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Questions to Ask Before Jumping on the #StopKony Bandwagon

07 Mar

The Stop Kony campaign has gone viral in a matter of days, showing quite well the power of social media and the ability to jump on board with a cause. My twitter feed is full of posts about it so I’m assuming I don’t need to explain. But I do think there are some significant problems with the campaign and the bandwagon mentality.

Here’s my issue. I absolutely agree  that people like Kony and other war criminals should be stopped. As should the governments that allow these things to persist as well. But the entire #stopKony campaign has one problem that is more glaring than the others. What are they going to do about child soldiers? The video insists that by making Kony famous (really infamous), that it will force the US government to notice and take action. But the thing is, most people who keep up on the news know who Kony is or at the very least about the child soldiers, and additionally, the US government already has taken action against Kony. But what the government seems to get, and the IC movement seems to be lacking, is that the sole problem doesn’t lie with Kony alone. And to fix the problem, one has to tackle the big picture.

So what’s the point? I don’t ask what’s the point in a sense of why bother but out of sincerity. What is Invisible Children trying to accomplish with this video and viral campaign? Am I supposed to donate to their organization (a problem I’ll get into) to stop Kony? Sign a petition? Fight violence with more violence? You kill one terrorist and another pops up in his place. So yes, stopping Kony does need to happen, but if we are going to get behind this campaign, we need to know what happens next. Because the only things I see right now are sign a pledge to accomplish something that is already known and give your money to Invisible Children to get a bracelet and a kit that tells you more about the problem.

Which brings us to the money issue. There have long been concerns about Invisible Children’s use of donations. You may remember a previous post of mine that noted the way the Komen foundation spends quite a bit on frivolous items or high expenditures rather than devoting the majority of the money to research. Invisible Children has had similar accusations and issues over the years. They do not publicly disclose funding information and their website won’t actually give you specifics on how donations are used.  But let’s set that aside for now. I’ll ask instead, where is my money going specifically in regards to this campaign? That’s something you should be asking. If I was to donate, my money would obviously be going to the cost of a bracelet and print materials. It would cover shipping costs, production expenses, and then what? How is my money going to help the people of northern Uganda that need it so badly? These are important questions to ask.

My friend Stephanie studied this issue (of child soldiers more thoroughly and makes an excellent point, which I’ve quoted here.  “the use of children soldiers on the African continent is a problem I studied A LOT in college and if this movement informs the ignorant people in our society then that’s great. I watched the KONY video and there are a lot of problems with the information it portrays. One of the biggest problems is how our foreign policy with Africa is talked about. When they mentioned the US’ lack of initiative in intervening in human right problems in Africa they also forgot to mention how what happened in Somalia with the whole Black Hawk Down fiasco and that the US public’s outcry influenced this policy. They also don’t talk about the political, social, or economic issues that surround/cause/facilitate this problem. Additionally, they’re talking about Kony, who yes is a terrible person, but they don’t even mention the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been used for years in a civil war that is nowhere close to ending. It also doesn’t mention the problems these children soldiers face when they escape these armies and try to accumulate back into society. Basically, in my opinion IC does nothing but “sugar coat” a horrible problem by simplifying a solution. Their methods of achieving this solution are also impractical.”

Let’s talk about those child soldiers in Congo that she brings up for moment. That’s the LRA. They aren’t in Uganda anymore. In fact, while Uganda suffers from a horribly corrupt government, they have enjoyed a fairly peaceful country over the last few years. The child soldiers are elsewhere across the African continent. So when I hear that I should donate to help child soldiers in Uganda, but learn that these children aren’t in Uganda anymore, I have concerns.

Look, at the end of the day, I’m not saying that awareness isn’t a good thing. It is. But sometimes I think we mistake spreading awareness for making change. All the outcry in the world doesn’t do any good if there aren’t solutions to the problem itself. So should Kony be stopped? ABSOLUTELY. But the issue of corrupt governments, child armies as a whole, and the direction of our monies need to be considered.

So the next time you think to share the Stop Kony video, or another viral campaign, ask yourself a few questions:

1) What is this campaign trying to accomplish?

2) Is it accomplishing this?

3) Does the campaign suggest a solution to the problem it discusses?

4) Is this actually a viable solution or a band-aid on an amputation?

5) If I am being asked to donate money, where is my money going to? Be sure to figure out this one specifically. Know exactly what your money goes to.

6) Once you’ve reached a point of knowing the problem, knowing a solution and wanting to help, ask yourself if the group bringing about awareness is the best group to fix the problem. What other organizations fight the same issue and may be a better fit for your time and donations?

One last time, to be sure everyone understands my viewpoint. Stopping war criminals is a good cause. Raising awareness about issues is a good thing. Child soldiers are not a good thing. But going to Uganda versus the Congo means fighting the problem in the wrong place. Hell, going to the Congo, instead of focusing on the child army issue as a whole and the corrupt governments who allow it is a problem. It would be like attempting to fight sex trafficking without considering that Portland, Oregon has one of the worst concentrations of child prostitutes and sex trafficking in the world. Or that for all the American outcry, American businessmen are some of the sex trade’s best clients. You have to understand a problem to fix a problem. So yes, let’s have a social and viral generation stand up and demand that action be taken. Just make sure you know what actions will have the greatest and most lasting impact and whether those actions will actually fix the problem.

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