Worst Idea Ever?

Via Chris Blattman, we learned that Invisible Children (brief background of the organization: 3 kids go to Africa, make movie about child soldiers, show it to every college student on the planet) has launched a new film and campaign: “Abduct Yourself to Free the Abducted.” Um.

Chris posts a letter he wrote to Invisible Children’s Mission Director explaining his discomfort with the project. He makes the point that their work is (a) kind of obsessed with glorifying the filmmakers, (b) based on a creepy, White Man’s Burden-y savior complex, and (c) taking up resources that could be occupied by “intelligent advocacy.”

We completely agree and offer this photo of the three founders of Invisible Children in support of the “who is this about anyway?” critique:

We also have a couple of related concerns:

First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more intelligent advocacy. And yeah, this may seem like an absurdly academic point to raise when talking about a problem that is clearly crying out for pragmatic solutions, but, uh, the way we define problems is important. Really, really important. Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as “The Raped” and Ugandan children as “The Abducted” constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems.

Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn’t help anyone. These gets back to something very simple and very smart that Alanna Shaikh wrote a few months ago:

“Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before.”

By the same token, any old awareness advocacy you dream up doesn’t necessarily constitute “helping.” And while we’re on the subject of what does and doesn’t help, maybe don’t get photographed fondling big (former) rebel guns. Just saying.

*Photo taken by photographer and total rockstar Glenna Gordon on the Sudan-Congo border in April 2008. Team not-so-invisible-children poses with the SPLA… and their weapons.

68 thoughts on “Worst Idea Ever?

  1. Bad development work is almost always based on the assumption that poor people also have nothing to contribute to solving their own problems. Never mind that there are almost certainly northern Ugandans with MBA’s and PhD’s and extensive knowledge of their own region who could come up with much more effective (and probably less expensive) solutions.

  2. Agreed. And, based on (non-existent) work I witnessed in Northern Uganda by the Invisible Children, it’s a true shame they seem to gather any clout. More dangerous than all: people who know nothing of the conflict, the current humanitarian work there, the capacity of the local population to help themselves and the overall situation, buy into the Invisible Children marketing plan because it’s attractive, flashy, and if you don’t know better, probably makes you feel great when you get involved.

  3. Your criticism of Invisible Children is spot-on, but the photo kind of gets a “meh” reaction from me. Is that bad? Probably. The first thing I thought when I saw it was, “Gee, I’ve seen real aid workers post vastly worse and more politically inappropriate/insensitive photos on facebook.

    • The problem I see with it is that they are quite clearly showing support for armed resistance (which one may or may not agree with), but the armed group they are posing with and showing their support for are known to have been involved with rape and violence towards civilians themselves. This muddies the waters as to what the group are fighting for (‘justice’? an end to violence? protection of civilians?), and presents them as a) hypocritical or b) pretty stupid. I don’t know about you, but I’m a 20 yr old naive political student and even I know that if I want to promote a just and peaceful cause and be taken seriously, I probably shouldn’t pose with guns and violent groups. Just sayin’. :)

      • Lest we forget though that US troops in Afghanistan have been known to burn books of the Qur’an, piss on the dead and other atrocities. My point here is that even an intelligent militarized nation is not going to be perfect. Using your logic than we shouldn’t support our armed forces unless they are all spot clean. It is definitely something to strive for but I don’t think we can expect the Ugandan armed forces to be as informed on humanitarian notions as other countries when even our forces are 100% on ethics either.

        • And that’s why we should focus on cleaning our skeletons out of the closet, and making cleaning our shit up before we demand it of others.

          • I understand that argument, however I don’t think we can fully clean up our current forces to 100%. We can get it up to a certain level, but then it asymptotes at some point, as long as the force is overwhelmingly positive, not 100%. It’s the classic difference in ideology – do you kill one person to save five, or do you kill no one and leave the five to die due to inaction? (train track switch philosophical argument).

  4. What the hell is this, the “Southern Californian We Can’t Surf so We do the Africa Saving Thing Club?” They are currently annoying me more than anything that Lisa Jackson is doing at the moment and that’s a pretty high bar to meet. This is an even more embarrassing representation of my state than when we elected Schwarzenegger.


  5. Nice post and super true. Also, I love this blog.
    Also, with Blattman’s recent announcement that he’s going to Liberia for a while, I’m going to need to ask you two to go ahead and crank up the output of development snark. I revisit your site an immoderate number of times per day to get my fix. I settle on a combination of Blattman/Easterly when you’re not feeling prolific but with Blattman gone for a bit… well, let’s try to go ahead and get things to 3 posts a day, hmm?
    I really love this blog.

  6. By the way, I love the crap out of Transitionland, too. You guys save me having to have a blog because you all say what I would say.

    But cleverer.

  7. I completely agree with the post, but I think you are oversimplifying what IC is accomplishing. I have been to Northern Uganda where I got to meet Bobby and Laren and see what IC is doing there. I wouldn’t call their work non-existent, but they have had some trouble launching successful programs. I have heard many local Ugands criticize their work, but I’ve also heard a few of them praise their “Schools For Schools” campaign as being one of the more successful programs they’ve ever seen from any NGO. But what IC is or isn’t accomplishing in Uganda is almost secondary to the true success of the group. Teenagers in America who are otherwise only concerned with their own lives are all of a sudden interested and excited about impoverished children in Africa. I am a high school science teacher in the states, and I can tell you that IC has made a visible difference in the behavior of children in my school. Keep in mind that about 1/2 of our student population qualifies for free lunch. These kids grow up thinking of themselves as poor, needy and entitled to handouts. All of a sudden, many of them who can’t even afford to go to college themselves are out trying to raise money to send over to help out schools in Uganda. To an adult, all the teenage marketing of IC seems a little ridiculous when talking about victims of rape and child soldiering. But, if it begins a process of young Americans showing empathy and concern for people in Africa, I think that is an incredible accomplishment. As these high school kids grow up, they’ll learn that things aren’t as simple as they once thought they were and their thoughts on Africa will evolve, but without groups like IC so few Americans would know anything about what’s going on in Northern Uganda in the first place.

    So, even though I don’t really disagree with anything on this post, I can’t ignore all the great things IC is doing in American high schools.

    • I agree with you completely. The fact that IC can utilize social media and modern tools unlike any charity has before is testament to their accomplishments as an organization. No charity is going to have perfect programs nor flawless allocation of funds, but the fact that they are exhibiting their thoughts and strategies so successfully on such a large scale as well as interesting so many youths (that may otherwise be completely unaware of international problems) is something to be admired and encouraged.

  8. Seriously, more Wronging Rights please. Some of us rely on you for sanity during the day. I mean jeez, think of other people for once, would you?

  9. IC certainly has some failures but they’re the only NGO that has successfully caught Western teenagers and children’s attention.

    Other NGOs are seriously missing out on a LOT of support and MONEY.

    Maybe those “more intelligent and sophisticated ‘adult’” organisations should stop waving about their well-excecuted programs and stick an indie soundtrack on their boring, staid, ‘I’ve seen midgetised kids with fly blown stomachs a billion times’ ads.

  10. When I first saw the movie a few years ago, I thought what they were doing was amazing! But then as I learned more and more about them as an organization, it made me frustrated to see that the programs they are spending money on are not benefitting the child soldiers in their movies. If you don’t believe me, download their annual report and read in their own words that only “13.7% of students have been abducted by the LRA at least once” in their sponsorship program. Why don’t they either benefit the children they are gaining fame from, or make movies about the lucky children who have never had to experience the horrors of abduction? I can’t deny that they have done amazing work at drawing attention to the issue, but they have not done much to help.

  11. THANK YOU.

    Please check out the filmmakers’ March 4th blog post about a Facebook event my friends and I created in response to their horrifying shirts.


    None of what they wrote was said or implied.

    I called them out on their lack of professionalism, their irresponsibility, and their immaturity, also asking that the post be removed or re-written more truthfully. So if it’s not there when you check it out, that is why.

    Thank you again for your intelligence.

  12. Thank you so much for your intelligent, independent thought. It seems we have gotten to a point where Invisible Children in infallible and unable to be questioned. It’s a shame that it’s come to be about the organization and not about those who they claim to be working for.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  13. Hey all, your concerns are so valid, however, I can't help but notice that your perspectives seem to be missing some crucial information to understand the depth of Invisible Children's development programs. It's awesome to be able to read up on the constructive criticism on IC and see how IC can improve certain areas of their organization. Personally, I feel as though statements like "bad development", "non-existent" and "spot on" are stereotypes that have been generated with lack of or misinformation. If you looked into IC's programs (as a fellow commentator has stated) you'd see that Schools for Schools has been recognized by the Minister of Education and the US Ambassador to Uganda as "impressive". Also, since both of them attended a commencement ceremony for S4S at Layibi Secondary, the Ministry has refurbished all of the dormitories (if any of you have visited this school you would realize that they've been long overdue for refurbishment). Not to mention that the Ministry is also working to refurbish a huge amount of Sir Samuel Baker, which is the first secondary school to ever be built in northern Uganda. Also, IC's other two programs, the Visible Child Scholarship Program is currently providing scholarships to over 700 high school students & 50+ University students. Their Economic Development Initiatives have trained over 200 displaced people in Savings and Investment and over 90% of those people have started their own small business in northern Uganda. If you choose to call IC's development work "bad" I encourage you to call their office and ask any questions that might clear up your assumption/perspective and even visit their office in Gulu Uganda when/if you visit there. Also, IC employs over 80 full time staff in Uganda all of them being Ugandan minus 3 western staff. All of their programs in Uganda are lead by Ugandans who (as a commentator said their are educated Ugandans who've been to school, received masters, etc.)are educated community leaders. In regards to the % of child soldiers in the scholarship program…Here are some %, note that all of these students/beneficiaries have been affected by the war, all of them in some way or another (89% being full or partial orphans).
    By the end of the quarter, the total number of beneficiaries increased to 748 students: 570 are secondary
    school beneficiaries for the Gulu Office, 120 for the Pader office and 58 are University beneficiaries.
    Total number of girls: 252 (about 45 %)
    Total number of boys: 318 (about 55 %)
    The vulnerability status for the students in the program is as follows:
    620 of 690 students (89%) are full or partial orphans
    HIV/AIDS orphans: 136 (20%)
    Orphans of war: 138 (20%)
    Child-headed families: 34 (5%)
    Child mothers: 44 (6%)
    Formerly Abducted persons: 86 (13%)
    *NOTE: Statistics include only secondary school beneficiaries
    Why only 86 formerly abducted, well a lot of formerly abducted are attending primary school (since that's where they were when abducted) and their are so many awesome organizations that have helped them return to primary (IC is focused on filling in the gap, since only 7.5% of Ugandans graduated high school/secondary and only 1% graduate from University). Honestly, all of these comments have really brought clarity to what false perspectives are out there and I'm going to encourage IC to better communicate how their development programs are changing the lives of so many in northern Uganda. Have you all heard about the student from Uganda that's attending Boise State Univerity to become a nurse? She's studying nursing, so that she can return to Gulu Uganda and help her people. To me, that's an incredible thing. Most Ugandans that come to America never want to leave…well, at least the ones I've met. Also, a post made on a "Behind the Scenes" blog doesn't seem like it would represent everyone that works at IC, but only those that wrote it…I personally thought the post was inappropriate, but also feel like the efforts against the IC shirts could be put to better use. I hope you're able to use your efforts to help speak out against the real guns that are in the hands of real kids like us. IC has never claimed to be perfect and they definitely make mistakes like ALL of us do (even major non-profits like World Vision, Save the Children, Dr. Without Borders, etc.). No one is perfect, but the question is, what are we doing about the situation in Uganda? How are we supporting the leaders there to help them in their efforts to bring their children home? The leaders of northern Uganda are asking for and want support from people like you to help them in their efforts to end the longest running war in Africa. I hope that any issues you have with IC's development can be cleared up. Seriously, give them a call. They'd be so excited to share what they're actually doing in Uganda. Cheers.

  14. I would say one of the major shortcomings of Invisible Children IS their lack of communication about all of the programs in Uganda. They are incredibly successful but don’t get much face time.

    It is also important I think to note, as the teacher did before me, the incredible impact that the programs, like Schools for Schools have here in the US. I could be naive but I do not know of ANY other non profit that has inspired high school and college students in the western world to raise over $4 million in 2 years to rebuild war affected high schools.

    As a supporter of most that IC does, I appreciate this post but encourage everyone reading it to do the research for themselves as to what Invisible Children actually does rather than take these comments verbatim. If you are in Gulu any time soon, it is highly unlikely that you will witness “non-existant” work being done, more likely you will see tons of progress. Keep in mind that Invisible Children is still a young and developing organization and has made HUGE strides in the past few years.

    Thank you!

  15. Invisible Children aired on Oprah yesterday, May 1.

    I wrote a blog about it because after learning more about international development and IC from you, Chris Blattman, and Alanna Shaikh, I’ve become very passionate about advocating for good international development.

    I would really appreciate any feedback/criticisms on my post, a letter to Oprah about IC.


  16. “Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as “The Raped” and Ugandan children as “The Abducted” constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems.

    Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions …doesn’t help anyone”

    Well put! I had the same thoughts (and made a serious compliant to CIDA) about a Canadian NGO back in 1996….

    There are, no doubt, many NGOs that have the same good (in theory) ideals – bad outcome/approach happening. Although, as development work is, dare I say it, becoming quite the ‘thing to do’ amongst many in the West…and with a never-ending supply of newbies who suddenly ‘discover Africa’ such misled programmes are likely to continue..

    btw – I note that one of you (Kate or Amanda?) went to SOAS..I did my Masters there as well…great school!

  17. Ok..I had to add this….after posting above comment, I went to have a more thorough look around the site. While the idea behind it is ‘good’ (although as has been pointed out before, and I fully agree with, a good idea with a bad approach/outcome is the same if not worse than none at all) – this bit part put me off more than anything:

    “We are storytellers. We are visionaries, humanitarians, artists, and entrepreneurs. We are individuals part of a generation eager for change and willing to pursue it”.

    What? Agghh!!! I would say that every generation has generally thought the same thing – it is the nature of youth to see the possibility of the future, unfortunately this is often paired with the arrogance (or ignorance) of not knowing fully what has been accomplished already. In any case, anyone that describes Themselves as visionary, entrepreneurs, artists and (but of course) humanitarians (btw – aren’t most people when it gets down to it? does one have to only help the ‘masses of unfortunates’ overseas to be a humanitarian?) has lost me from the outset. Must say that War Child Canada is a better organisation with many of the same goals.

    Btw – also fully agree with post on Congo rape – if I see one more newspaper article (I’m in the UK..worst is ‘The Guardian’) on ‘hidden atrocities’ and how, e.g. without Clooney, Farrow, Jolie or now Affleck bringing said atrocities worldwide to the world’s attention we’d all be clueless is like living in an alternate universe. My new fave (hate) was recently (from all main media outlets – big shout out to CNN btw) seeing Mr. Affleck walking around in serious green hiking jacket (natch) and serious concerned face (again, natch – also seen on Ms. Jolie this week), bringing the “plight” of “the congolese” (specifically goma) to the “world’s attention” – just in CASE everyone happened to miss it back in 1994 and the ongoing fallout since. Just in case, in the last 15 years that goma has been struggling, that it is only now (praise the lord) thanks to Ben Affleck visiting there that the ignorant public (e.g. everyone that is not a celebrity) now knows it exists. Read a while back that Paris Hilton’s new thing is to go to Rwanda to “help them”…..????????

  18. Worst idea ever is an ignorant statement. Look at the bracelet campaign. They are creating jobs in the area, they are making them take classes on how to save money and take care of their families. Its not like there are many other organizations out there trying to help. Schools for schools is a very good program that is helping out the entire area. I don't see anyone else raising a million dollars to help out there. Maybe you shouldn't be so critical and figure out what you can do to help?

  19. aggh!! Worst comment ever is "Maybe you shouldn't be so critical and figure out what you can do to help?" ……..???

    Sorry to jump at your comment as I'm sure you mean well, but comments like this are at best irrelevant and at worst counter-productive. Mainly because they make vast assumptions on the part of people making critiques and reduce any meaningful dialogue/debate/discussion into childish petulance. If I had a dollar for everytime I have read this sort of non-response to any sort of criticism of an idea espoused by (usually) a media-friendly NGO/Charity/Celebrity I would be pretty rich myself (and could donate it to a worthy cause).

    I would suggest, Megan, that you look to yourself first and not make huge assumptions about what people do or don't do and/or have already done – simply because they critique something. It very likely may be that they Do have other information about said issue, or it May be simply a valid critque based on a wider understanding of the complex issues surrounding conflict/aid/children/repatriation/poverty/vulnerability etc etc.

    Critiques are extremely important and essential to NGO's engaging as best they can (read equitable, transparent and accountable to name a few areas that are important).

    If you are truly interested in the field of international development my advice is read, read and read some more – esp all arguments and counter arguments – and Don't buy into glossy development/poverty campaigns as in any way representative of "what works" or "what's needed".

    I suggest Aid watch (easterly) as a good blog as well as well as Chris Blattman's.

    (If I'm totally off the mark here and you have a lot of experience in Africa/Uganda than might I say that it doesn't come across that way at all, and a more interesting comment would be one that offers up more information about the bracelet campaign.)

    (Btw – I have a PhD in Int dev, and aid and research work experience worldwide.)

      • A beautiful response, but you just forgot to mention what you have done to help mr. Academic?

        Oh yeah, I forgot you got a phd. AKA, I studied a lot and formed an incredibly intelligent opinion about a subject that I never truly experienced in person, but only through books/websites. Well done.

        I will stick to the ones that went out there and at least are trying to make a difference. Anyone wants a bracelet?

  20. The bracelet program is a microeconomic program in which they hire locals to dye the reeds and make the bracelets. Before they hire the locals they make them take classes on how to save their money and learning to use bank accounts. Not only does this program stimulate the local economy but teaches them how to save their own money. I have been involved in organizations that are raising money for that region for the past 4 years. Invisible Children is one of the best organizations I have worked with among others. I am not just another ignorant uneducated individual, although I have just graduated high school. I have already made contacts and I am moving to Gulu once I graduate college.

  21. Hi Megan,

    Sounds interesting – I think micro-economic programmes (microcredit) play a huge part in allowing communities to take an active role in poverty alleviation and encouraging local business.

    Although, some negatives can and do exist. Among other things this can include: wages becoming depressed or stagnating due to over-competition of unskilled labour 'clusters' working in the same craft business, and the inherent small-scale of these business (studies have shown that participants are not necessarily able to make the jump from small-level craft production to a bigger industry/business). Because of points a and b above, often those taking part in microcredit are female, poor, uneducated and unskilled and therefore have a low ceiling for success – e.g. the micro-community benefits, but not necessarily the larger community. Also, 'enough' money may not be generated to allow for the savings required to make a vertical move out of poverty (e.g. savings for housing, education, travel for work etc.) (I have done work with communities using microcredit in South America, starting in 1994).

    You might find your views on IC change a bit once you have more contact with other organizations in Uganda and/or you learn a bit more about the development field (from a college-level) and therefore why the criticisms that have been leveled at IC are so important to acknowledge.

    In any case, I wish you the best for college and your move to Gula.

  22. In 2006 I was in Uganda and decided to go see firsthand the IC operations in Gulu because I was a supporter. While I was there a group of their staff hit a local child with the IC truck. Of course this was an accident. The thing that really made me question though was that while this child was in the hospital, being checked out, the IC staff found out the child was not going to school and "generously" offered to cover all of his school fees. What do you know, the parents of the child didn't press any charges. It was apparent that they believe that they are in a position of authority and can use that with local people and systems. But don't worry, the IC staff helped the child that was hit which makes it all better.

    Working with people who are oppressed, like those in Northern Uganda, and who face each day unjust systems I think it is important for Invisible Children to not be contributing to injustice no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

    No organization is perfect however, I don't think that is an excuse to turn a blind eye and keep quiet about questionable methods, work and ideas.
    The women in the IDP camps who make the IC bracelets are only paid about 50 cents per bracelet!!!! Don't just learn about the problem in Uganda learn about IC's view of people and their practices!

    Has anyone else heard of IC's Legacy tour? They are having students from their videos coming over to share their stories. Having children, anyone under 18, share their stories of trauma has the potential to be re-traumatizing. What does this teach them about sharing their stories? They are asking students to share with people they do not have a relationship with and no trust. What parent would encourage their child to do this? Probably few in the U.S. but let's be honest children in developing countries are a whole nether story and are not treated with the same dignity and respect. ICs view of helping..Good entertainment = money


  23. I just wanted to point out that every Ugandan involved in the IC Legacy Tour is over the age of 18 years old AND they were the ones to appraoch IC about telling their stories. They want it to come from THEIR mouths and they want to be a part of the story. If anything the Legacy may be the first time IC is getting it right-by allowing the people affected by the war to speak for themselves.

  24. Did anyone see the new campaign for IC? YOU can bring all the children home, for only like $12 a month or some crap like that.

    Man, if someone had told me earlier that all that was needed was money, I would've stepped it up! Too bad some of the children's parents don't have internet, otherwise they might be able to donate too.

  25. I saw them last night at Seton Hall Univrsity and your blog summarized exactly how I feel. Additionally, one of there main policy prescriptions was for the US 'remove Joseph Kony from the stuation" how would this happen? The ugandan have been looking for him for decades. Now they want the US military to intervene. This is both naive and reckless. First, they seem like they would be the same guys who would oppose any other foriegn interventions. More concretely, taking the insane leap that this would ever ever happen, what would the rules of engagement be? Do they expect our soldiers to fire back on child soldiers? They failed to mention other potential policy prescriptions. For example, the bank and the fund have conditions attached to aid which limit military spending. To make up for a lack of personnel, the Ugandans often army refugees/ idps to defend themselves. Perhaps a removal of this conditionality would allow them to better peruse Kony. I dont know if this would suffice but it is clearly a more realistic approach then advocating for US military intervention.

    Finally, the whole presentation reminded me of sitting in a dorm room back in 1990-91, smoking grass and fantasizing about changing the world. All well in good for kids before they get serious and grow up. But, to have this substitute for real discussion on a serious matter is a waste of time, energy and resources.

  26. I completely agree. The film itself simplified the situation to an extreme, focusing more time on the silly intro and long panning shots of the sleeping children than on the actual situation at hand. They don't ever even explain who the LRA is! This film aims straight for the gut, with paternalistic images of malnourished children without much context. It can hardly be called a documentary.

    The entire premise of the film is that these 3 kids from San Diego go on an "adventure" to Africa with no idea where they are going or what they are doing. I'm surprised they made it out alive.

    After watching it you're just like damn. But then you start thinking about it and it's like wait a minute, what? But i guess at least people can know about this issue, which is a start, albeit somewhat of a misstep.

  27. Two years after the original post and I've come back to read it again!

    I just wanted to add to the second to last comment above mine that the Ugandans haven't been searching for Kony this whole time, they often know where he is (or thereabouts) and realise that removing him doesn't remove the problem. They have instead been pursuing the path of negotiations using his wife (who is now out of the LRA and living in Gulu) as leverage to get him to show up. I'm not sure what the latest is but I do know that its not a wild manhunt.

  28. I have spent the last 3 years in Uganda, filming individual testimony from civilians about the war. While there is clear evidence that the L.R.A. committed gross human rights violations, the war is far more complicated than child soldiering. After all, Joseph Kony was not the original resistance to Museveni’s rise to power. The UNLA, UPDA, Alice Lakwena and others objected to rape, torcher and murder committed by the NRM against the Acholi people in northern Uganda.

    Invisible Children’s film clip on who the LRA is that they posted on their website is such a ridiculous account of the war in Uganda. While the LRA has clearly resorted to looting and violence against civilian populations, it is clear that Museveni’s objective was never to end the war in the north. When he mandated encampment (only made possible by international aid organizations) he sentenced the Acholi people to years and years of cultural and economic degradation. During the war, Museveni’s own administration issued a report that over 1,000 deaths were taking place in the camps a week. This is far more people than the LRA could abduct. In other words, people were safer in their own homes, subject to rebels than in the camps.

    The disservice of IC is this… every time a group of civilians takes up arms as a reaction to political marginalization, occupation or worse, the news is manipulated to make these people out to be apolitical fanatical terrorists. In no way do i agree with violence committed by the LRA or by Museveni’s government and the LRA has been committing atrocities for too long without any purpose now. But the narrative which IC frames the conflict in is so demonizing and fantastical. The LRA was originally supported by the Acholi people. The history of Uganda since colonialism set a political stage which is far more complex than IC acknowledges.

    I am hurt ICs evaluation because when we condemn any group to be beyond political reason and not worth negotiating with we are condoning violence. violence by any side is still violence. after all, most armies are just misled civilians armed and pitted against others through the language of fear.

    IC is promoting a misunderstanding directly correlated to violence and I hold them responsible for the misinformation they have posted. They tell the story of the war in Uganda with a hostility that leaves no room for real peace.

    - Disgusted

    • Morgan:

      Thank you for your in-depth response. I was hoping to see a note like yours here. I watched the viral video, and was, of course, touched by the moving testimonies given. I don’t think anyone on either side of the argument here wishes for the LRA to run rampant or their war crimes to go unchecked. I think the more pertinent issue is the long-standing question: What can WE do?

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I, for one, am tired of my own thirst for objectivity in such issues, only to find that I’m back where I started, with the feeling of helplessness and that the deeper details of said issues are beyond my scope or ken. I consider myself to be an intelligent man, and pride myself on my hunger for knowledge and understanding. So, again, what, in your opinion, would be a wiser choice of action, outside of siding with the viral media campaign? Where can my efforts to at least try & make some minor impact be best felt, without importing partiality on all the finer points of the situation as you so eloquently stated?

      On a more personal note, It just feels like I’m reading about/watching the atrocities of the world happen and the red tape surrounding them has my hands tied. And the subsequent depression & admitted laziness would just as well have me turn off my computer screen and go back to living my non-involved life. Even as a musician, a perpetuator of art – an aesthetic forum whose job it is (amongst other things) to bring situations such as these to the forefront of human consciousness – even with this gift I possess, I feel completely useless. Is it better, therefore, to let the “big guys handle the big problems” and let little people like me sit & wait for a result?

      That’s the feeling I get. And were I a lesser-learned individual, the opposition to that feeling would have me jump on the IC train and post a KON 2012 poster, just so I don’t feel like a wasteful fuck when it comes to global conflict and persecution.

      So while you’re admittedly feeling “Disgusted,” I must admit to the fact I’m downright pissed the hell off. And exhausted.

      • I am not going to pretend that I know the answer to this particular issue, but as one who’s going through the same emotional and intellectual process, I think it’s important to make realistic, timed goals toward this issue and just for the fact that one moves from being a spectator to being an actor, I think the world around us will change. NO ONE CAN SAVE ANYONE. We just happen to be sometimes the person that makes one person’s day brighter and it’s up to any one of us writing in these comments section to a blog we might forget about tomorrow to find a way to do just that.

    • Also, is there any way we can verify Morgan Kline’s activity in the region? Not that I’m rushing to deem them a liar or cite falsified information, but it would be nice to know that the objectivity posted here as a real face or bio behind it.

  29. Ah you are right on many points, but may I contend… this issue was buried beneath pop culture constantly in my face, political scandals, “shocking” twitter posts… Kim Kardashian… Need I say more? In short, I was embarrassingly unaware that this was going on and I admit that.

    Where the fail of these guys can be debated, I have to credit them with at least breathing awareness into the situation. If they hadn’t, your post I’m sure, wouldn’t have even been made. Why address something that isn’t getting our attention?

    And is this such a bad thing to be attentive to? I learned multiple sides of the IC’s case by simply being aware of them. Watching their video led me to your post, and other posts which clarify more things about Uganda. So no, I don’t view this as a one-dimensional issue. I don’t view Ugandan people in such polarized this-or-that language. And I can actually thank IC for building the awareness that led me to make these conclusions and led me to your post.

    One thing that’s hard to do these days is to get people to pay attention to anything besides the usual pop culture bubble we like to spend time in. At least these white privileged guys were able to puncture a whole in that bubble. Awareness leads to other things. It leads to students feeling empowered by what they might be able to do. And just maybe they’ll drop their iPhone earplugs and go out and do something that really matters.

    Yes, I’m sliding off the Uganda issue here to basically say that there’s a bigger picture here that I feel like you missed in your post. Then again you were addressing the issue of the current state of Uganda and the misleading ideas behind IP. But I’d like to at least make that point known.

  30. When I first watched this video I immediately caught on to the patronising man and the fact that he talked about himself an awful lot for a video that wasn’t supposed to be about him. It annoyed me at first. HOWEVER, I tend to disagree with the premise of your post.
    I realise that I may be one of your “lesser-learned” individuals, but I’m afraid to say that most of the world is too, and I think my “lesser-learned” opinion may be valuable to this debate.
    I think the problem here is that you are massively overlooking the bigger picture and the impact this campaign has already had. They are the only organisation who has gotten (no matter the means or the money) the attention of the world regarding this problem. To simplify:
    I had no idea about this situation. Now I do.

    Every night when the news comes on and they cover ridiculous stories about celebrities and David Cameron riding a horse I despair that this time could be used to draw attention to the atrocities in the world. When one organisation really gets the attention of a lot of people, be it by making a flashy movie and showing lots of clips of people holding their hands up in unison. To see people like yourselves cut it down frustrates me, because we should be encouraging everyone to want to do their tiny part!

    Now to you who love to analyse this may sound naive, but if there is not power in the voices of many people then I don’t know where there is.
    So if you could please show me some ‘intelligent advocacy’ that are trying to address the problems or raise awareness.. because I, the every day person have never heard a thing from them. But I have heard of IC and Cony 2012.
    Maybe they don’t know exactly what they’re doing from a ‘development’ perspective. But maybe sometimes passion is more powerful than professionals?

    • Completely agree with Natalie.

      Why critique how everything is handled and the people who are trying to make a change for the BETTER?

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  32. I might be wrong, but i’m pretty sure these people are just trying to fight for freedom for these kids, raising awareness of how horrible it is, and it’s working…

  33. Interesting post, when I saw the campaign at first I felt it was good and will drive social engagement, but then when I think more about it I see that all the posters will just cause a bunch of rubbish all over the world and the money would be more wisely spent on AID. But overall I feel it is a good cause, think about how much is spent on politics each year on specific candidates who have caused so many problems yet they still waste 100s of millions in campaign fees.

    • The trouble is though that the western world wants to show off their genourosity, to show of how good of people they are, to show that they care. They want to involve themselves hands-on to be able to say “I did this”. Because even when they are helping others, they want to be able to use it as brag-rights.

      People don’t donate money for aid because there’s nothing in it for them. It’s horrible, but it’s how it is. So there are necklaces, bracelets, t-shirts, just like a souvenir, but instead of it saying “I WAS HERE” it says “I AM A GOOD PERSON”. Because there’s nothing better than a good person, right?

      • As I read through these comments I wonder who is actually acting out their “brag-rights” here. Get over your own prejudices and stop judging people who want to prompt change – nothing has happened, or will happen if mass awareness doesn’t focus ressources to take action.

  34. After watching their video, posted on march 5th, I finally got to know about Kony. No, I did not know about him before, all I knew that this was happening, but not the exact things, nor by whom. Today I do. And even if IC isn’t the perfect organisation they have caught the attention of thousands, maybe even millions, across the globe. Eyes are on Uganda. It doesn’t mean that things are going to be done the way IC wants it to be done, it means that something will happen. People’s eyes and ears are open, willing to spring into action. As many others I am not as educated on this subject, but I’m young and have a loving heart, and a want for change. Without me, the young person wanting change, change isn’t going to happen. Our dreams is the future, so to label us naive simply for wanting change to happen is unjust.

    I hear you, IC isn’t the perfect organisation, and I believe no organisation is. What I do believe is that the heart is in the right place for the people in this organisation. And with more people watching them, there are going to be more critique their way, more people putting demands, more people highlighting what isn’t good. They’re going to be forced to change according to the public’s demands, just as any organisation out there.

    From where I’m standing today, I’m standing with IC. Their school program has been successful, they have somewhat local support, and they have caught the attention of the internet generation: people who barely pay attention to anything if it’s more than 4minutes long, and isn’t filled with action. They caught their attention for 30 minutes and motivated them to something beyond themselves, and that’s a good start.

    I am, though, going to put pressure on IC to pay the people who work for them more. 50 cents a bracelet isn’t enough when it sells for 20$.

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  37. I too have a personal problem with the film makers putting themselves into the picture – and I don’t know how many of the criticizers her know these people or the supporters personally- but in generalizing their motifs to somewhat freudian-lack-of-attention-kindergarten level and the movement into a personal white man redemption party, is, to say the least, is pretty damn rich. You could argue just as well, that all the Africans, Ugandans, or any suppressed group of people for that matter, are stupid in taking the shit they have been getting from Barbarians like Kony, governments or corporations.
    By what right do you judge the intention of young people wanting to change something..? And if by the end of 2012 Kony is arrested – was it wrong because a bunch of pretty boys from Cali labelled that change?
    The “true” advocates with knowledge of the situation haven’t succeeded to raise enough funds or use “rhetorical space” effectively to prompt any change in the aid situation or have Kony arrested for decades. If it takes a mass of non- to semi-informed selfish dreamers to take up the action – please join their cause. Critically, but put the cause over the resentment toward their faces.

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  43. Generalisations and Stereotypes are often used to make quick decisions…you see a man walking down a dark alley with a shaved head, a studded leather jacket and large boots, more often than not most people would judge him as someone scary and potentially dangerous regardless of who he actually is.

    I see IC’s marketing campaign as the same knee jerk response – albeit a decade long.

    And in response to the self gratifying nature of the video…he’s not hiding the fact that the footage is ultimately from his own subjective perception and I think its everyone’s own responsibility to be critical about it.

    But even after all this information I am interested to put my support behind April 20th purely on a social experiment level. Can genuine action which impacts (wrong or right aside) really be created through this? I doubt it –But I’m willing to see it through.

  44. I think (and the likelihood of me just being uninformed and incorrect is great, but I’m trying) is that the aim of the campaign, or at least one of them, was to, “Make Kony the most famous man in the world.” And I think they’ve begun to accomplish that to a certain degree, I mean, more people know about him today than before this video was published. I’m still in high school, but almost everyone I know his spreading awareness about Kony, through Tumblr, Facebook, email, Twitter. I found out about Kony through Tumblr, did my research, watched the video. I think that was the hope of IC, to spread knowledge about Kony, utilizing social media. For example, they made a YouTube video instead of a documentary; one can share a YouTube video with n-number of people through Facebook with simply a click, while it’s impossible to do that with a full-length documentary movie.
    I agreed with many IC concepts, but only because I was getting information from the wrong sources. From this post (and a couple of ones with similar views I’ve also found), I’m thinking now it would be wiser to find other ways of helping, instead of just ‘spreading awareness’. Another issue that many, many charities have is instead of dealing directly with a problem, they just throw money at it; I’m not really seeing why money is going to necessarily bring down the LRA, apart from making it easier for people to leave Uganda. But running away form problems doesn’t solve it.

  45. I think (and the likelihood of me just being uninformed and incorrect is great, but I’m trying) is that the aim of the campaign, or at least one of them, was to, “Make Kony the most famous man in the world.” And I think they’ve begun to accomplish that to a certain degree, I mean, more people know about him today than before this video was published. I’m still in high school, but almost everyone I know his spreading awareness about Kony, through Tumblr, Facebook, email, Twitter. I found out about Kony through Tumblr, did my research, watched the video. I think that was the hope of IC, to spread knowledge about Kony, utilizing social media. For example, they made a YouTube video instead of a documentary; one can share a YouTube video with n-number of people through Facebook with simply a click, while it’s impossible to do that with a full-length documentary movie.
    I agreed with many IC concepts, but only because I was getting information from the wrong sources. From this post (and a couple of ones with similar views I’ve also found), I’m thinking now it would be wiser to find other ways of helping, instead of just ‘spreading awareness’. Another issue that many, many charities have is instead of dealing directly with a problem, they just throw money at it; I’m not really seeing why money is going to necessarily bring down the LRA, apart from making it easier for people to leave Uganda. But running away from problems don’t solve them.

  46. I completely agree that it is brilliant that IC are raising awareness of the issue, and that they have captured the attention of a young generation. I also agree that they seem to glorify themselves, but that does not really bother me – as long as they are effective. This is a really interesting read: http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-trouble
    What worries me is that there seems to be an issue with where the money is actually going. Only 32% going to direct action, with massive amounts being spent on publicity and posters etc? I’d much rather make my own “Joseph Kony is BAD” poster and stick that up. Why does it need to be so heavily branded and geared towards making sure that everyone knows that IC are behind this movement? Further to that, am I right in saying that the aim is to raise awareness so that the government continues to keep troops in Uganda? If so, then I think it is very worrying that huge numbers of people are signing up without any further research or knowledge about whether or not that is the best option. I’m not saying that it isn’t – I personally have no clue what the best option is, but it seems to me to be a bit of a Be Careful What You Wish For situation. There are thousands of children being forced to be soldiers, but by responding with an army, it is important to remember that they will be the first to be killed, not Joseph Kony.

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