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The moral issues of KONY 2012 – where should the money go to?

Well, I never expected that my first post in the Global Health category would be one dealing with ethical issues, even less that it should deal with one of the world’s most rapidly growing awareness campaigns: KONY 2012. Filmmaker Jason Russell’s 30-minute video har in just two days reached 10 000 000 views on Youtube. Just today, when I watched it, it had 160 000 views. Now, just twelve hours later, it has 9.9 million views and I am quite sure that this number will have risen to above 10 million when I am done with this post. People are linking the video and the message throughout the world, about abducted chilren forced to work as sex slaves and child soldiers in a war-torn Uganda. But, why do we not stop to reflect, just for a few minutes, just over this very campaign. That is at least what I will be doing here. But first, here is the video itself:

Now, here are quite a few question marks to be taken care of here. But, first I must truly give credits to Russell for creating this masterpiece. The film is brilliant and has really caught on. It has gone so far as to some people calling it an awareness campaign (which I do not think that it is, essentially). Kony 2012 is opening the eyes of an increasingly ignorant middle class throughout the world, and it is great to see that people do have hearts. I mean, I could not have been the only one whose eyes watered? A problem overall for big humanitarian organisations have been exactly that: to create that people’s movement and passion. So, overall – the film itself is a brilliant PR piece, and it has heart.

But, what lies behind this? Sure, I felt like buying those action kits, planches, and call the White House in order to make that difference. I know many of you who saw it feel the very same. But there are issues to deal with. First of all, the fact that the film is created solely to evoke an emotional response. That is brilliant. But, there are very few facts, and the main theme is exactly that: targeting the young, facebooking and tweeting community in order to propagate and propel the film further. It is beautifully edited and contains brilliant scenes, but one does not get the whole picture. What about the organisation? How does it work? What is its efficacy in economical terms?

And here is the main point that critics tend to point at: Invisible Children are using the wrong means to achieve their goals. The organisation is in favour of military intervention, meaning it supports the Ugandan regular army and, as obvious, wants the United States to intervene as well. The first, but weak, argument critics have is that by doing so the organisation would fight against those very child soldiers they are trying to save. This is probably true – and I would not hold it against you if you had no other knowledge or experience of global matters – but, looking deeper we see that the Ugandan regular army itself is very violent. Yes, as has been seen in several post-colonial countries, there is the risk of having both the government and the rebel sides of a conflict escalating their violent approach to suspects (that is: all people). The below clip is allegedly showing the regular Ugandan army attacking citizens in Kampala:

Reports have told us of rapings, murder, and torture from the, as in the film portrayed, ‘good side’. So, it is one evil against another, and some argue that the organisation should not propagate for further military presence as this would escalate violence. A fair point, perhaps, but there are many fair points to be made.

Harvard philosopher professor and writer Michael Sandel argues that justice is about doing the right thing, meaning giving the ”thing” to the people that deserve it (based on the teachings of Aristotle). Millions of people have been starving in Africa for decades. YOU have known about this. Why did you not do anything earlier? You have always known that children have been abducted, raped, tortured, and killed. Why did you now link something indicating this a week ago? A month ago? Last year? Did you really have to have a Hollywood-style film to understand that people are suffering and that you can, and must, help? What is the justice in arbitrarily supporting this cause, but not the extensive vaccination, anti-starvation, and micro-finance campaigns that exist all over the world? Well, I suppose you find the bracelet aesthetically appealing. Kind of cool to wear that to school, huh?

Further on, there is the question of foreign aid. Sweden, for instance, has sent over 300 million Swedish Kronor (that is about 25 million British pounds) to Uganda in the year of 2011 alone. Little has been done. The government has forcibly moved people from the areas targeted by the Lord’s Resitance Army (LRA, the bad guys), with famine, beatings, and immense general displacement as a few of the results. One might even argue that this violated the human rights. Is it morally right to support such a government, whose corruption is so obvious and whose methods are so very inefficient?

Additionally, there are some sources saying that the LRA threat in Uganda is over. One blog post I ran into even said that the people making this film started this project so long ago that the situation today is totally different. This is actually true: the LRA is no longer mainly operating in Uganda. The Ugandan government troops have pushed them into starvation in the djungels and into Sudan/Central Africa. So, the main object that this film sets out – that is, to bring Joseph Kony to justice (whatever is meant by that…?)  – no longer is relevant. Instead, one might argue, people should focus on the structural problems of a continent that ever since the colonial powers has been raged with unrest, war, and full-out chaos. A film more or less should not make that difference.

On the other hand, there are those hailing this film as a means of spreading knowledge – or awareness, one might call it (because knowledge would mean including facts…) – to a generation that seems to care about little less than the very MacBook they saw the film on. I believe that some of us, who consider ourselves relatively knowlegeable already before this film, are rather enraged. Why, because we have dealt with the masses’ frustrating and enfuriating ignorance, pig-headedness, and lack of compassion for years. For instance: how often have you got a Facebook like for a link posted on the famine of the Horn of Africa compared to how many clicks your friend got for a party picture where he or she is throwing up in the bushes? Yes, all of us with a global interest have been rather upset for a long time, and hence we see this film as a cheap shot at tricking this lost generation into doing something for once. What is even more irritating is that most people will nothing but link the video on the Facebook walls or Twitter, and do nothing more; not donate money, not start campaigning for childrens’ rights, and tomorrow they will have forgotten about what really lies behind this PR film: the suffering of the poor world.

These are the most efficient organisations in the world when it comes to humanitarian aid:


Médecins Sans Frontières

The Red Cross/Crescent/Crystal

But, to you out there – I am one of you – who have been so frustrated over the years I have this to say: please, let this film have its effect. It might just plant the seed that in the future will create a more aware western world. Sure, most youths out there will watch it, link it, and forget it. However, as long as they have watched it and been touched, that is so much more than if they never would have. I am not saying that tomorrow will see a major breakthrough of charity workers, but it is a first step, albeit a very, very short one.

To come back to the criticism of Invisible Childrens Inc., I would like to highlight their monetary efficacy. Just 31% of the profit actually goes to its intended goal. No, wait – no preconceived ideas, please. The profit is this low because the organisation focuses just as much on raising awareness, and in a world drowning in Billboards signs of McDonalds, Ralph Lauren, and Glee, it is truly a challenge to be heard. Especially if you want to engage people in charity. So, a lot of resources go to costly films, advertising, and printing material. Most people say this is bad, but I say that if you donate to a charity without checking these numbers on beforehand, you would better be prepared to see a very little sum go to fighting warlords in Uganda. I have experienced that sort of talk for months, working for Médecins Sans Frontières as a recruiter of monthly donors. The organisation has the heart, but has a very different approach. If you do not agree with their means – then do not support them. But, if you are not a total hypocrite, you should then support another organisation (I would recommend Médecins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, or UNICEF).

So, the low percentage that reaches Africa is not really a problem; the problem is the narrow minds of those thinking that 110% can reach the children. If you are one of those thinking like these, STOP.

I you really want to make a difference out there, do it right. Send money to the internationally recognised organisations with the high rankings for making their donations reach the intended destinations. Do not go out and spend an unproportionate amount of money just because you want a cool bracelet or poster – that money could go directly to people starving all around the world via the United Nation’s Refugee programmes or the Red Cros, not to mention Nobel Peace Prize laureate organisation Médecins Sans Frontières. The logo down below is used as a market trick, to fool you into thinking that buying this would make you part of a great humanitarian endevour. It will not do so, just make you one of thousands to be fooled into a PR-emphasised organisation whose money mainly is lost to its means in reaching you with all this advertisement. Yes, Invisible Childrens Inc. is an NGO and is non-profit, but their means unfortunately sort of neutralise their ends.

To sum up, I must say that the awareness that rises from a campaign such as this is the most valuable result. The money will not be sufficient to plunge Uganda into a 10% GDP growth ratio. Linking the video on social media is the tiniest step. You are inherently a hypocrite for doing it if you are not actually supporting a charity – it does not have to be Invisible Childrens Inc., that is my opinion. You cannot sit in front of your computer and just re-link the clip as a Justin Bieber-music video. It is not enough. However, I do respect the power that it has for spreading the word. As mentioned, I am glad to see people actually opening their eyes for a cause such as this. But be careful: just because they edited a film clip in a way that got you to cry, does not necessarily mean that they are making the sort of impact that it says it can.

Yes, watch the film, cry, and re-link. But then – think about it. What did you just do? Click a button. Sure, the internet is powerful, but money will always be better. If you really want to make a difference, then do not buy that action kit. It costs 35 American dollars. That will, in terms of efficacy, mean that about 12 dollars reach Africa and Uganda. The rest is lost as costs of the campaign itself. If you donate 35 dollars to real humanitarian organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières or UNICEF, you will se over 30 dollars reaching those who are in dire need of acute aid. You will not get the bracelt, but you will help so many more people and will not support the repressive measures of the Ugandan government in quelling its people into submissiveness.

In 2011, 2.8 million dollars out of a total 8.9 million donated reached Invisible Childrens Inc.’s charity programme. After that, there is the issue of distributing that fairly and effectively throught corrupt Ugandan authorities. Why do I link this campaign on my blog? Well, because I would rather have a brief and superficial internet campaign to saw the seeds for a stronger future response, than absolutely deny that something good could come of this. Invisible Childrens Inc. is not an evil company stealing your money. It is simply an organisation that works by attracting attention through PR, films, and extensive lobbying, and this is not bad – just a different approach, which is healthy. But, and I remind you – if you want your money to make a real change, go to the big players, because unfortunately Invisible Childrens Inc. stands out to be just a bit too populistic.


4 comments on “The moral issues of KONY 2012 – where should the money go to?

  1. anna
    8 mars, 2012

    Men du kan ju inte först skriva ett inlägg om att man ska ge pengar till denna organisation och sen ett till som säger att man är dum och ”bara vill ha ett armband att bära i skolan” om man gör det. Du har rätt i att det är bättre att ge till läkare utan gränser och unicef men det skrev du ju inte i det förra inlägget. Det är okej att ändra sig, men våga erkänna att du kanske skrev det första inlägget lite för snabbt då.

    • drevinho
      8 mars, 2012

      Haha, menar du att jag har ljugit eller så? Jag är för kunskapskampanjer, vilket jag också skriver, och min sammanfattning blir precis som din: pengarna kan gå till bättre ställen (kampanjen är dock effektiv att sprida engagemang och så fröet till aktion till den grupp jag menar bara vill ha armbandet, men jag hoppas att folk väljer att stödja andra organisationer om de ändå är säkra på att de vill göra någonting).

      • anna
        8 mars, 2012

        Jag påpekar bara att det är ganska komiskt att läsa båda dina inlägg om Kony tillsammans.

      • drevinho
        8 mars, 2012

        Då har du missat min poäng. Är för kampanjen – men tänker inte stödja den aktivt, för jag vet att det finns andra organisationer som gör det bättre! Å andra sidan vet jag också att de flesta där ute som sprider KONY aldrig kommer i närheten av UNICEF, MSF, etc. och därför tycker jag ändå att KONY är bättre än inget. Om inte annat, så kanske KONY är startskottet till ett litet uppsving i global förståelse? Sprid KONY gärna, men gör det med en fotnot, så att säga!=)

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