"The worst campaign ever"--that's what a former Invisible Children organizer has to say about Kony 2012, the campaign backed by Invisible Children that is currently exploding over Facebook and Twitter.
On paper, it sounds admirable: Inspire the public to draw attention to Joseph Kony, a Uganda war criminal who is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a group that uses child soldiers. Nobody's for child soldiers, and Joseph Kony is as awful a figure as they paint him to be. The problem with the campaign isn't that Joseph Kony is innocent--the problem is Invisible Children.
Invisible Children has been under criticism since it's founding in 2005. Dedicated to ending the reign of the LRA in Uganda, Invisible Children has come under fire for potential misuse of funds, including a misrepresentation of what the funds donated to the cause would be used for. According to Charity Navigator, a site that tracks the efforts of charities and assigns them a rating based on their efficacy, has consistently given Invisible Children 2 out of 4 stars for accountability and transparency. Their problem areas? Only 31 percent of the funds donated to them actually go to the cause at all. And of that 31 percent, a large portion goes to funding the Ugandan Army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
Most condemning, however, are the voices of former Invisible Children activists who have turned their backs on the organization for not really understanding what they're getting into.
"The problems that Uganda faces today cannot be fixed by hundreds of uneducated Westerners going there to 'help'," a blogger named James posted back in 2006, when he returned from a trip to Sudan. "As you read this article, think about how much you really know about the political situations in Uganda and throughout Africa that contribute to long lasting problems."
Furthermore, critics say that Kony is no longer the threat to the region that Invisible Children makes him out to be.
But is Kony still a threat? Despite the fact that Kony--and the LRA--left Uganda in 2006 (a fact admitted by Invisible Children), the reach of the LRA has spread to the surrounding area. Human Rights Watch, an organization dedicated to drawing attention to human rights violations worldwide, published a letter in November of 2011 from the heads of civil rights groups in the region to Barack Obama, asking for assistance.
"Yet we can only truly rejoice when the LRA threat is over and when we hear that Joseph Kony is no longer terrorizing our region. We have suffered too much and we are tired of living in total insecurity - afraid to go to our fields to farm and unsure when or where the rebels may surface again. We don't know whether our children who were abducted by the LRA will ever come back home. You cannot imagine the pain in our hearts at the thought we might not see our children again."
Invisible Children has responded to the criticism of their Kony 2012 campaign and their financial transparency, releasing an attractive graph that outlines their financial distribution. They also address the two star rating on Charity Navigator, saying that the rating is solely based on the size of their board, not their financial records.
"Our Accountability and Transparency score is currently at 2 stars due primarily to the single fact that Invisible Children does not have 5 independent voting members on our board of directors--we currently have 4," says the statement. "We are in the process of interviewing potential board members, and we will add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013."
As far as the final criticism--that the situation in Uganda is far more complicated than just "get rid of the bad guy and everything will be better," and that Invisible Children isn't offering any better solutions than what's out there--Invisible Children stands by their message.
"We have never claimed a desire to "save Africa," but, instead, an intent to inspire Western youth to 'do more than just watch'," they said in their statement. "And in Central Africa, focus on locally-led long-term development programs that enable children to take responsibility for their own futures and the futures of their countries."