on the organization could end up making things worse for people in Uganda by helping to strengthen Western support for the current president, Yoweri Museveni, who has also been accused of crimes against humanity and using child soldiers in his own armies.

But by many accounts, the Ugandan military and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, with whom Stop Kony 2012/Invisible Children filmmakers are seen posing in this photo making its rounds on the internet today, are no better than the LRA. Those organizations have also been accused of killing, raping and torturing civilians in South Sudan and Uganda.

The photo was taken by photographer Glenda Gordon in 2008, and she was interviewed by the Washington Post today. She called Invisible Children’s efforts “emotionally manipulative” and said that when she was in Uganda, most people she encountered thought the organization was “ridiculous.”

For more responses to Invisible Children and its Stop Kony 2012 campaign, check out this post on BoingBoing, which rounds up responses by African writers, researchers and activists to the Stop Kony meme.

Want more background on Uganda, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army? The New York Times has been reporting on the crisis in Uganda since at least the 1990s, and it has created a page that compiles its reporting on the topic, beginning with stories run in 1995.

Want to do something meaningful that might actually help people in Uganda? The Washington Post has put together a helpful list of organizations that are working in that country. They may not have slick movies or viral videos, but they’re getting things done.

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