Why Kony 2012 Failed

I was tempted to title this blog “Why Nobody Gave A Sh*t About Joseph Kony Killing Kids”, but it seemed little wordy.

As I begin to reflect at the beginning of 2013 I am reminded of a little video that grabbed the attention of the world in April, 2012.  I’m sure you all remember when you were introduced to a man by the name of Joseph Kony.  (If you don’t know what I am talking about, and I don’t know how you can have the internet and not know who I am talking about, then I recommend you watch the tape.) I didn’t watch it at first, but instead I did what I usually do, which is wait a couple of days to see what the fall out was.  I was sufficiently intrigued when it became apparent that I couldn’t wade into the discussion without watching the video. I did and I was blown away.

Blown away for a couple of incredibly compelling reasons:

1) I like to think of myself as a fairly informed member of the electorate.  I have always liked current affairs, particularly in world and Canadian politics.  I had never heard of this guy!  This was kind of the point of the video and not the fundraising aspect, which I will get into later.  Remember this was how I learned of a man that existed in MY world that had killed, what was it 10, 30, 60 thousand children?!  And I had never heard about him…anywhere.  My astonishment was matched only by my revulsion.

2) It was the first time I heard of the concept of “The Age of Facebook”.  I began to think how that one little website had truly changed the way we communicate with each other.  How easy it was now for people, for strangers, to encourage revolutionary thoughts and ideas or to share in the pain and triumph of the human spirit!  Also, cat videos.  This was the first time that someone had asked me to use that connectivity to create something that could change the world and we were going to do it together, as human beings, not as members of different races, ethnicities, creeds, countries or continents.  It was the first time that I had felt that EMPOWERED.  And it was the first time as far as I knew anyone had tried anything like this on a global scale.

And I had such high hopes too!  The message was simple.  The time was now!  Let’s remember what else was going on in the world.  The Occupy protests had subsided over the winter with a whimper leaving people all riled up with no outlet for their outrage and no identifiable accomplishments.  The masses were awake and ready to take action!  It was a movement waiting to move and Kony 2012 gave everyone something that the Occupy protests lacked; clarity of purpose.  It was simple, this Kony guy was a monster and needed to be stopped.  Everyone could agree on that, right?  Killing and raping children was bad, we could at least all agree on that, right?  We were encouraged to write to our governments and express that this was something that mattered to the people, that stopping Joseph Kony should be a worldwide priority.  We would be the Allied Nations to his Axis Powers.  The world would collectively don a white hat and come to the rescue.  And, despite the cliche, we were going to do it for the children.

I fell in love with the idea that if we could just come together as a SPECIES and bring this one evil S.O.B. to justice that the real shift we sought would not only be at hand, but would be as a result of our own action.  If we could all stand united on this very simple idea, that this mass murdering, child raping sociopath should be found and brought to justice and that it is everyone’s responsibility to make that happen, then who knows what we might be able to accomplish together.  Ending poverty worldwide, global initiatives regarding renewable energy, everything was on the table and it was intoxicating. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  All we had to do was make Kony our first step.

But instead we didn’t even put our shoes on.  Once Kony 2012 broke and Invisible Children became a household name the “truthers” began to emerge to tear it down.  Financial reviews of the company’s records came to light showing less than stellar accounting.  These people were not the benevolent activists that they claimed to be.  Just another money grubbing NPO that was using these children to turn a buck and therefore part of the same villainy occupied by the 1%.  Once the cracks started to appear the conspiracy theorists jumped in with their wild stories about how it was all a government ploy to put Western soldiers in Africa, neo-colonialism they called it.  Finally, the least imaginative people got their turn and since Kony was no longer believed to be in Uganda the credibility of the entire movement was suspect. If that one fact was wrong, wasn’t it all wrong?  And in the middle of the movements tailspin the Invisible Children’s founder was discovered naked and rambling in the middle of the street, having cracked from the pressure of his life’s work.

It was all over before it began and Kony 2012 blended into the noise that has become our daily reality; 24 hour news cycles, celebrity gossip, and infotainment.  An opportunity lost.  A failed social experiment.  At best a footnote in pop culture, at worst a punchline for Letterman.

I wonder if things might have worked out differently if Invisible Children had not asked for donations.  If they had treated it as truly a public service announcement, how would it have increased their credibility?  Would people have come to them with wallets open even if they hadn’t cried, “Alms”?  I’ve worked in sales/marketing and even I found the donation request tacky.  After reading the information about their finances I decided not to donate money, but I still believed in the simple concept that Joseph Kony was (and is still) a monster and that I was powerful enough to stop him through action.

In the end, even I didn’t commit to catching Kony.  I started writing to my MP, but never finished the letter.  We made a point of going to the beach on April 20 to “paint the afternoon” with some chalk graffiti.  It was something, but I was disappointed in my results.  To be honest, at the beach I became self conscious about my purpose and it sapped my intention of being a leader. A pity.

In retrospect, I am analyzing the whole experience and I am forced to ask myself; if people had taken more time to truly consider what was being asked of them, that they weren’t really being asked for money, but that they were being asked to try, to participate, would it have made any difference?

Meanwhile, Kony and others like him are still out there.  Still enlisting children to fight in their armies.  Still gang raping little girls.  Still, still, still.

Why did Kony 2012 fail?  Because we did.

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3 thoughts on “Why Kony 2012 Failed

  1. Nothing wrong with NPO’s asking for donations, also nothing wrong with cutting yourself a paycheck from said donations – that’s the point of NPO’s. For example, there are people who are currently in business today, cutting themselves $70,000/year salaries, and all they do is organize charity type-events. They live comfortably and account for millions of dollars donated to various charities.

    Of course, not all charities are truly worthy of the funding and there are no shortage of hucksters who take advantage of the relative popularity of some causes (Pink Ribbon campaigns are a good example), but nowhere is it written that charity is free from the “buyer beware” principle. Fraud is fraud and theft is theft, to be sure, but if you willingly donate to a charity that simply under-performs (Invis. Children included), that’s your own bad.

    The problem with Kony 2012 is multifaceted. The founders were questionable, Kony himself wasn’t even in Uganda, and perhaps most importantly, the money was generally wasted on “awareness” – the premise being that the best way to stop Kony was to make a bunch of noise and somehow convince Congress to send government agents – soldiers, no less – to fight in a foreign country. Those who donated, only to regret the decision, could have discerned insanity this for themselves had they not been so careless with their money, and so easily sold on a few viral videos from Youtube.

    Obviously, the organization failed – but it is true that it didn’t have to end that way – Invisible Children pulled down millions in revenue – most of which they used to hire musicians and put on concerts where they sold merchandise – to little effect.

    You know what that money could have been used for? Mercenaries. You want Kony gone?15 million would probably get you at least a month of quality service from Blackwater. Just saying.

    • Thanks for your insight, Libertarian! I agree with what you when it comes to NPO’s and how people donate. I have this sense that most people throw money into the poor box without thinking about how it will be spent and are then outraged to find that their act of kindness wasn’t upheld on the NPO end. I am curious if they may have turned off potential donors/participants with their overt donation request. A simple “Go to our website to find out how you can help” may have been as effective.

      I think that it is important to recognize that Joseph Kony could have become a symbol for justice. Sending mercenaries in to simply execute him would have stopped him from committing atrocities, but it would do nothing to create the type of infrastructure that could deal with men like him in the future. That is not bringing someone to justice though. Catching him may have proven difficult, but is it not more satisfying to succeed by overcoming obstacles?

      • I honestly can’t imagine a positive difference between asking for donations and not asking for them. For what it’s worth – at least from the feel-good standpoint, I.C. did manage to send ~30% of it’s charity revenue to Uganda, for the standard popular cure-alls of “free education, food and medicine”. (Which of course, as they have in the past, would simply translate into a source of food, medicine and slightly more educated recruits for the region’s various rebel militias.)

        I’d also like to note that hiring a PMC doesn’t necessarily mean killing -anybody-. The difference between killing Kony and taking him alive would simply have been a matter of cost. Also – remember that one of I.C.’s stated goals was to get “U.S. Military Advisers” to go overseas and train / lead some kind of peasant militia or defense team. Though, again, such interference would likely backfire – it would easily have been the cheapest option if you were dealing with a private firm.

        Symbolism is for the movies. The infrastructure necessary to deal with someone like Kony – at least the system I think you mean, with due process, a trial and so on – requires a nation, or perhaps especially, a culture that respects the rule of law. The west has, in it’s puzzling and near-infinite guilt for being both peaceful and successful, tried numerous times to simply transplant western ethics into foreign cultures, with varying degrees of catastrophe. The reason catching Kony would result in satisfaction for you or I is because, if he were loose in North America – we would be bound to due process – protecting his right to stand for his crimes in front of a jury. It’s a question of basic morality. Due process, however, doesn’t exist in Uganda. Nor freedom of speech, nor freedom of religion, association, the right for citizens to bear arms, or really anything resembling a free society. The government is huge and tyrannical, infamous for it’s penchant for “disappearing” homosexuals & detractors alike. I hope one day we’ll understand that our continued interference in the operations of third world countries only entrenches this level of dysfunction – but I’m not holding my breath.

        In the end, yours or my satisfaction for overcoming obstacles cannot be the motivation for any action. If stopping Kony -in Africa- is the goal, then stop him. Alive, if possible. Dead if necessary. If civilizing the third world is the goal – well. I’m just not sure what to tell you. Either we could try to succeed in colonialism, (where the English, French and ultimately the U.N. have failed) and attempt to run Uganda’s legal & enforcement systems for them – or we could simply catch Kony and turn him over to the existing government, where he’d either be pardoned and recruited into the military, or be dragged into the streets naked to be drawn and quartered. At best (assuming the U.N. is watching closely enough), he’d just be thrown in prison to starve to death, after only a token appearance in court.

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