Criticism of the Critics of #KONY2012

I’m going to start off with: I think this is an amazing idea.

Not because I particularly care about Joseph Kony. He’s a Warlord with a horrifying track record of abuse and the deplorable tactics of using children as sex slaves and soldier under a pseudo-religious guise known as the Lords Revolutionary Army. I feel my sense of injustice with a bit of detachment afforded to me by my distance from his activities. I’m in Canada – he’s somewhere in Central Africa. His crimes go as far back as two decades. It’s sort of a lot to feel riled up about, and at the same time a little detached.

What has me excited is the viral response. In a matter of days, this thing has come to the forefront of everyones mind. This is the kind of protesting we need to see in the modern world. If KONY2012 works, then perhaps we can start changing other things in this world – bigger issues like oil consumption, global warming, and political accountability. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and finally the promise of the potential of social media is on a cusp.

But with every supportive post, comes a link to some poorly thought out criticisms of this movement. All of them are prefaced with “Kony is a bad dude, but…”

Invisible Children’s Response is here. It’s far more polite than I am.

I’d like to respond to each and every one of those criticisms, but it’s tiresome, so I’m going to do my best to collect up the main buckets here and respond. I’m not well informed about the situation on the ground in Uganda. I’ve never been there. I don’t know anyone from Uganda – so feel free to stop reading here and dismiss my comments about the critics if you wish. My issue is with several logical fallacies that have been put forth as ‘criticism’ of this movement.

Criticism Buckets:


One of the first arguments that seemed spark scrutiny of Invisible Children was the accounting skills of a second year political science student, Grant Oyston of Acadia University in Nova Scotia. I take particular exception to his site, which you can read towards the bottom.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. 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.

Visible Children

Putting aside from Gary’s inflammatory tone (‘[…]condemned time and again[…]’), his accounting perspective and math is essentially wrong. While he’s right that ‘only’ a third of the money that IC has spent has gone to on-the-ground direct action (Education Programs, the Early Warning System, Vocational Training, Literacy Training, and mental health support for LRA victims), he discounts the other two thirds that is spent on awarness (film making, distribution, transport for film, merchandise, etc) and advocacy (Lobbying, travel for lobbying, lectures, etc), despite the fact that those things are a part of IC’s program mandate. Dismissing these things doesn’t make them extraneous spending. That’s the fallacy with this argument. When you include all of those functions and their spending as charitable actions, as it is IC’s approach, then the numbers change drastically. Now over 80% of their money is going directly to their mandate of stopping Joseph Kony and the LRA.

Let’s put this argument in another context: “Coca-Cola has a budget of [X] amount of dollars. But they only spend [Y] amount of dollars on actually making Coca-Cola! The other [Z] amount is spent on advertising and packaging! Egads!”

This argument is null and void simply because the understanding of where the money is going is flat out wrong.

Charity Navigator says they’re shady!

Another one of the focuses of the criticisms is based on Charity Navigators rating of them – citing that they only have two stars out of four, and that they lacked an independent third party audit of their finances.

That’s not the full story. Charity Navigator has them at 3 out of four stars, not two as is being reported in the blogosphere. Their financials have been reviewed by an outside auditor according to IC, though Charity Navigator hasn’t been able to verify that yet. Does it mean it’s not true? No.

Charity Navigator is a decent tool for getting a financial picture of reporting charities, but that’s not going to tell you the full story. Basing an argument about the transparency of a site that doesn’t have a sound reputation themselves. On top of that, who is to say whether or not Charity Navigator had bothered to investigate that verification over the last few years, considering the sheer number of charities they are tracking?

Things that Charity Navigator can’t tell you: Effectiveness of the programs in place, efficiencies in overhead, or really anything about the charity other than how much cash it has on hand from year to year. It’s not an in-depth assessment.

The only ‘black mark’ that I can really see according to this is they’re missing one voting member of the board, a problem IC reports they are in the process of rectifying themselves. I don’t know enough about charities to know why that’s important, but being that their Programs gets the full four stars, it seems like a relatively unimportant factor.

Underpants Gnome Planning!

I’ve seen a few posts where Invisible Children is being criticized for not having a plan laid out on how precisely they intend to capture Joseph Kony and his commanders. IC never claimed to be in the business of military strategy.

The co-founders of IC have stated explicitly that their mandate is one to use advocacy and awareness to bring a peaceful resolution to the activities of the LRA. The video itself states the broad strokes of the plan:

  • Use Advocacy and Awareness to pressure the US government to send technology and training support to the UPDF
  • Given the tactics, training and tech from more sophisticated counter-terrorism experts from the US, then the UPDF can hopefully actually find Kony.
  • Arrest Kony.

I’m not sure what exactly the bloggers that use this as a criticism are hoping to hear. Are they hoping that IC is going to reveal US counter-terrorism tactics? Are these bloggers particularly well versed in counter-guerrilla tactics and war criminal arrest strategies?

Look, you’re not going to get a guy who has been using children as sex slaves and soldiers to stop with some immaculate handwriting, three dollar words and a lobster dinner. And by the same token, the only people who need to know the details of the military intervention plans are the UPDF and the US soldiers on the ground.

This as a counterpoint to IC’s message is incredibly naïve.

The UPDF does terrible things too

This to me, is part of another rebuttal involving the complexity of issues that affect African nations. But several articles have nonchalantly compared the depravity of the LRA’s modus operandi with the actions of small contingents and individuals within the Ugandan Army, so I’m pulling this out out to address specifically.

This is an incomplete comparison. Joseph Kony and his officers operate in a manner that subjugates, abducts and abuses people into his service. Independent sources corroborate this.

The Ugandan Army is part of the recognized government, and the allegations at the point are anecdotal and sporadic reports that combine a mishmash of events into a narrative that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is true throughout the whole of the UPDF. I’m well aware that the majority of these accusations are probably true – but what we’re talking about here is pockets of corruption, not the entire mandate of the military.

This is also in an area of the world where equality and individual rights and civil behaviors aren’t on par with our own ideals. But I think to judge the entire Ugandan army by a fractional abuse record and attempt to compare it to an organization that’s foundation is human rights abuses is a bit of a stretch.

Judging the entire force by the actions of some of its is a sweeping logical fallacy.

Let’s not kid ourselves – the situation over there isn’t perfect, I’m not sure what this criticism is hoping for in place of that. Rainbows and Singalongs? Are you hoping for US to just send it’s troops in and sort it out for everyone?

Because you know, American soldiers kick Puppies. All of them. All the time. It’s part of their training. I heard. From somewhere. Also, that worked out really well for Iraq.

See below about addressing issue complexities below.

The LRA hasn’t been active in Uganda since 2006/Their activities are winding down

Some of the articles that have come from better informed critics who have been to Uganda (I haven’t) talk about how in Uganda, they are enjoying their longest period of peace. Or that Joseph Kony left Uganda six years ago. This need to ‘fact correct’ seems to be stemming from the confusion that Invisible Children didn’t tell us that already, and confusing the need to use the UPDF to capture Kony and Uganda rehabilitation efforts.

While Joseph Kony isn’t active in Uganda, he’s still active. He’s been active for two decades, and while it’s unfortunate that Facebook wasn’t around or as prolific as Kony was in 1999 – 2004 when he was at the height of his violent career in Uganda, this movement is here now. It might be too late to stop the violence for Uganda then, but we can help the Sudan, CAR and the Congo now. That’s the point. This isn’t about Uganda or recovery. It’s about stopping a still active warlord.

IC didn’t say he was still there:

“As the LRA began to move into other countries, Jacob [one of the children filmed in Northern Uganda in 2003] and other Ugandans came to the US to speak on behalf of all people suffering because of Kony. Even though Uganda was relatively safe they felt compelled to tell the world that Kony was still out there and had to be stopped.”

But there were already two attempts, and they failed.

This is the argument that usually forces me to dismiss the authors critical views of KONY2012 out of hand. Why? Because if there’s something important to accomplish, like stopping Warlords, then you don’t just give up. What kind of attitude is that?

Firstly – No Western force was involved in ‘Iron Fist‘.

Secondly – Operation Lightning Thunder had some planning help and a few satellite phones from AFRICOM, and involved a haphazard co-ordinated effort between nations that ended abruptly.

I can’t really speak to why previous efforts have failed, but frankly, if that’s your reason for not wanting this man to face trial – “It’s tooooo Haaard!” – well, I bet your Momma is real proud. That’s a real go getter attitude.

Theatrics/Message Simplification

This is the core of most of the criticisms of IC’s KONY2012 video and campaign. And probably the weakest argument to foundation dismissal of this growing movement.

saccharine, MTV-esque 30 minute-long video replete with fist-pumping and peace signs is manipulative, ill-informed and overly simplistic.

Marc Ellison

I can’t bring myself to watch the video. I found all of their previous efforts to be emotionally manipulative, and all the things I try as a journalist not to be. After the peace talks in 2008, they put out another video, and I saw the footage used in these videos blending archival footage with LRA and SPLA and videos of them goofing off. It was the most irresponsible act of image-making that I’d seen in a long time. They conflated the SPLA with the LRA. The SPLA is a government army, holding weapons given by the government, and yet they did not create any division between them and LRA. That’s terrible.

– Glenna Gordon

“Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.”

– Musa Okwonga

The problem I have with this argument is that it lumps a whole lot of responsibility on 30 minutes of film on this one group. The questions about them weren’t raised until they got attention, and now the complaints start. ‘Not enough background’! ‘What about X and Y!’ – these things are irrelevant to this one thing. Why not ask them to fight cancer too? Or perhaps they should take up the plight of the panda? That’s not their mandate. That’s not the promise that started IC – the promise to Jacob to bring a halt to the LRA eight years ago.

As the video states: ‘We had to start somewhere.’

This is not about Uganda. They are not journalists. This is not about building schools, or ending corruption of the current Ugandan government. It’s not about the 2008 financial meltdown either. It’s not about animal abuse.

It’s about stopping a terrorist organization, and bringing it to justice.

That the message wasn’t chalk full of tourism facts about Uganda, or isn’t somber and rife with Ugandans talking with hard to read subtitles isn’t a failure to recognize issues. It is proving a success in pandering to the current social media generation of the west. The point of this film isn’t to wholly educate everyone. It’s to get them riled up. It’s to get them involved. Getting mad that it’s not a dry attempt to get people to feel responsible in lending help to the less fortunate with a measured scholastic approach, or a christian pity party about feeding the starving kids is really a side point about branding and marketing tactics.

Perhaps the production value is a little too good. Perhaps the story is a little glossed over. But commenting on the slickness on the video is an even shallower counter-point to IC production value. It’s akin to dismissing someone because they dress like a hipster.

I’ve read more about Uganda in the past 24 hours than I have in the whole of my life previous to seeing this video. So.. everyone is getting what they wanted. This video is hopefully going to not only bring the end of the LRA through international co-operation and support, but it’s going to put the whole of Uganda and it’s neighbours under the world scrutiny. Use that attention. Warchild is.

Holding the KONY2012 campaign responsible for educating the masses about the whole history of the conflict and the current state of these countries now is losing sight of what’s got people riled up. That information is available on the web. They have a page on their website about the history of the conflict. But that’s not what they’re asking of everyone for this singular, laser focused tactic. They’re asking for justice, with a defineable goal.

Why not ask the Heart and Stroke foundation why it’s not doing more to prevent people from eating at McDonalds? It’s a misdirection tactic to dismiss the cry for justice because it ignores the multitude of other issues affecting the region.

What is killing Joesph Kony really going to accomplish?

The ‘What next’ argument is absurd.

The theory, from what I can gather from the various materials I’ve read is several fold.

  • By removing the threat of Joseph Kony and his top commanders, the hope is that the LRA will dismantle itself – cut the head off the snake, and it dies. By removing this threat that answers to no one but himself, perhaps the level of violence and fear in these regions can be reduced drastically. By removing the overall threat of violence and ending a 20+ year conflict, perhaps government focus can turn on putting their money into more development and education.
  • Reading a bit between the lines, I’m seeing some faint hope that if the military powers of these regions combined can work in concert, hopefully there will be more peaceful interactions by these nations to help raise the level of safety and education in the regions.
  • If the UPDF and co-operating forces can finish dealing with Kony, then they can then turn their attentions to other matters like Somalia.
  • With the scrutiny on Africa, there is also the longview hope that governments in these war torn regions will run out of excuses for the massive amounts of corruption in their regimes. If IC can put international pressure on the region to remove this one criminal, than perhaps they can keep that pressure up in other areas that need attention. You know that the UPDF is on the ICC’s list too, right?

And the bottom line of it is: It will bring a Warlord to justice. It will send a message that the world is not going to sit idly by any longer and allow men of violence to rule and ruin the lives of people who just want to go to school and make a living.

It might make things worse.

Jack McDonald’s slippery slope speculation about the unintended consequences of dropping next level military tech into the hands of people who may not be equipped with the same moral compass we’ve come to have while developing said next level tech warrants a second look.

As well, a few articles have pointed out that each time a military action has been committed against him, he’s responded with more violence and activity. That’s a legitimate concern. People might die in a conflict where people are already dying. This might seem callous, but I’m trying to be realistic here. You’re trying to stop a warlord that uses child soldiers. You’re going to get mud on you.

But the alternative is to do nothing. Uganda might be at peace right now, but there are three other countries that are now ‘benefitting’ of the LRA’s presence now that they’ve been chased out of Uganda.

This guy, making an argument about acting on global warming, pretty much makes the argument I would make. Do nothing, or Do something. Which will have the higher cost?

White Man’s Burdern

The argument of neo-colonialism and ‘White Man’s Burden’ is, in essence a rationalization for ineffective actions. There have been NGO’s on the ground for decades in Africa – so I fail to see how their efforts to bring clean drinking water are any different than this, when it comes to this argument. ANY intervention by outside nations could be chalked up to this – so again, you’re left with a sour grapes style counter-point.

Visible Children

I take the Visible Children blog out as a particular example, mainly because of it’s disingenuousness. And the fact that world wides news sites and blogs feel this is a credible source.

Grant Oyston is a second year political science student at Acadian University in Nova Scotia. Despite the fact that grievous errors with his understanding of the finances, the situation or the organization have all been pointed out, he still maintains his positions of criticism. He turned on his “the audience for this post was originally a group of approximately 30 friends whom it was emailed to originally” to “This is precisely the sort of information I was hoping they would be more up-front with” in a matter of hours.

Basically this kid is still grasping the subtleties of talking out of both sides of your mouth, and backpedaling without apologizing. Pretty much the defining characteristic that I deplore in Political Science scholars and politicians alike. He has little understanding of the situation, and while I applaud his skepticism, I find his ability to research and analyze data lacking in competence or wisdom.


Stop trying to come up with excuses not to save the world. Start saving it.

Regardless of whether or not Joseph Kony deserves this kind of attention at this given moment in time, or if KONY2012 wasn’t 100% accurate on subjective perspective propoganda, that’s not the real thing to be cognizant of here. What’s important is the globalization of social consciousness. This video has touched off the hearts and minds of people everywhere, and as long as the mission is accomplished, I think that will help put the power back in the hands of the people. I’m not critical of the criticisms for being critical – I’m critical of them for mistaking actual criticisms with sour grapes opinions and their lack of context or misdirection and subversion. I totally encourage a global discussion, but the ‘critical’ rhetoric adds up to nothing more than an excuse not to join the global community in changing the way we think about the global community.

Those that are looking to these articles and using out of context quotes as support for criticism for an altruistic charity that is attempting to start somewhere in changing the discussion in the war torn regions of Africa aren’t proffering alternative solutions.

SOPA/PIPA were stopped. Wikileaks happened. We helped identify hundreds of rioters in Vancouver. We can help bring War criminals to justice. We can make this a better world to live in. Start somewhere.

3 thoughts on “Criticism of the Critics of #KONY2012

  1. Hi,

    I’m only going to comment on your rebuttal to my bits and pieces. My point wasn’t “Don’t do it.” but “Understand exactly what you’re talking about before you advocate using military force.” I’m afraid that your arguments against my points seem to completely miss this. My argument was that IC appear to exclude any consideration of the fact that people will die if their peer-pressure pays off in getting more people to go after Kony.

    Again, if you present the issue as “This person is really bad, we think he should be stopped, it will mean spending money/some more people getting hurt in the process.” then I have no problem with it, even though I think it’s problematic for other reasons. But IC don’t.

    As for naivete, maybe listen to IC themselves:

    Quote of note:

    “This is a very unique and special case in which people do not have to die.”

    The guy honestly expects that Kony is going to give himself up because he’s ‘listening’ to the world. So by your own statement: “Look, you’re not going to get a guy who has been using children as sex slaves and soldiers to stop with some immaculate handwriting, three dollar words and a lobster dinner.” maybe you should be pointing that out to IC.

    As for:
    “And by the same token, the only people who need to know the details of the military intervention plans are the UPDF and the US soldiers on the ground.”

    Do you think that it is okay to send people into harm’s way based on a campaign that excludes the consideration of the fact that they might get hurt? It isn’t much of a mandate, is it? How do you think a Ugandan soldier feels when told “Hey, we were going to let you stay home but America’s college students have decided you should get into a firefight.” or an American soldier feels when told “You know what, these charity people think it’s okay to send you off around the world on a manhunt without considering that you might die.”?

    As for my standing in counter-guerilla tactics, I’m teaching a course next year on the history of guerilla warfare. Regardless, none of the questions and criticisms posed require specific knowledge, they are basic issues of military affairs and interventions.

    • Thanks for your comments!

      If IC is blind to the fact that there’s no clean way to extract a warlord that’s unwilling to surrender, then you’re bang on in criticizing them for that naïveté. That’s completely ludicrous. I’m fully aware that the situation would probably end up resulting in more deaths. My point was that there’s going to be deaths regardless, and the only way to stop that death is by stopping the LRA. It’s a matter of having the stomach to sacrifice lives in the pursuit of stopping the violence that will continue if no action is taken.

      I don’t think it’s okay to send people into harms way. I think it’s part of the package that soldiers sign up for, though. The sentiment of that comment applies to anything that involves the military. It’s not about learning to tie knots and camp in the wilderness – the military, at it’s foundation is a force that is trained to fight and kill (or be killed). I would love to live in a world where we don’t need soldiers, and conflicts were settled with a game of chess. I know that’s a flight of fancy. I also don’t think that America should be playing world police – mainly because they’re not particularly good at it. But right now, they’re the best equipped, as far as I know.

      But I do think that those of us that have, in that sense of the word of haves and have nots, should be in the business of sharing what we have in the way of tools and education, not exploiting and just dumping money at problems. I don’t think we need to be fighting those fights for other countries – but I think we have a responsibility to facilitate resolutions to issues when there are people who are asking for that help. The UPDF may not have asked for that help, but I’m given the impression there are those in LRA affected areas that have welcomed IC’s intervention and assistance, and are on board with their game plan.

      If IC doesn’t have the stomach for that, or they are completely ignoring that it might come to that, then they probably shouldn’t be in the game of taking on warlords, and the criticisms of spending money on advocacy and awareness is correct and they should be putting more money into the education and development programs. But whether or not they are aware of that doesn’t necessarily affect my support of putting a stop to Joseph Kony. Nor does it affect that – and you can call me callous for this view – lives might be put on the line. That’s about all the bravado I’m willing to muster on that subject though. I’m not going to pretend that I’m a soldier, or that I’d be brave enough to do the same thing if I was in their shoes. I’m not a soldier, and I don’t know how I’d react.

      You weren’t the only one that put forth the gnome underpants criticism. However, if you can suggest to me that there’s value in having the exact game plan mapped out for anyone interested enough to read it on the internet being a good idea, then put that out there. But just because you don’t know the extent of the plan, doesn’t mean there’s not more too it. You might have valuable input. Or you might just be the one too many cooks in the kitchen – I don’t know. I’m told that 100 US troops with relevant training are on the ground advising the UPDF and facilitating training and strategy. That’s all of ‘Step 2’ I need to know. I think it’s a leeeeeettle bit arrogant to believe that we as a collective need to be included in that knowledge circle.

      I put this post up really just to get it off my chest. If IC sees it and wants to talk to me, then my phone number and email address are on the bottom of every page, and the comments are open. I’m always up for a discussion. I was just sick of people bashing their campaign for the wrong reasons. Keep in mind that of all the criticisms, I think yours had (albeit worst case scenarios included) the most realistic views on unintended consequences of western involvement, and the only things that people should be cautious about in supporting this campaign.

      Feel free to take me to task on any of my other comments, as well. My motivations for supporting the action is only really in the hopes that ‘slacktivism’ (I hate that term) can honestly make a difference in how people discuss global issues and act on them. If the necessary level of involvement to force action on change and accountability of our elected representatives to the people who elect them can be accelerated through social media, that’s what I’m really supporting. I honestly hope that democracy can evolve through the global discussion.

    • One additional thought to your last set of questions – because the keep bugging me. Which do you think a soldier would prefer to take that kind of order (you’re going on a manhunt) from: The nation of which they swore to defend that want a child fucking/killing madman in another area of the world stopped because his crimes are awful and have gone ignored by the rest of the world, or from a select group of elite politicians that tell them the lie it’s a matter of national security in the name of securing oil fields? I imagine that men and women who have served or wish to serve would probably rather the altruistic use of their skills and training as opposed to using them to further the economic status of the few at the top. That’s probably just my idealism talking though.

Give me some feedback!