Joseph Kony: What You Should Know
The story behind the man behind the viral video.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: March 10th, 2012
his week, an internet sensation was created. That sensation is Joseph Kony. Before Monday, none of your friends had heard of him, but now, he's their public enemy number one, their white whale, a cause to be championed (or dismissed, depending on how you think of this). Kony has been accused of brainwashing children across northern Uganda, turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into underaged killers. Sounds like something easy to latch onto, right? Nothing's good about a child rapist and a man who sets up kids to start murdering. But the creators of the video, along with much praise, have fielded plenty of criticism over the video. Why?
Kony rarely appears in public and until this week, was more or less unknown to the general public. His so-called Christian movement, the Lord's Resistance Army, has terrorized villages for nearly 20 years, killing tens of thousands of people. Because of his elusiveness, Kony hasn't been brought to justice over the crimes he's committed.
This week, however, in a video posted by the group Invisible Children, Kony's actions were unveiled to the masses, and thanks to the slactivism that Facebook promotes, suddenly everyone was against him. The man behind the video, Jason Russell, is at a loss to explain the video's popularity—it attracted over 50 million views on YouTube and Vimeo on its first day alone, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. But criticism comes to Russell, a co-founder of Invisible Children, because he's calling attention to "the war" in Uganda—a war that hasn't been going on for some years; The Lord's Resistance Army left the country years ago. The video also fails to mention the human rights abuses by the Ugandan military, and implies that there are as many as 30,000 child soldiers in Kony's army—more realistic estimates indicate the army is down to mere hundreds of fighters (not that it makes it much better, but leaving out key facts like that can cause more outrage than would otherwise be caused).
This [organization] essentially compresses a 26-year-old war into something that mass media can consume and understand.
Furthermore, Invisible Children is being slammed for its use of donation money. The non-profit organization brings in (and spends) millions of dollars a year—after all, that shiny documentary certainly wasn't free. Russell defends the spending, though, saying, "No one wants a boring documentary on Africa. Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool."
Cool: Not usually the word we'd pick when talking about murdering and raping, or the coverage of it. Add that to the fact that the charity's top guys are paid salaries upwards of $100,000 a year, and it's understandable why some donors suddenly wanted their money back.
It's the main problem with knee-jerk reactions to videos like this. While "it's ultimately a good thing" to spread awareness, as Pernille Ironside, a senior adviser for child protection at Unicef said, people sometimes don't get all of the information necessary before donating their time or money, and when unsavory details are presented, they become resentful.
Ironside says, "It's not just one organization in the United States who has discovered this issue," but that this one essentially compresses a 26-year-old war into something "consumable and understandable by mass media."
But we still wonder about Russell's ultimate motivation.
"We are ready to make this bigger. We are waiting for Jay-Z [to trumpet the cause]," he says.
And if a celebrity backing the cause doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, this next tidbit might. As a filmmaker, Russell says he has received praise from producers in Hollywood.
"They are getting in touch with the Academy Awards. They want this to be up for an Oscar," Russell says.
While it's usually not a bad idea to rally behind a cause like this one, it's important for people to get all the facts before throwing their hat into the ring. Russell's motivations may be a bit cloudy, and other critics say we should be helping people in our own country first and foremost. While there are problems in our homeland, there's almost never anything wrong with exposing injustices and pleading for peace in other nations. The problem is whether people are actually doing anything about it. Is donating money going to bring Kony to justice? Likely not. It's spreading awareness, sure, but especially considering the money paid to Invisible Children's staff, we have to wonder how much of those donations will actually go to helping the cause, and how much will be used to buy fancy camera equipment.
If you're going to donate to a cause, make sure it's one you fully support, not just the one who presents the most Oscar-worthy documentary.