A difficult subject: why Invisible Children is the wrong charity

This is a difficult article to write.

First, let me state my case clearly.

©Kony2012; Image credit: Kony2012

I believe that the ‘Kony 2012’ video has done a fantastic job in raising awareness about the Lord’s Resistance Army and its child-soldiers. And if awareness was all it intended to create, it has done a magnificent job.

I believe that Kony is a despicable man who should be brought to trial for his actions.

I do not, however, believe that the charity ‘Invisible Children’ or their proposed solutions to the crisis, or donating to that particular charity provide the right solutions. Invisible Children are a public charity so their finances are viewable online. Less than a third of their revenue was spent directly on services helping Uganda with over $1 million paid on travel expenses. But charities have huge overheads so for the sake of argument I will ignore that. My problem with Invisible Children is its advocacy of direct action in Uganda and its support of the Ugandan military to bring about the ends of the conflict.

President Museveni has been in power since 1986 ©WikimediaCommons

Uganda has been ruled by President Museveni since 1986, who himself used child soldiers to attain his rule. After his rule he imprisoned many of the Acholi tribe and removed them from their fertile lands in Northern Uganda. This is not stated on the Invisible Children Website, nor is the bloody history of Uganda before Museveni, with such tyrants such as Amin and Mobote. This is not just history. Museveni attained power at a time when it was necessary to be extraordinarily violent to do so and treated others just as violently as the men he replaced. This is not in any way to excuse the LRA of their hideous actions, but simply to recognise that Kony is not a single figure of evil, but a symptom of the horrific violence that has been waged across Africa in the last 60 years. At first welcomed, his rule has become increasingly dictatorial. Allegations of corruption are widespread, especially in public services. Ugandan forces have been accused of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country itself shot to notoriety last year with a government attempt to punish homosexuality by death.

Although I am eager for support of Uganda, to improve its infrastructure, directly supporting aspects of its government and military seems to me short-sighted in view of the many problems it faces and refuses to do anything about.

The second is the view that American intervention in the region is necessary. Though President Obama has indeed sent military advisers to places such as Kenya, perhaps with an eye on the huge natural resources just beginning to be found near and offshore Eastern Africa, intervention in a country like Uganda would cause more problems than it would solve. The whole region – including countries such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – has been destabilised by years of conflict and civil war, and further intervention would only cause greater calamity. It is ironic that the call for Kony’s arrest only comes now, since in 2007 its deputy, Vincent Otti, a man named as #2 on the Invisible Children video was killed. The USA, to its credit, has for many years laboured to bring Kony to justice. That is not to say that the LRA, diminished, should be ignored. But I question the extent to which military intervention, or military involvement from the USA with Ugandan forces, can possibly bring any reconciliation

If you want to help Uganda, then donate to an established charity in Uganda like Oxfam or Shelter or UNICEF. Let us use the publicity that the Invisible Children video has drummed up and take it all the way to its conclusion. I would be wary, however, about donating to a charity that implies easy solutions can be made with the arrest of one man. It will be a great day when Kony is in court to answer for his actions but violence and problems will not just cease when the whole region has engaged in violence over the last three decades.

In 1985, Live Aid was staged to help victims of the Ethiopian famine. However, much of this famine was deliberately made worse by President Mengistu, to starve the Tigreans, an ethnic group hostile to his rule. It has been claimed that the money appropriated from Live Aid was misdirected and used by Mengistu to continue the suppression of the Tigreans.

This is why I am sceptical of the ‘Kony 2012’ video. Public support, if channelled in the right direction can have great consequences and this should be followed wholeheartedly. But the flood of inevitable donations must be controlled, checked and watched to make sure that the outcome matches the benign intention.

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