This is a guest post by my friend Andy Kristian, a very talented photographer and social entrepreneur who is from Uganda. He also happens to be a great guy. Please check out his photography site and follow him on Twitter for all things related to politics, nonprofits and other trends in East Africa. I asked him what he thought of KONY 2012, the biggest viral video of all time, with more than 100 million views. Here’s what Andy had to say:
Two days ago I was approached by a friend of mine and blogger/writer Tim Hoiland to do a guest blog. He had received several inquiries for his opinion on the viral Kony 2012 video that captured the world by storm and blew the internet for 7 straight days. Even now, it continues to dominate conversations both on and offline and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Invisible Children, the makers of the video also still has other activities planned in tandem with the video and it is more likely than not that they will attract some good measure of attention. But why did Tim ask me? Why not just go ahead, research and write? He explained that people had asked his opinion, “but I’d rather have a Ugandan answer it.” I then asked him what he thought was the best direction of the post for his readers and he mentioned three things, that I will go ahead and answer.
1. Is there something praiseworthy in Invisible Children’s advocacy campaign, specifically in regard to #Kony2012?
Yes, there is, but for many Ugandans and Africans, that is subject to debate. Positively, Invisible Children has been able to rally everybody, especially the young people behind one cause. This is reminiscent of the Obama campaign, and the Save Darfur humanitarian campaign. This has shown that young people in America do care, and all that is required is leadership to direct them to great causes. Invisible Children succeeded in drawing attention to a social justice issue that raged on for decades with hardly any meaningful mention on major television, newspapers or blogs. This video has brought unprecedented massive exposure to Uganda and we could harness this opportunity to market our country and reap the benefits or just whine and whine as we slip out of the spotlight. Invisible Children have done what no one else could do, and in so doing, they have have also made some mistakes, and this brings us to the second part of what Tim wanted me to talk about.
2. What are some of the concerns?
The concerns about the Kony2012 video have largely been about the accuracy of the facts in the film, the highjacking of an African narrative and the over simplification of the conflict so to speak. Some inaccuracies could be looked at as simple omissions and therefore negligible, nevertheless, it is good to mention them so that for those that are not aware can be brought up to speed. The picture that the hit video paints may be construed as indicating a situation of war, and therefore not safe. But in actual fact, Joseph Kony has not operated within Ugandan borders for about 8 years now. Many have found such a deliberate omission disturbing and manipulative. Indeed, Kony is still at large, roaming the Central African region of Chad, Central Africa Republic and in the Congo, but his ragtag army has been reduced to approximately 300 combatants who are not a major security threat. Kony needs to be brought to justice, but unfortunately, a viral Hollywood production will not be sufficient in doing that, not in 2012 and probably not in 12 years. The timing of the video is totally off.
Scenario: Let’s assume, for example, that you have an internal family problem and you need help. And I come to learn of that problem and want to help. The logical thing for me to do is to come to you and ask about what your needs are, what your capacity is, and in what best way I could be of help. I am not even sure that this analogy is the best, but try to make it work. The majority of Ugandans and Africans feel this way with the video. It is not because we do not need help, but we need to be involved in the stories or even work that affects us. Invisible Children could have done better in doing some consultative work with stake holders, especially the victims of the LRA conflict in Northern Uganda. Many people have worked for decades to stop this war. The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, the Acholi Cultural Leaders, the local government all have a stake in this conflict and have worked harder than anybody to push government, the diaspora, the international agencies and leaders to instigate a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Rather than show a misleading dated video of Norbert Mao, president of Democratic Party and a champion for peace talks in Northern Uganda, Invisible Children could have sought an honest opinion from the man regarded as the finest and most respected leader from Northern Uganda.
That Invisible Children advocates for a military solution to the conflict has attracted some pretty negative feedback. The argument out there is that the LRA is full of child soldier recruits, and therefore a military campaign would be a direct attack on the children. I really don’t buy into this notion, but I am not in favor of a military resolution either. This is why. Usually, a military campaign against the LRA results in massive civilian causalities through waves of terror and vengeful new abductions. The Northern Uganda conflict calls for holistic peace-building initiatives that include bringing both sides of the conflict to justice and accountability. On one hand, the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Forces) and on the other, the LRA. Without addressing the root causes of the conflict, we will not have achieved anything. Uganda is a country reeling from bloodshed; from the Idi Amin days to the Obote period and to the current Museveni regime that is equally guilty of perpetrating crimes against humanity. A thorough justice system that addresses these issues would heal Uganda, and for that, a video can’t do. And that is why the ICC (International Criminal Court) partly failed. Uganda refereed the case to the ICC prematurely, without thinking about the repurcussions. Soon it became clear that the law would need to be applied to the UPDF as well. Unfortunately, the ICC did not investigate the UPDF but only indicted LRA criminals. The UPDF criminals are still free, and some of the perpetrators of war crimes are now wreaking new havoc in land grabbing and people displacements. These are real issues that must be corrected.
People of Northern Uganda proposed a traditional justice system called Mato Put to be applied to all the returnees. The Uganda parliament, through pressure from Northern Uganda leaders also adopted a new amnesty law, providing safety return to the rebels. This was a successful strategy that led to thousands of returnees. But with the ICC indictments, the senior perpetrators were not covered under the law. This was a thorny issue during the LRA and Government of Uganda (GoU) negotiations in Sudan, of which I was a technical consultant to the mediation office. Indeed, both parties thought that in the interest of peace and in the interest of justice, it was better for senior commanders of the LRA to benefit from the amnesty, since the Acholi community were ready to apply traditional justice system. But the ICC indictments can not be lifted. Kony swore that he would never be tried outside of Uganda. The peace process collapsed. Since the last major peace talks, Kony has not used the peace process to regroup as argued in the video.
3. As a Ugandan (African), what advice would you give those with good intentions but who don’t really know Uganda’s context?
Proverbs 19:2 It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. Having good intentions is great, but this must be done in wisdom, especially in this day and age where aid and charity is a huge global industry. Invisible Children have been found suspect in terms of resource allocation, devoting only 32% of all their revenue to programs that help the victims on whom these campaigns are based. The argument is that they spend a lot on the advocacy, which is their mission, but as you know also, this answer is hardly sufficient. In a guest post on Dave Algoso’s blog, David Hong, a former roadie for Invisible Children, rightly argues that they should stick to advocacy work “instead of getting involved in the murky trenches of international peacekeeping and geopolitics.” And the issue of financial misuse in nonprofits is getting common by the day. Red Cross International together with American Red Cross were not so long ago under the spotlight for the misuse of relief funds for Haiti. It would appear that some form of due diligence in the organizations we support must increasingly be done.
Treat Africans or the poor with dignity. As a photographer, I have learned that we all like to look good in photographs, in films, etc. Nobody should take that away from anybody. Not Joseph Kony, not Gadaffi, not Museveni, no one. And this must be applied in charitable works as well. Here is a list of the 7 worst international aid ideas…some of these things are often done with good intentions, but good intentions are not always a good thing. But you know, like a good intention of collecting and sending used underwear to African girls from England?
Lastly, involve Africans, Ugandans or the poor in decision making from the bottom up. This creates ownership of solutions and real partnerships. But this hardly happens. Decisions are made in air-conditioned offices in the USA or Europe for the poor people. Most development organizations have huge budgets for Africa but rarely are there board representatives from these regions, while senior leadership and other critical roles at country level are occupied by foreigners, sometimes earning 15 or more times more than the locals. On a story telling level, our people are still overlooked in shaping narratives, whether they affect nonprofits or news. As a photographer and filmmaker, I struggle to gain contracts to tell stories in Uganda or East Africa be it UN agencies, International Christian NGOs, and other Aid agencies. Most of these organizations prefer to ship an American or European photographer to tell our stories. And in so doing, we are not only left jobless, but also without a voice.
What do you think of Andy’s take on KONY 2012? Does it challenge your views or confirm any suspicions? What questions are you left with?