Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Kony, Kids and Campaigns

Mar 12, 2012

As most people now know there has been an Internet campaign which has gone viral big time to alert the public to the evil machinations of Ugandan rebel and mass killer Joseph Kony, and to seek to bring him to justice. A 30-minute video has gone ballistic with zillions of views, and it is all the rage at the moment. Now I do not claim to be an expert on him and what he has done, but I do wish to make three points about all this here.

One. A number of commentators have pointed out that there is simply plenty of misinformation and even malicious material found in this video. When the facts are not even properly presented, then something like this can cause more harm than good.

For example as a number of commentators have noted, those actually on the ground are rather dismayed by all this. Two locals have been quoted often. Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist specialising in peace and conflict reporting, said this: “This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible”.

And Dr Beatrice Mpora, director of Kairos, a community health organisation in Gulu, a town that was once the centre of the rebels’ activities, said this: “What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us. There has not been a single soul from the LRA here since 2006. Now we have peace, people are back in their homes, they are planting their fields, they are starting their businesses. That is what people should help us with.”

As Andrew Bolt states, “Trouble is, Kony is not where these millions imagine and his Lord’s Resistance Army not as strong as they imagine: Critics argue Kony and his diminishing troops, many of them kidnapped child soldiers, fled northern Uganda six years ago and are now spread across the jungles of neighbouring countries….

“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.”

By all accounts, Kony sounds like a real monster. But getting facts right on a story like this is essential. Otherwise we simply whip people up into a frenzy, based on half-truths and misinformation.

Two. I have written before about what might be termed “keyboard compassion”. See here for example:

That is, I am concerned that many people – whether Christian or not – seem to think that they have done their duty – whether Christian or not – by pressing a ‘like’ button on a Facebook page, or going to some ‘social justice’ rock concert, or writing out a cheque, etc.

Such actions really cost us nothing – or very little – and tend to achieve very little as well. But often they are a means by which we seek to assuage our guilty consciences. We can feel good about ourselves by doing such minimalist activities. We think we have somehow contributed to world peace, global social justice, or in this case, stopping a very nasty character indeed.

Whether we have accomplished anything at all remains to be seen, but it does give us a false sense of moral superiority: “See, I have done something about this – now I can go back to my normal, selfish and self-absorbed life”. That is the real concern here: a few clicks of a mouse will convince many folks that they are somehow now quite virtuous, compassionate people who have done their bit.

Even non-Christians like Bolt get it: “In some jungle in Africa, a mass-murderer called Kony is shattered. A few million people on Facebook have unfriended him. And millions who’d never heard of Joseph Kony can relax, having advertised their goodness by clicking the share button on YouTube.

“Wow, and I thought the LiveEarth concerts – bopping to top bands while screaming at governments to save the planet – couldn’t be topped. But here’s the ultimate symbol of our new no-sweat moralising: the Kony 2012 video that’s been watched by 60 million people in just one week….

“How intoxicating for virtual friends everywhere. One click and Kony’s gone. The world remade. And they don’t even have to leave the house.” But hey, at least we feel real good about ourselves at the end of the day. We have just saved the planet, or put a stop to some mass murderer on the other side of the planet. And we didn’t even have to leave our easy chairs to do it.

Of course I am aware of the modern phenomena of ‘compassion fatigue’ in which we can get overwhelmed by so many pressing causes, such as aid relief to those devastated by tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, wars and so on.

So we can get overwhelmed at times at all that is going on, and think that a few minimalist contributions will be sufficient. But we are likely just kidding ourselves.

Three. It is certainly fitting and proper that we should be concerned about children. But one has to ask why it is that Westerners get so worked up about kids so far away, yet do not seem to give a rip about children in their own backyards.

Not only all forms of overseas child abuse and neglect should concern us, but we should especially be sensitive to our own atrocities at home. I refer especially of course to the abortion holocaust. If Kony has stolen 30,000 kids over a lifetime, we steal that many kids away in just three months in Australia by means of abortion.

Where is the concern for these children? Where is the compassion for this stolen generation? Why is there no similar outcry here about abortion? Why no viral Internet campaigns? Why not millions of likes on what is the most pressing moral problem of our day?

Why the double standards, in other words. It is a good thing to be concerned about children being abducted and killed in Africa. But is it not also a very good thing to be concerned about our own children being abducted and killed in the womb?

Interestingly, I just received an alert today about the actual abortion numbers:
“Summary of Registered Abortions Worldwide, through April 2010.
1922 – 2010: 863,000,000 reported abortions, estimated 950,000,000 total abortions.
Estimated current global monthly average: 1,237,000 abortions.”

Wow. Makes what Kony did pale in comparison.

In sum, am I begrudging those who are concerned about Kony? Absolutely not; we all should be concerned about creeps like him. So it is a good thing to have compassion, to care, to be troubled by these matters. But the question is, is that enough?

The truth is, it is a lot easier to ‘save the planet’ by dealing with something in the far-flung reaches of the globe than it is to actually make a difference in our own back yard. It is far easier to write a cheque for some unseen overseas orphan than to actually help our next door neighbour. It is far easier to press a like button than to deal with real needs in our own street.

Now there is a place for pressing share buttons and like buttons. I do it all the time, mainly to encourage others. But I know it is not the only thing that needs to be done. Indeed, it is just the beginning. So we must be careful about these Internet campaigns which may be factually faulty, and may simply mislead us into thinking we are world-changers when in fact we are nothing of the sort.

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20 Responses to Kony, Kids and Campaigns

  • Its doing good with little self-sacrifice. The very anti-thesis to the Christian message.

    Hell if it was as easy as starting up a facebook video then why didn’t the CIA think of that to catch OBL?

    Damien Spillane

  • Very good point you made in your comment Damien.

    Social media / rallies etc are useful tools, and the creation of awareness is the start, but anything that comes at little cost usually bears little fruit.

    Jasmine Yow

  • If only all the people who watched this 30 minute video also watched the 33 minute 180 Movie…

    Dominic Snowdon

  • Yes exactly right Dominic

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Spot on, Bill. This Kony thing has been cropping up all over FB and I haven’t had time to check it out, but it’s one of those buzzword crazes where you just aren’t with it if you don’t know about Kony and haven’t felt the outrage. It’s a timely reminder that anything worth anything has a cost.
    Dee Graf

  • We shouldn’t stop posting the 180 movie from time-to-time via our social network accounts then. We need to understand it is not as convenient for people to post something that might be pointing the fingers back to themselves, instead of some far-away guy in an African bush. Be we can keep pushing it from our side.
    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  • Bill, I watched two good pro-life groups rip each other to shreds a decade ago, because although they each were doing exceptional work, one had a focus on reducing abortion by providing for girls who were expecting, while the other worked on educational programs to explain the contraceptive mentality led organically to abortion.

    If someone is doing good, I am loathe to condemn them. The goal of this campaign is stated in the video, and is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony’s name and slippery track record, so that governments will take an interest in helping locate and stop him and care for children they can rescue.

    Two myths have been picked up by Andrew Bolt from secondary media sources. One is that the video claims he is still in Uganda. No, it says he has moved on to several neighboring countries. The other is that 30,000 children are currently child soldiers. No, it says that over 26 years he has harmed 30,000 children, either as sex slaves or as child soldiers.

    I cannot see why people take such delight in condemning this fellow for raising this awareness. There is no evidence for any secondary causes that my research could identify. Charity Watch has awarded his programs of school building and publicity a four star rating, and will give his auditability a four star rating when he appoints a fifth board member, which he is in the process of doing.

    Like 180 Movie, the Stop Kony campaign is about educating a blind western audience of an evil. Unlike 180 Movie, the Stop Kony campaign is not a toe-hold for a spokesman who happens to bash Catholics in his spare time.

    I think we should applaud the Stop Kony campaign for its clear and effective focus. What we then do about capturing some newly awakened young minds to other good causes it up to us.

    Francis Young

  • Thanks Francis

    But I fail to see how seeking to keep someone honest with the facts amounts to condemning him. And I would think that my three points still stand.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I am a great fan of 180 Movie and promote it regularly, by the way. As a standalone resource it does much good. I only hope its creator one day realizes that the Catholic Church is not the Babylon he portrays it elsewhere.
    Francis Young

  • Thanks again Francis

    But given that I nowhere mention the 180 Movie in my article, we will leave that one go through to the keeper. The discussion here is about Kony, and thus should not veer into sectarian disputes.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I agree entirely with your points two and three, Bill. And apologies for the distraction in my comments about the very effective 180 campaign.
    Francis Young

  • One additional problem with these “causes” is that people insert them into all kinds of places they simply don’t belong, and self-righteously insist that everyone else must pay attention to them, or else they aren’t on the same moral level as the person who posted about it.

    I’m thinking of forums dedicated to specific issues or subjects, which are being spammed with off-topic Kony posts. People jump on these bandwagons with little or no thought, just a knee-jerk reaction (as shown by their ignorance of the actual facts) until the next big thing goes viral, and they forget all about whatever was previously such an important topic. Meanwhile, they disrupt the appropriate use of whatever forum they’re spamming.

    Btw, I don’t use “self-righteous” lightly. Most people incorrectly apply it to Christians, who are anything but self-righteous. But supporting such causes as this one does not make one right, much less righteous. However, I digress.

    Another point you probably could’ve mentioned, Bill, was the financial side of all of this. It seems that the Kony video is being pushed viral in an attempt to raise funds for this organization, little of which actually finds its way to Uganda– but instead is lining the pockets of the “fundraisers”. I realize there’s overhead involved, but the percentages I’ve heard for funds actually spent on the “cause” are staggeringly low.

    Those who do give to such causes need to do lots of research first to ensure their funds are actually going to those they’re supposed to be helping.

    Ronin Akechi

  • Yes quite right Ronin

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I also wrote an article last week on this:

    Seems we both agree significantly regarding this issue. Particularly in regards to those condemning the menace in the far reaches of the globe while doing nothing about the menaces at our own door step.

    Cameron Spink

  • Right on Bill, what you say is appropriate. It applies to the Middle East, Israel, Syria and other dictatorial States too. Years ago when my wife and I went to teach in UK the IRA we setting off bombs ‘all over” and we were thinking that London was ablaze. Not true, but MSM was flogging a biased inaccurate picture. The same applies to Afghanistan where I taught in 2008. We ought to be circumspect about certain circumstances/events where we only hear one side.

    Brian Hof

  • Thanks Cameron

    Just had a read of your piece: good stuff. Yes we are on the same page here. Keep up the good work.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I am nervous that the Invisible Children have had such an impact with regards to Kony2012. As they go down their list, targeting perpetrators of human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity, they will gain momentum and influence. Each time they mobilise against a war criminal their followers will say – “This is a good thing – this is justice”. What happens in two years time when the Invisible Children mobilise their followers against their critics and “enemies”. What happens if they just don’t like you? This is an awful amount of power to be wielded by “invisible children”…
    Justin Lippiatt

  • I think critics of the video in some cases have been a little too cynical. It was designed to be shared to raise awareness of Kony as part of a campaign seeking to bring Kony to justice. I actually think it was quite clever. Invisible Children were also quick to respond to criticisms of the video through their website.

    Of course it probably helps to put things in perspective. It is just one cause. Sharing a video will have limitied effect, but in the past Invisible Children have been successful in mobilising people to lobby the US government.

    @Justin: Invisible Children don’t have a list of people to go after. Their focus is the LRA. IC do a lot of conventional NGO work as well through their programs in affected communities in Uganda.

    Peter Sanderson

  • Hi Peter, I appreciate your response. IC do not mention anything other than Kony on their website, and perhaps one might say I have been a little paranoid. However, I can’t help but feel that there will be “another cause” after Kony because there is too much money and momentum here to finish with Kony. It won’t stop with Kony…
    Justin Lippiatt

  • And for what it is worth, it seems the film maker is not having a very good day:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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