What We Talk About When We Talk About Kony




If you've spent more than five minutes on the Internet in the past week, the chances are good you've at least seen the word "Kony" pop up here, there and, virtually, everywhere.

For the uninitiated, that word is actually the name of Ugandan warmonger Joseph Kony, leader of the nefarious Lord's Resistance Army, practitioner of cannibalism and conscriptor of child soldiers, who is the subject of an inescapable, Oprah-approved viral video that implores the Western world to arrest him for his crimes against humanity (particularly children).

Now that the Belcourt is screening the 30-minute viral film this Wednesday, we at Pith thought it would be prudent to at least offer a smattering of the criticism and support of 2012's most talked about media artifact.

The video is produced by a nonprofit, Invisible Children, which the Charleston City Paper's blog found to give large ratios of its income to its administrators, showing that other than making emotionally provocative films, they really know how to pay themselves:

While I have no doubt that Kony is a dangerous madman, I'm not sure I trust Invisible Children to stop him. My first reason is the way the group spends people's donations: If you look at IC's financials from last year, they spent nearly $9 million, but only about $2.8 million of that went to "direct services." That's a pretty dismal ratio, with most of the money going to — basically — keeping Invisible Children up and running. The CEO and two of the filmmakers are each pulling a salary of almost $90,000 a year.

Further, Foreign Policy dug into the phenomena surrounding the video and fact-checked its claims.

It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is 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.

First, the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (and several big screw-ups). In October last year, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army advisors to help the Ugandan military track down Kony, with no results disclosed to date.

Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.

In response to the bevy of criticism, Invisible Children has attempted to answer its detractors on its website, but it hasn't stopped people from speculating that the entire affair is motivated by exploiting the White Man's Burden with 21st Century technology (or, worse, that the film is paving the way for increased military action in Uganda so that United States corporations can claim its recently discovered oil fields).

In the age of the Internet, it's safe to assume people will draw their own conclusions over the controversial video based on whatever sources they feel comfortable utilizing. But whenever a film so stirs a peoples' passion as to invoke Godwin's Law in less than 60 seconds, our spider senses tingle.

The Belcourt screening is sponsored by Her Passion Ministries, which apparently gives money for economic development purposes to villages throughout Kenya and Uganda.

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