Kony 2012--It's Not That Simple

  a father and childInvisible Children’s Kony 2012 video has been viewed millions of times and pretty much every news source and internationally focused blogger has written about it so you’ve likely heard about it by now. Since it’s about children and Africa, we thought it was important to give you our view too. So yesterday, we gathered in the Firelight offices to sit down and talk about it.

There’s no question the video is powerful and sleek. Invisible Children has chosen a sensational approach and it’s effectively inciting. They oversimplified a message purposefully and we could see that, but we had a mix of reactions. Some of us were frustrated while others didn’t have a problem with it. As we talked about the film more, we saw how important the conversation is, that the film is best used as a starting point that will hopefully encourage people to dig deeper and ask questions.

As we did just that, we had a few key points in response to Kony 2012…

We’d like to see Joseph Kony stopped too. But the video does not provide context to understand the complexity of the situation. Stopping Joseph Kony will not make everything right – it’s only one piece of the puzzle. In the U.S. we tend to think, take out one person and you take out the problem—it’s not that simple.

Children who have experienced significant trauma are in need of support. This isn’t a minor point. The children abducted by Joseph Kony and the LRA need protection and care. If the LRA were to disappear today, children would still need homes, schools, medical care, nutritious meals, and love and support. Many Ugandans are saying Kony isn’t the predominant problem in their community since he’s now in the Congo. The major problem now is HIV and AIDS and an incurable “nodding” disease. Getting “the bad guys” isn’t going to alleviate these problems.

It’s not up to Americans to fix anything in Africa. It is however up to us to respectfully and intelligently partner with on-the-ground leaders active in their community. Africans know their community better than anyone else and are working each day to provide for their children and families as best they can. Kony 2012 doesn’t show us the African leaders in government and in NGOs who have been working against the LRA and to protect children for years.

We know how hard it is to bring attention to problems an ocean away. Invisible Children shows us just how powerful online media can be. What’s frustrating is that simple and sensationalized ideas spread fast. We would like to see Americans support African’s well-planned strategies that consider short-term needs and long-term solutions. We wish we had the well-produced, dramatic film about Firelight’s 134 grassroots organizations working to protect and care for children. But we spend the majority of our funds in our programs so we can fund the groups improving children’s lives. That means our media budget isn’t highly resourced. How to most effectively allocate scarce resources is a tough decision for most nonprofits, but when we see a video like this get so much support we wonder how to compete.

We recommend that everyone be well informed about any campaign they support, Kony 2012 and others. We want people to know there are ways to support grassroots work led by Africans. We know of 134 organizations right now who are part of the Firelight network; a network of support and resources that help them to build their capacity over seven years toward a successful nonprofit existence that children can depend on and later even give back to. These organizations aren’t being led by Americans who are trying to “fix” anything, but by Africans who are partnering with a global community to improve children’s lives in the long term.

We know our bias and we, like Invisible Children, believe in our model. We’ve been partnering with grassroots African leaders for over eleven years, so we know it’s possible. But it’s a lot of relationship building and a lot of work. We like to think we make that easy for people who want the kind of change Invisible Children wants too. It’s not our film and Invisible Children has every right to engage in the way they see fit, but we’d prefer to see that support go to Africans making a difference for children in Africa. That’s what we work on everyday.