Some of you may have noticed that James put up a short piece on ‘Kony 2012’ this week. He was particularly drawing attention to Charlie Brooker’s explanation of the 'phenomenon' of Invisible Children video on 10 O’clock Live on 14 March. What is it all about?
Early in 2003, filmmakers Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole went to Africa to make a documentary on the situation in the Darfur region. Whilst there, they changed their focal point to the conflict in northern Uganda. It is Africa's second longest conflict after the Eritrean Revolutionary War. The documentary film they made describes abductions of children who are forced to become child soldiers by Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The film looked at one group of Ugandan children who walk miles each night seeking refuge in order to avoid being kidnapped by the LRA. The film was used as the basis for a grassroots movement to mobilise thousands of American teenagers to raise money to rebuild schools in northern Uganda and provide scholarships for African youth.
‘Kony 2012’ is a version created by Invisible Children Incorporated to promote their 'Stop Kony' movement in order to make Joseph Kony’s name internationally known in order to lead to his arrest in 2012. The film spread virally. Until now the film currently has had over 74 million views on YouTube and over 16.6 million on Vimeo. There is also a ‘Kony2012’ website operated by Invisible Children. Celebrities such as Bill Gates and Rihanna have been asked to endorse and support the campaign. Invisible Children have also created action kits that include campaign badges, posters, wrist bands and stickers to help spread awareness.
Charlie Brooker’s presentation drew attention to the fact that Invisible Children has another main agenda as an evangelical Christian organisation, which is the evangelisation of young people. His approach somewhat trivialised, even banalised, what they are doing, however does draw attention to some very serious issues. Invisible Children are running a slick, publicity heavy campaign which looks more like profits for their board than any real benefits at grassroots. The YouTube video is too obviously propagandist to matter whether it is precise or not, it also excludes any counter arguments through its approach. LRA are undoubtedly a brutal and indefensible body who need to be called to account, but this is not the way to do it, especially if it is enriching people as well.
Invisible Children is an establishment funded ‘anti-establishment’ charity, who it has been revealed have been working with USAID, the US government agency that uses development aid as a means of extending US influence into new client nations. It has also been shown that Invisible Children attended the 2010 US State Department sponsored Alliance for Youth Movements (AYM) summit in London. AYM are alleged to have played a central role in preparing armies of US State Department funded, trained and equipped activists to bring about the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. That alone is food for thought.
Of course, this may appear to be an attack on a Christian charity because of its evangelical approach and clear fundraising strategy. That is not something I ever do. On my Facebook page people will find Glenn and Judith, two very committed Christians I am very close to. Indeed, the former is director of a Christian charity working in Kampuchea. I have worked with large NGOs like World Vision and several smaller ones who exist on a Christian basis over the years. I have also worked with Islamic, Hindu and secular organisations in the same way. I neither practice nor preach any religion but I respect those who do and do not attack their faith. However, since the early 1980s children’s rights have become focal in all people like myself do. Indeed, in 1989 I co-authored what was the first children’s rights book not written by lawyers and my reputation still rests largely on that part of my professional history today. In 1989 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted and very rapidly signed and ratified by nearly all nations in the world. That is to say, all except two, Somalia which is not entirely surprising given their political situation, and the USA. The State Department, headed by one time advocate for children’s rights Hillary Rodham Clinton, is very supportive of charities such as Invisible Children who are distinctly not children’s rights organisations but are still delaying ratification for no precisely articulated reason. Those of us who work in children’s rights are not convinced things are as they should be and in the equation we see children as all too often ‘puppets’ being manoeuvred into political positions. The truth must out, those who have committed crimes against humanity must be called to account and put in front of objective, neutral courts who will surely find them guilty. Kony appears not to have been in Uganda for around the last six years, so whilst he should unquestionably be tried, so should others including President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who has been the brutal dictator of that country since 1986 and equally responsible for the deaths and mistreatment of countless children and adults.
What we do not, please, please not need, is a piece of film that is in part for the reputations of those who made it and the enrichment of the executive of that charity. What has any of this to do with SFN? The video went viral, therefore by one means or another it is likely that a goodly number of us have seen it. Some might be tempted to donate, support the campaign in other ways. In fact, this film is reporting events some years in the past, the LRA is still abducting children but is now a ragtag small force that is losing support and gradually dwindling. Across the world there are numerous more serious and urgent children’s rights issues needing immediate attention without entirely forgetting the plight of Ugandan children. What Invisible Children has done is divert attention to one of the many, thus away from the others, which for those of us who work in that world takes us several steps back rather than forward. Charlie Brooker tried to make the story somehow funny, in truth it is not, but at least he exposed the story before it became an unstoppable ‘cause celebre’ in the UK. Now for the rest of the world, a mighty big challenge.