Fact and Fiction on Joseph Kony and Invisible Children

I’m a pretty savvy guy, but I’m having a really tough time separating fact from fiction when it comes to Joseph Kony and Invisible Children and I wish the media would do more of this. Here’s what I think is clear and what you should know:

  • Joseph Kony is a monster. This much is clearly true. Over the past 30 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has kidnapped 30,000 children and slaughtered many more.
  • That does not mean he has an army of 30,000, it’s a total over the course of decades.
  • Right now, experts think there are only a few hundred, not thousands, of members of the LRA. They’re still causing problems, but not on the scale Invisible Children would have you think.
  • Joseph Kony probably isn’t even in Uganda. In fact, most people think he’s not, and hasn’t been for 6 years.
  • He is not expanding into other countries, he’s in hiding after being indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
  • The US has boots on the ground in central Africa specifically for the purpose of tracking down the LRA.
  • Check here and here for more.

Here’s what I think we know about Invisible Children:

  • Charity Navigator gives them 3 stars (of four), which is a respectable score.
  • Despite what you read, the founders make modest salaries, all under $100k.
  • They don’t seem to do much to actually help people other than raising awareness.
  • With that in mind, this post saying they only give 31% of their revenue in direct need seems spurious.
  • If you count their film-making, research, and travel, which seems fair as raising awareness is their goal, 80% of their revenue goes to programs, not administrative costs.
  • They subscribe to a few philosophies of activism that many people, including myself, are wary of, including buying stickers, t-shirts, and “clicktivism.”

What am I missing? Lots, I bet. What questions are still open? There are a ton. But hopefully this clears up some of the facts surrounding #StopKony.

5 thoughts on “Fact and Fiction on Joseph Kony and Invisible Children

  1. And that leaves us all with a really big “So what?” I mean, this situation is so complex and so nuanced that we can’t really reduce it to a list of facts, right? It is important that we know what the facts are, don’t get me wrong, so thank you for pointing those out. I think a lot of people get either too bogged down in the facts or they get overly emotional in the facts. It’s very difficult to sort through this flood of information and form an opinion, much less take decisive and effective action.

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    1. I purposely avoided tackling the “so what” question because I don’t think the answer is particularly clear. I also wanted to avoid the “great white savior” discussion that’s been bubbling up. What I was trying to do here was highlight that there was misrepresentation by Invisible Children, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, or that IC is an inherently bad organization. I have my doubts, but I’m not ready to draw conclusions.

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  2. Greg – thanks for writing this…I just received an email from a 14 year old family friend supporting KUNY and was going to send the article about Invisible Children, but you just stopped me from sending false lies. We could always look them up on guidestar?

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  3. Greg — it’s so good to see people not necessarily taking a for/against approach to the Kony 2012 movement. Your research on the subject is pretty good but there’s a few bits of misinformation I think should be addressed…

    Invisible Children says in their viral video that Kony left Uganda in 2006. This is an undisputed fact — but to say he’s not been a problem since is erroneous. He has been terrorizing parts of Southern Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — something the New York Times has reported on (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/k/joseph_kony/index.html). It’s not necessarily “expanding” so much as “moving” but that’s part of what makes Kony dangerous — he’s not restricted by geopolitical borders.

    While the USA has feet on the ground in Uganda to help stop the LRA, they don’t in the other three countries. Fun fact, by the way, the Central African Republic has no standing military with which to combat the LRA. Southern Sudan also has no standing military since it became an independent nation in July of 2011. So, of the four countries facing the LRA problem, two of them are basically defenseless.

    I also wanted to add on your commendable points about Invisible Children focusing on raising awareness… This is their mission statement (found on the front page of their web site): “INVISIBLE CHILDREN USES FILM, CREATIVITY AND SOCIAL ACTION TO END THE USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS IN JOSEPH KONY’S REBEL WAR AND RESTORE LRA-AFFECTED COMMUNITIES IN CENTRAL AFRICA TO PEACE AND PROSPERITY.”

    They’re an awareness group — the fact the even 31% of their donations go towards direct action should be commended. Being upset that most of their donations go towards raising awareness is akin to being upset that a School for the Deaf has so many programs for people who can’t hear. 😛

    I think you’ve made a great post here and helped clear up a lot of the misinformation that’s been spread around the web!

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  4. I think your facts are accurate – I am just returning from 2 weeks in Uganda and I can tell you the Ugandan people on one hand consider that man to be the devil – but also universally believe him to have left their country 6 years ago – and most believe he died 3-4 years ago as the last recorded contact with him from anyone was in 2008. I can also tell you that in conversations with leaders of several of the worlds largest and most respected charities that they believe the Invisible Children group may be well intentioned but is misguided if not intentionally deceptive since he is not longer a threat (10 to 20 years ago this cause would have been brilliant) (I can’t confirm but well respected rumors are that there are expensive cars and homes being built on the backs of their “administrative expenses”) – I can tell you that most Ugandans resent the video that was made and can’t believe Americans believe it and give money to it – when there are so many other great opportunities to truly help the Ugandan people (16 women die in childbirth every day for example – among the highest rate in the world – this can be reduced) – the video has also decimated tourism which has hurt many already poor people who derive their livelihood from it – since the movie leaves people with the impression that Uganda is not safe with a mad man on the loose – which is currently a fabrication – at least in Uganda. Before I went to Uganda I bought the Kool-aid from the movie – my kids had seen it and it scared me to be honest – I even met with a couple of special ops guys en-route – but quickly after being on the ground I was amazed at how stupid I was to be taken in by 3 dramatic film makers who took some liberties with the facts to create a compelling (albeit incorrect) story – the shame is that there are good causes they could have rallied around – for example over the same period in DR Congo 5.4 Million people have been killed – worst since WWII – does anyone know? In Somalia Ugandans and other African countries are fighting another war and dying to take back Somalia for the Somalian people (Kenya just joined the fight as well) – this would have been another good story for them to tackle. Caring and giving is good – but as one NGO leader told me there is a big difference between “smart” giving and “blind” giving

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