In Defense of Invisible Children

The critics of the Invisible Children video have argued that the viral video, which astoundingly has had more than 36 million hits on YouTube, is overstating the importance of this now much-diminished group of thugs called the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony. The aim of the video is to make Kony world famous in order to lead to his capture. The critics also assert that the sizeable donations to the group have been substantially eaten up by the group itself in producing the video and in other administrative expenses. I will suggest these critics are overlooking major contributions the youthful NGO is making, which go beyond Joseph Kony.

What is not disputed is that the LRA has been responsible for some of the most macabre and widespread atrocities in four African countries in the past 25 years. Kony and the LRA started its murderous rampage in Northern Uganda, abducting over 20,000 children and training them to kill and even mutilate their own parents and villagers, and condemning many girls to become sex slaves and bush wives. Now the critics of the NGO claim that the video is simplistic and manipulative, given that the LRA  has been pushed out of Uganda and is made up of much smaller groups running from the combined armies of Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic. These armies are aided by approximately 100 special forces sent by the Obama Administration (in part due to the urging of Invisible Children) to help with logistics, and surveillance equipment to track  down Kony and the remnants of the LRA. The viral video itself says that Uganda is relatively safe, and that the focus should be on Ugandan child victims and development.

The critics may rightfully question the relatively large amount of the donations that the group spends on itself and its advocacy strategy, rather than on the children and development projects in Uganda itself.  The NGO should be given a chance to defend its expenditures before it is condemned by worldwide social media in the backlash against the viral video.

However, a major defense of the group that virtually nobody seems to be pointing out is that their activities started when Kony and the LRA were involved in some of the worst atrocities in the area in 2006, and could have rebuilt their forces and gone back to threaten Northern Uganda. I had the occasion to meet some of the leaders of Invisible Children in this earlier period. The NGO is also strongly supportive of the need for the international community to do everything possible to enforce the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Joseph Kony and the remaining indicted top leadership of the LRA. The fact that youthful Americans, together with other youth from around the world, can link up with powerful politicians, celebrities and international criminal justice champions is praiseworthy. If the global success of the viral video encourages the Obama Administration to keep the small number of Special Forces in Central Africa to help finally bring Kony to justice( hopefully alive) before the Court in The Hague, Invisible Children and the viral video will have achieved a great deal. The deterrent effect of such an arrest and capture on other actual or potential militia leaders and even government leaders in Africa and around the world is not to be dismissed lightly.

This powerful global justice awakening of youth around the world to the plight of other children and youth is to be encouraged. Invisible Children may want to turn its social media talents towards another catastrophic disaster for children not too far from Northern Uganda and the DRC. In Darfur and Chad, over 2.7 million people, including tens of thousands of children, are living in the most abject poverty on earth in displacement camps. They have been driven there by the Sudanese government, led by President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide. These are some of the most invisible children on earth, not to mention the horrible plight of many young women and girls who are subject to constant sexual violence and rape. It has not been reported widely that one of the main supporters of Joseph Kony, while he was on his main killing and maiming spree in Uganda and elsewhere, was none other than Sudanese President al-Bashir.

(The connection between the killing rampage of the LRA and the Sudanese government’s own killing fields can be found in my recent book Peace and Justice at the International Criminal Court: A Court of Last Resort.)

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