It’s never known exactly what sparks others to take action on a particular cause, but in the case of the “Stop Kony” campaign — once it was ignited, a raging inferno spread across the Internet.
The campaign was started by a San Diego-based not-for-profit group known as Invisible Children Inc. to bring awareness to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. It has now created a fierce debate between supporters of the group and critics, including a Hanford-based organization, who question its motives.
It all began when Invisible Children uploaded a 30-minute documentary called “KONY 2012” to the YouTube website a week ago on March 5. The video details the actions of Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is known for grisly atrocities, which include the murder, rape and abduction of tens of thousands of people over the past two decades. As of Saturday afternoon, the video had had more than 66 million views.
The purpose of the video was to make Kony “famous” and known to the general public. Celebrities such as actor George Clooney and comedian Chelsea Handler were quick to chime in and voice their support on Twitter using the hashtag “STOPKONY,” but the tide soon changed.
The campaign’s newfound attention was quickly accompanied by criticisms of the Invisible Children organization, including its aid-spending practices, a controversial photo of its members posing with guns and the project’s neo-colonial undertones.
Even local nonprofit organizations, such as Hanford-based Wish Project International, are weighing in on the debate. Wish Project, like Invisible Children Inc., also is focused on helping the natives of Uganda and other North African countries. But they take a more direct approach by traveling there and providing medical clinics.
Wish Project’s director of domestic operations and executive director, Kim Harrison, said she likes the idea behind the “Stop Kony” campaign, but doesn’t think it does enough to help the situation in Uganda.
“Stopping Kony is a fantastic idea,” Harrison said. “I agree that he is an evil man and needs to be brought to justice, but in the end, what does getting rid of him actually accomplish?”
Harrison said she logged onto Facebook the day the video went viral and watched it, but found herself feeling ambivalent as to whether or not she should support this cause.
“The video is powerful, emotional and heartbreaking,” she said. “But it doesn’t offer any solutions to remedy the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad this video came out and has brought this issue to the forefront and made young minds aware of it. Awareness is great, but action is greater.”
In the video, Invisible Children calls for its supporters to “cover the night” on April 20 by plastering their hometowns with posters of Joseph Kony, making signs and shirts and protesting in the streets. Harrison finds little value in that tactic.
“My question is, ‘What are posters and signs of Kony going to do here in America?’” she said. “I mean, are we going to call Crime Stoppers if we see Kony? I know people want to help and I am not trying to bash that, but I know what the truth is — people don’t know how to help. Buying bracelets, making donations and posters and changing their profile pictures for a day is easy and something tangible for them to do. But I would rather see people do research and pick a group to volunteer with and do something good for others.”
Harrison said that in July, Wish Project traveled through the village of Ogoria in Northern Africa. Ogoria, as it turned out, was one of several villages still under attack by Kony and the LRA.
“Almost every night they were raided,” she said. “An entire generation of children was missing. There was no one there between the ages of 12 and 25 years old. Most of the treatment we had to give there was for machete and gunshot wounds and for sexually transmitted diseases for those raped by LRA soldiers.”
Harrison said the situation is extremely sad. She is happy to see it on the public’s mind, but encourages them to fully research any group’s aim before blindly supporting or donating to their cause.
“Removing Kony isn’t going to end this tragedy,” she said. “What helps is on-the-ground action and direct aid. So I personally am a little wary about Invisible Children’s aims. People need to find out exactly where their money is going when they support something.”
She said when she looked at Invisible Children’s finances, she found there to be a very small amount actually going to the Ugandan children.
“That group is all about filmmaking and awareness,” she said. “Which is good and all, but I feel is not a strong enough approach to solving the problem.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or at bsantiago@HanfordSentinel.com.