Editor’s Note: The following op-ed post was written by Jesse and Andrea Kroeze, Bergen County natives who are missionaries with Touch The World Uganda.
The biggest craze to hit all social media this month is Invisible Children’s (IC) newest campaign: KONY 2012. Since we live in Northern Uganda, home to the twenty-plus-year crisis, and are working directly with survivors of the LRA (and are even close friends with former rebel soldiers and abductees), we’ve been asked by many family, friends and supporters our thoughts on all the hoopla. So, let’s jump right in:
I think all of us agree on one thing…Kony is a mad, possessed killer who has orchestrated a war that terrorized millions. He must be stopped so that rapes, abductions and killings of innocent men, women and children continue no longer. (Sidenote, since the IC video was a bit ambiguous: The LRA, the army that Joseph Kony leads, left Uganda six years ago and this is no longer the current situation in Uganda. However, it is known that the LRA continues their tactics of abduction as they move across borders between Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. They are currently believed to have less than 200 – some report even less than 100 – in their army.)
Invisible Children has done an unprecedented job to raise awareness of this conflict and the plight of Northern Uganda over the past few years. Even personally, some of our initial education on Uganda that drove us to visit Africa in the first place, was because of a little film called Invisible Children: Rough Cut (IC’s 1st of 11). They are media and marketing geniuses and should be applauded for the strides they’ve made to let the world know of the atrocities that have occurred at the hands of the LRA. Hands down, they know how to pull on some heart strings, incite holy rage, and stir people to action.
Invisible Children thrives off visually appealing campaigns that will elicit a deeply emotional response, like staging photographs of young African children holding machine guns. Our concern is the fine line between giving the accurate picture of current reality and using sensationalism to share a story.
We live in Gulu Town, home to the Invisible Children Ugandan office. We’ve met and talked with their staff and even work closely with some of their beneficiaries. We have seen the positive effects of some of their efforts first hand, particularly through their Schools 4 Schools Campaign. But we also run our own development organization working directly with those who have been affected by the LRA. We are working tirelessly in a small village in Gulu, a former IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, to bring complete transformation – physically and spiritually – to one community. We operate on a non-existent budget in comparison to IC yet have already seen so many lives restored. To imagine what could be done with 100x the funding that we currently operate on…it’s just hard for us to justify millions going into film making (now on their 11th) when we know how far it could go on the ground in Uganda.
While advocacy and policy making (such as urging Obama to send 100 US troops to Uganda to boost the efforts to catch Kony) are not bad in and of themselves, if even a minuscule percentage of what they spend on raising awareness while traveling the US in RV’s was sent directly to Uganda and other African nations tormented by the LRA, consider the impact it would have on the people who were terrorized by this war to actually rebuild their lives. Without question, there is a need and place for awareness and advocacy. But it can’t end there…once someone is made aware, a next step is needed.
We could really go on and on here…you can find a nice summary of many of our same thoughts here.
But perhaps the most questionable action of Invisible Children is how it paints a picture that this is a simple war led by one man. Their mission is to “…end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war…” The truth that IC cannot disclose because of its risk as an organization is that this was not and is not just Joseph Kony’s war. The root causes are so deep, so varied and can be traced back as far as colonial days. There are multiple “bad guys” in all the torment that came upon the Acholi people and focusing ALL the efforts on apprehending ONE man just seems…naive.
So now you know about Kony (if you didn’t already before). What are you going to do?
If you want to support awareness and advocacy, give to Invisible Children. They are certainly following through with their mission to make people aware (as we’ve seen with this latest campaign), most of the world now knows at least a few facts about the atrocities committed by the LRA and millions of dollars continue to be spent on raising awareness stateside and impacting US foreign policy. There is a place for activism and if that is your desire then by all means, hold the banner high.
But for those asking our real, honest opinion on the matter, here it is…
Our feeling is that while yes, Joseph Kony absolutely needs to be stopped, there is a much bigger cause here worth supporting. And more to fight against than just one man.
If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people who have lived through the war and are now rebuilding their lives in a peaceful setting full of hope, give to an organization who is on the ground putting 100% of their resources into the cause of the people, not just an abstract idea.
Development is not sexy. In fact, it is long, lonely and messy. But it allows you to be a part of real change…not just a marketing campaign.
For more information on Touch The World Uganda, visit www.ttwuganda.com.