Thursday, March 8, 2012

KONY 2012: When institutionalizing an idea leads to its demise

KONY 2012: When institutionalizing an idea leads to its demise

When you get your Facebook and email flooded with the KONY2012 videos and articles, you realize shit has just got serious. Massive posts and sharing of the KONY2012 short documentary has indeed stirred countless responses, mostly favorable, yet a frantic minority has been calling out for a conspiracy.

Follows the video widely widespread on the net and massively shared on Facebook:

The message is clear, concise and appealing, making full use of the influence and persuasion technics of any media campaign. Yet, any propaganda opts for the same mechanisms of propagation and massive distribution, making more than one raise an eyebrow as to what are the real incentives behind the KONY2012 organizational and promotional group.

Why questioning? Well, the numbers speak for themselves! Millions of dollars channeled throughout the globe through donations and purchases of different solidarity kits and gadgets, ranging from bracelets, to shirts and posters.  These millions of dollars are fueling the efforts which made the KONY2012 such a successful social media offensive, yet the virtual nature of the campaigns main feature brings to the spotlight several critics concerning the budget allocation and spending.

I will quote here the website

Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that.

The budgetary management is far from being a regulated financial source and the lack of transparency and audit further advances the theory of mal practice and financial frauds.

Yet, financial opacity is not the key concern raised about the KONY2012 campaign. The political implications are far outweighing any financial considerations indeed. A US military intervention, be it through logistical support, military advisory personnel or through actual ground intervention with American troops, stirs enormous concerns on the incentive behind a military participation and the potential implications of such acts on the US interests.

The Political profile of the supporters of the KONY2012 campaign inside the corridors of the congress can easily be drawn. The video displays the 12 political figures the campaign intends to motivate towards a military intervention, and not surprisingly, the republicans are at the forefront of the little congress battalion ready to fight for a humanitarian intervention, as they did in Iraq and elsewhere.

But what the general public remains oblivious towards are the constant failures of military operations targeted at the capture or killing of Kony. These operations, under the auspices of AFRICOM troops and guidance of US military personnel, failed in prompting positive results, and instead fueled fiery and bloody responses from the LRA leadership. I quote here the Foreign Affairs article on the subject:

Obama's apparent sudden escalation of U.S. engagement in Uganda, then, came as quite a surprise. His announcement did not publicize the fact that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has had an unspecified number of soldiers deployed in the area to assist the Ugandan army for years. In late 2008, AFRICOM was even involved in a military push to take out the LRA once and for all. It is easy to understand why Operation Lightning Thunder, the mission aimed at capturing or killing Kony at his main base in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, goes unmentioned. Kony and his commanders had vacated the area well in advance. The mission was beset with other problems, too. 

In the light of the failure of the military option, what alternatives can be explored? Furthering the military involvement would with no doubt bring better results if sustained though well equipped, knowledgeable and culturally close troops with an inherent understanding of the social and geographic setting. I hint here towards the African Union which counts among its operative branches a wide array of military personnel originating from the African continent. Not only would these troops be more successful in sweeping efficiently the Ugandan terrain due to their familiarization with African geography, but would also be comfortable in communicating with the locals and prompting a positive sign of solidarity from the villagers who are keen in addressing and helping a fellow African who crossed miles in order to come help out in the death chase led against Kony and his supporters.

But most importantly counts the long term investments the international community ought to prioritize. Education and infrastructure are a primordial imperative necessary for immunizing the Ugandan community from the Kony LRA group. An educated society and a healthy society will be keener to fight in order to preserve their well-being and socio-economic prosperity. One never fights for something he doesn’t have. Propriety, both physical and non-materialistic, is the strongest incentive behind active action taking. Kony is not triumphing due to its army or weapons, but more due to its mystical power gathered through the fear and ignorance of the locals. Here lays the real struggle: a struggle against mysticism, ignorance and fear.
We can do better, and we can certainly do it without compromising a certain country’s interests or a certain individuals’ ethical code of conduct. By supporting KONY2012, you’re not only supporting a moral imperative and ethical obligation to overthrow the warlord Kony, but you’re supporting as well an idea institutionalized in the NGO promoting the campaign. A true genuine initiative rests on the purity and credibility of its propelling values and ideals, and once these are compromised, the institution as well as the moral imperative follows. Do not let the genuine struggle for the kids and teens in Uganda turn into a massive lure, a political chess game were the individual is freely moved in order to fight a political battle he was not keen on taking part of. Do not let political agendas hijack the pristine values of solidarity, support and cross-borders activism.

You can still contact your representatives, sign petitions and write letters to HRW or Amnesty International, but be aware of not exclusively associating the KONY2012 campaign with the child soldiers issue in Uganda as a whole, because once you do that, you’ve done the same mistake the believers made during medieval ages if not still in today’s world: establishing a centralized powers with the holy duty of carrying a specific message. If the church got to rob its audience for religious favors, you have the choice today of refusing such a process. Donating to KONY2012 campaign and buying its goodies would not foster any better the chances of raising awareness of the issue if one publicizes the problem virtually or verbally. Donation would be acceptable in the case of good governance and responsible management of donations, but in case of the KONY2012 promotional organizers, transparent management of financial resources has still a long way to cover before becoming genuinely appealing to the audience.

Remember it is not about KONY2012, it is about those helpless child soldiers forced to coerce their soul into doing violent unimaginable atrocities. Think critically and avoid being blinded by the fiery appeal of military intervention. A change is more than an applied paint meant to cover a hole; a change is cooperative efforts which bring all of us together in a genuine action where we fill the hole before applying the paint.
Mohamed Amine Belarbi


  1. Very nice article.

    This campaign needed some heavy ToK work from all of us before sharing that video.

    I fully agree with your statements. By the way, did you know? Uganda started producing oil, not so long ago (6 months ago):

    Definitively a misleading piece of propaganda that despite conveying a positive message (stop Kony) has recurred to manipulation of evidence and unprofessional behaviour in order to achieve its goals.

    1. my mistake, production started a couple of years ago. Could oil be on the way to achieving the goal?