Monday, November 5, 2012

The Invisible Children Model, Uganda

The Invisible Children Model -- Alternative Title: The White Man's Burden Goes Viral

While I was reading Easterly's work, I could not help but think on the Invisible Children organization and the "scandal" that broke in spring 2012.   Easterly wrote this book in 2006, before the true hey dey of organization, but I would have been interested to have heard his thoughts on the movement.  The 2012 KONY documentary truly could be called the new White Man's Burden. 

As many of you may remember, the non-profit organization Invisible Children aims to help protect children from being kidnapped and drafted into the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.  The organization, which has gotten more than its fair share of press attention, utilizes social media to turn young people into activists.  

In their KONY movement, the Invisible Children group tried to mobilize Americans through a 30 minute documentary that implored them to help make war-criminal Joseph Kony "famous" by plastering his name all over the country.  The solution was simple -- purchase one of Invisible Children's poster kits and decorate your school in order to "raise awareness" about the issues, and some of the other proceeds would go to the actual project. In the Kony 2012 documentary, several U.S. politicians are featured.  "If we take the pressure off, if we're not successful, he is going to be growing his numbers," Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma tells the camera. "People forget and you've got to remind em and it takes numbers to remind em."  

When Easterly mentions the Live 8 concert series, I instantly thought of Invisible Children. There are a couple parts of the Kony campaign that relate directly to Easterly's work.  

First, the New York Times referred to the movement as a form "slacktivism".  That is, the replacing of financial aid with a "like" or "share" on Facebook page.  This allows the individual to fulfill his or her need to reach out and help, without requiring any effort. 

This was interesting to me in light of Easterly's statement that "The prevalence of ineffective plans is the result of Western assistance happening out of view of the Western public."  He also adds, "Fewer ineffective approaches would survive if the results were more visible" (16).With social media, we have the ability to move people with images.  Invisible Children was able to show images of young (white) people on the ground in Africa, teary-eyed and many were driven to action. 

But to a second point about private non-profits, Easterly does seem correct in that they can have a better feedback look than foreign aid. Only about a third of Invisible Children's budget is spent on working with children:

Of course, these financial charts were not released until a popular uproar but pressure on the organization to release them.  In this way, this non-profit had to confess that it wasn't doing as much on the ground as many other organizations.  This caused a press fire storm -- with people dropping support for the organization left and right.  

I also found the rhetoric around the Kony campaign a bit goofily similar to Easterly's description of colonialism -- namely how benevolence was "a strong staple of propaganda back home to justify the colonies."  A major theme of the tear-jerking film is that the American troops deployed in Uganda should stay there, and people should continue to lobby for more foreign aid to Uganda.  Ironically, American troops play no role in the actual film, nor does foreign aid.  In this respect, Invisible Children is a very interesting organization to say the least.  It certainly urges a "Middle Class Burden" to save child soliders in Uganda. 

It is also relevant to share this bit of news -- that Ireland and Great Britain have just pulled their foreign aid from Uganda because ten million pounds were redirected into the prime minister's pockets.

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