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KONY, or on the weaknesses of democracy

KONY, or on the weaknesses of democracy

This week my Facebook feed was littered with postings about KONY, the latest viral “activist” movement to sweep the web.

A brief recap: a charity called “Invisible Children” launched a video campaign to bring about awareness of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. The #stopkony campaign has been trending on Twitter and aims to promote action through  awareness of the atrocities he commits in Uganda.

Reuters covered the launch of the popular video:

The group behind the video, Invisible Children, has been extremely savvy and organized in its use of social media, grabbing the power of the Internet by the tail to force its agenda onto the public stage.

The group carefully planned the launch of the video, targeted high-profile, highly social-networked celebrities to spread the word, and had a website that didn’t crash when their strategy worked.

The 30-minute video is entertaining, adorable in its use of movement founder Jason Russell’s own baby at the start of the story and dramatic in its turn toward the tragic plight of Ugandan children like Russell’s now-grown friend Jacob.

Invisible Children showed a lot of tact in their video production. They looped in celebrities and take a stand against rape and child exploitation. One would be hard pressed to disagree with them at face value and, certainly, their viral success attests to the seemingly innocuous sentiment behind their agenda.

Alas, part of their success seems to be laden in the fact that most people who are now “anti-Kony” don’t know much about the movement aside from the video. A less heartwarming article in The Atlantic should, in theory, have reversed this trend:

According to Visible Children, an anti Invisible Children blog, the company spent only 33 percent of its $8 million-plus in spending on “direct services.” Some critics also point to Charity Navigator, which grades the transparency and financial earnings of charities, and Invisible Children’s 2-star rating when it comes to “accountability and “transparency” (out of four).

And The Guardianreports that Invisible Children supports the Ugandan Army. That isn’t good, because they also do plenty of bad things (arrests, torture, killings, etc.), says an expert at Human Rights Watch Africa.

Invisible Children also been accused of tampering with the stats they reported, inflating them.Foreign Affairs called it, “manipulated facts for strategic purposes.”

So, there, now people know about what a wreck Uganda is, but they are – generally – getting their information through a pretty miserable filter. Some 26 million people have viewed the KONY video on YouTube and, judging by my Facebook feed, many have had their heartstrings tugged.

I wouldn’t fault anyone for “liking” this; I certainly don’t want warlords to prosper and I suspect any decent human being shares that sentiment. Unfortunately, the truth about Invisible Children underpins a deeper problem with how people take their positions on many political issues: since time is scarce, it is oftentimes difficult for people to take informed positions on issues that don’t directly apply to them. Emotional appeals are a type of political shorthand for propagating poorly designed policies – both foreign and domestic – because they don’t require much else than the coaxing of the audiences ego. (“If you believe everyone deserves life, vote for universal coverage!” “Look, a warlord is doing terrible things, don’t you want to stop him?”) Once issues take a purely emotional tone, the debate becomes then an act in “out-compassioning” the other side.

One must bear in mind, though, that all that glitters is not gold – or that all who do a very well-produced criticism of Ugandan warlords are necessarily worth supporting.


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Stop the madness. Let Africans fix Africa. Cut all foreign aid to the African continent and give nothing to any charity that spends any portion of its capital in Africa.

It’s time to let Africa go. It’s past time to let Africans fix their own problems, and giving money to any African is not helping.

These people have cultural and corruption issues. They will fix their own problems only when they own their own problems.

Let Africa go.

    Kathleen McCaffrey in reply to [email protected]. | March 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I prefer to support Africans by buying from businesses that give them a dignified livelihood through honest employment.

      Hope Change in reply to Kathleen McCaffrey. | March 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Kathleen McCaffrey – I think you are right.

      This book gave me a profoundly new understanding of why thinks don’t seem to get better in Africa.

      Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo

      It seems that by giving huge sums of money to small, impoverished African nations, we create an incentive for thuggish, criminal-minded men to conquer the people and collect the money. Then they steal the money for their own use, and use the money to enslave the people.

      Sort of like Washington, D.C. right now.

      Right Kathleen. I believe Kiva is one of the best ways of supporting Africa. And for the love of God, stop sending them clothes and food. Those are the best places to start building an economy and by sending them free stuff we are insuring they won’t get of the ground.

    In order to understand Africa you have to understand their main export, white guilt. They manufacture it in carbon neutral factories, raise it on organic farms and market it worldwide via feel good liberalism.

    Besides, the Greek market for black Mercedes limos with fender flag holders has pretty much collapsed.

LukeHandCool | March 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

“Emotional appeals are a type of political shorthand for propagating poorly designed policies – both foreign and domestic – because they don’t require much else than the coaxing of the audiences ego. (“If you believe everyone deserves life, vote for universal coverage!” “Look, a warlord is doing terrible things, don’t you want to stop him?”) Once issues take a purely emotional tone, the debate becomes then an act in “out-compassioning” the other side.”

Couldn’t have said it better, myself, articulate lady!

I haven’t seen the video. But the problem is, so many of these “problems” are not problems in the traditional sense of the word. In the traditional sense, a problem is something that can be solved. Unfortunately, many of these “problems” are actually “messes” that cannot be solved … and, tragically, they just play out over time.

    A logical fallacy goes hand in hand with the emotional appeal:

    1. Here is a bad thing.

    2. Here is a proposal to stop the bad thing.

    3a. If you support the proposal, you oppose the bad thing. provisionally true*
    3b. If you do not oppose the bad thing, you do not support the proposal. follows from 3a
    3c. If you oppose the bad thing, you must support the proposal. counterfeit version of 3a which is put over via emotional duping
    3d. If you do not support the proposal, you do not oppose the bad thing. counterfeit of 3b

    4. People who support bad things are legitimate targets of righteous indignation. implied threat
    *In fact, the real purpose of the proposal can be to accrue power with the “bad thing” chosen as a pretext to that end.

I love the naivete on this so so much. “Haul him to the ICC!” Right, because in the Court’s time (about 10 years now) it’s managed to bring how many people to Justice?
But my critics will say “it’s only 10 years old! It can’t do that much yet.” Well then I say, how effective has the UN been in general? Bosnia, Rwanda, all big victories for the UN I’m sure.
In any case I watched Hotel Rwanda a few years ago, and while I felt bad for the Rwandians I actually think the bigger take home for me was the absurdity of the UN peacekeeping force being unable to even defend itself (thus showing it’s uselessness.) This isn’t really an argument for the US to run around taking care of problems, it’s more of a “clearly what we have isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on” observation, I don’t have a solution (other than to start the whole process over.) Plus, I imagine it’s really hard to capture a crazy warlord anyway (they tend to be the “fight to the death” type.)

[…] William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has posted an interesting piece about the internet phenomenon that is the Kony 2012 video. The video was produced by a charitable […]

2nd Ammendment Mother | March 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Kony is a bad guy, but Invisible Children are opportunists. At the very least, each of us can politely encourage our friends who like the videos to further investigate Invisible Children….

I did not support President Bush when he sent millions in aid to Africa. That money went down a black hole or to thugs instead of helping those in need.

“Arrest” him? And then what, when one of his close henchmen rises up to take his place?

Beck had a segment on Kony today with a military officer who believes this video is a brilliant sales gimmick although Kony has not been seen or heard of for six years and is most likely dead. If so, where is the support going? Let Africa heal it’s own ills.

Midwest Rhino | March 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

so for the people moved by the video, what are the alternative ways to support Ugandans? Do they sell a product where the profits don’t go to the thugs?

I might pay $1 more a pound for “fair trade” coffee if that all went to the farmer. But if he gets 20 cents a kg instead of 11 cents … then we need a better answer.

    tsrblke in reply to Midwest Rhino. | March 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Fair trade is stupid on a whole other level to be honest. I enjoy good coffee so I’ve bought various fair trade blends from time to time (I mostly drink stuff by a local roaster because it’s tasty and not over roasted, and I have yet to find a national brand that doesn’t taste like ash.)
    In any case, Fair trade doesn’t encourage any moderization techniques in coffee farming.
    Take Kauai coffee company, those crazy people have leveraged low flying devices and blueberry pickers to farm large areas of land and pick coffee with minimal labor (the low flying drones survey for ripeness to ensure that they aren’t harvesting junk.) This keeps their cost (by Hawaii standards) fairly low actually (keeping in mind the general premium on Hawaii coffee, the grade and such.) If these models shifted to the Fair trade market you’d be paying fewer laborers but likely higher wages, but I’d bet the fair trade people would be all up and arms about that job lost etc. Hell if this were the case companies like Folgers should be able to get into the game and meet the minimum requirements (but they can’t)

      Midwest Rhino in reply to tsrblke. | March 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm

      yeah … I haven’t looked into it … but as coffee prices dropped, rather than blaming Europeans for pushing them away from subsistence farming into coffee, they should get back to growing what works.

      Wells for clean water and maybe even some cell phones or radios with a little solar power has helped some villages. Sending large shipments for vicious warlords to confiscate might actually hurt.

Kathleen, you’ve vetted this. What organization do you recommend for support?

jeannebodine | March 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I came across this yesterday in The American Spectator :

Kony 2012,’ Invisible Children, and the Jaw-Dropping Hubris of the American Left

I found it after searching for something with a different take because the story & the roll out seemed so manufactured by Hollywood.

Seems to me that there are three issues at play here:
1) This is a 6 + year old story and it looks like the numbers of children and atrocities might have been exaggerated.
2) Kathleen indicated that people are vulnerable to stylized, heart-wrenching marketing appeals when formalizing their political opinions and deciding which “causes” to support.
3) Kony is the first atrocity-committing madman in many, many years that used pieces of the Christian bible and theology to justify his actions. The left has been looking for a “genuine Christian” bogeyman for a long time.

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learning that there are really bad guys in this world (and there’s plenty like kony in africa) is a good thing but the ‘solution’ offered is to tweet a celebrity to help push for his capture. hey, rhianna, go get that sucker!…?!?