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By Wednesday morning, Invisible Children’s hash-tag-powered web documentary, Kony 2012, had swept the Internet. By Wednesday afternoon, it was battling harsh accusations of misleading a captivated audience.
Filmmaker Jason Russell‘s 30-minute film made ruthless Ugandan LRA Joseph Kony a household name by employing the juxtaposition of the director’s young, impossibly cute son Jacob and the devastated child soldiers forced to fight in the African country’s long-running civil war. Buoyed by excited youths and celebrity support from the likes of Zooey Deschanel, Busy Phillips, Simon Pegg, Chloe Moretz, Taylor Swift and Olivia Wilde, among others, the film took in millions of views on Vimeo and YouTube, which caused some great consternation within the African advocacy community.
Russell and his organization misdiagnose the problem in the country and promote a vastly flawed solution, critics allege. Kony has been out of Uganda since 2006, and the government that Invisible Children promotes is rampantly corrupt and uses a vast number of child soldiers of its own; they are not promoting freedom, but another evil.
The group’s finances have also been called into question, with charges that it only uses 31 percent of its budget to actively help children in Uganda. As people work to fund-raise for Invisible Children, critics want to know where that money will go. Others accuse the group of promoting a sort of white man’s guilt, a “neo-colonialism” that takes Africa’s fate out of African hands.
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Invisible Children addressed many of these accusations in a post to its website late Wednesday. To those decrying their connection with the current Ugandan government, they say, “We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.”
As for Kony himself, they acknowledge he is no longer in Uganda, but say that his efforts have been redirected to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, and that his path of destruction must be halted in those places, too.
In regard to their finances, IC states that “the organization spent 80.46 percent on our programs that further our threefold mission, 16.24 percent on administration and management costs and 3.22 percent on direct fund-raising in FY2011.”
An examination of a breakdown they provided shows that 37 percent of their spending went to “Central African Programs,” while 26 percent went to “Awareness Programs” and another 9.6 percent to “Awareness Products.”
While many in Hollywood continued to tweet out the link to the video alongside messages urging their followers to watch and take action, a number of stars considered the criticisms in their posts. Don Cheadle, who has been actively involved in the refugee crisis left in Kony’s wake, aired his thoughts in a late night Twitter session.
“Still cycling through the info. Firsthand: I have been to the night commuters camps, world vision and the like. No Q Kony is a bad guy,” he wrote. “But divergent perspectives I find informative and the truth often lies somewhere betwixt and between what’s proffered. You must use your.. critical minds and innate instincts to decide for yourselves while leaving open the possibility to understand more as more is understood.
“I never swallow the whole hook of the stated goals of ANY government, ours included, but their possible ‘hidden agenda’ notwithstanding,” he continued. “Kony is on the ICC’s list for a reason and his deeds are well documented. I believe in Ugandans solving Ugandan’s problems. Tricky situ. Assisting the Ugandan government and letting them ultimately resolve and solve their internal issues are not mutually exclusive acts. we need to be wary of traditionally paternalistic attitudes toward other nations and make sure we are acting as ‘helpers’ not encroachers.”
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