By Ben Cohen: Yesterday, we ran as a headline the extraordinary online documentary ‘Kony 2012’ about Ugandan mass murderer and war lord Joseph Kony. Created by the charity ‘Invisible Children’, the film has received tens of millions of views on youtube in a matter of days. The film portrays the miserable plight of Ugandan children kidnapped by Kuny and forced into the ‘Lords Resistance Army’ where they are forced to commit horrific acts of violence, sometimes against their own families.
The film is extremely powerful and made me feel that running it as a headline was the least I could do to help the cause. But not long after, several sites started breaking stories that the film and charity were not quite as straight forward as they seemed. Journalist Michael Wilkerson wrote the following in Foreign Policy:
Let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.
First, the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (and several big screw-ups). In October last year, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army advisors to help the Ugandan military track down Kony, with no results disclosed to date.
Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.
As I wrote for FP in 2010, the small remaining LRA forces are still wreaking havoc and very hard to catch, but Northern Uganda has had tremendous recovery in the 6 years of peace since the LRA left.
Wilkerson’s piece is definitely worth reading in full as he has carefully researched other criticisms of the charity and film, providing multiple sources and links. The criticisms are certainly troubling and worth considering if you decide to donate money to the cause.
I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the issue, but I do believe that drawing as much attention to genocidal figures like Kony is a worth while endeavor, despite flaws in the messenger and delivery. Political films are by nature manipulative and somewhat deceiving – but that’s the point – to create an effect and instigate action. At the end of the day, if the film and organization spur action against Kony and result in his arrest or killing, I’m sure people will forgive the inaccuracies and somewhat murky nature of the charity. Michael Moore has dealt with similar criticisms about his films, yet his impact on very serious issues is undeniable. Moore almost single-handedly brought America’s disastrous health care system to the main stream media’s attention, forcing them to cover the issue in a far more serious way and allowing momentum for change at a legislative level.
This isn’t to justify deception or distortions of fact, but it would be worth remembering that both ‘Kuny 2012’ and ‘Sicko’ are films, not documentaries. The filmmakers are not claiming to be journalists – they are promoting causes, and there is a big difference.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.