You would have to have been living under a rock if you missed the social media explosion of KONY2012 over the last few days. I have been inundated with emails, texts and messages asking me what I think of it all. The reason for is that the foundation I started, the World Youth Education Trust, works with the exact same group of children mentioned in their campaign -- the former child soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
I have been watching the fierce debate which has exploded -- some in support of the campaign and the other highly critical of its intentions and impact. If this debate is all that comes out of all of this then the bottom line is: It is useful, bringing to light the extraordinary cruelty we are capable of as humans which is happening under our noses every day. The international community needs more opportunities to argue and debate about our involvement in the world and especially Africa. We need to stop for a moment and question if we are doing enough and if so, is what we are doing actually RIGHT?
The Invisible Children campaign film is provocative and sensational and perhaps in the world's current state this level of radicalism is what we need to get our attention. But we need to ask -- how will millions of school kids and teenagers stop a hardened rebel group in the middle of Central Africa? Their purpose is to make him famous? Get back to reality! He is not walking down 5th Avenue in Manhattan. He is not hiding in Harrods of London. The LRA sits deep in the heart of the Central African jungle. No level of fame or outrage will affect them. Let us not kid ourselves or the international youth, who we have an obligation to guide responsibly that are now Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging KONY2012. Commander Kony has evaded capture for over two decades. This includes international military interventions and a long and tiresome battle with the Ugandan Defence Force -- the very solution Invisible Children see to this problem. This smacks of totally naivety.
Posters, glitter and a million screaming teens are NOT going to change this situation.
I think it may be amazing irony that Joseph Kony, if he is 'online', could be sitting there right now smiling to think of the fame and attention the world is affording him. For warring guerrilla groups -- bad publicity is the only publicity they get! In fact they will be relishing in this notoriety!
Invisible Children has been criticized widely for sensationalizing the conflict to make money. But I have worked in similar regions alongside their organization and they are there with the best of intentions. My criticism is that I believe the role of the 'International Charity' is to use funds to support and compliment social causes that are otherwise not being looked after by the local community. I do not think we should cross that line in becoming a supporter of conflict and military invasions. History has shown that with every attempt the military makes to escalate the conflict to capture Kony, they increase the number of child abductions. I know for a fact that there has been crimes committed on both sides of this conflict. It is far from being simply the evil masterminding of Kony himself. This is not a group whose only purpose is to murder and kill innocent civilians as Invisible Children makes out.
The real solution
If Invisible Children rake in the cash from this campaign, I would hope that they would see that it is best used to pay for the education and welfare of the children who have been fortunate enough to be returned. This should be the International community's mantra because this is where the world can help.
I have often wondered if I could be doing more to stop this conflict. But as with anything it is just not that simple. So instead I have spent many years living and working with these former child soldiers to help them to try and put their lives in order with the little assistance we can access. The World Youth Education Trust works to support leadership, the Arts, sports and education for these youths to enable them at some point to be no longer seen as child soldiers. It is about concentrating on the positives because that is what charities have the power to do.
And with the upcoming release of our film on the same issue of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, Road to Freedom Peak, I can't help but look at the different ways in which our two organizations have approached this conflict. We spend every day convincing people that there is so much potential for what can be done for these youths rather than simply showing the devastation and brutality of their pasts. What does that achieve?
I give credit to Invisible Children for getting one of the most unknown conflicts and forgotten atrocities out there! But in 2012, I am not joining the international 'Hunt' for Commander Kony, because I don't believe that this will lead to any sort of solution and because I know my time and money is better spent with the returned child soldiers who sit and wait to see if their futures will be different from the past.