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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ activists react to KONY 2012

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: News

In less than two weeks, millions of people worldwide were introduced to Joseph Kony, Ugandan rebel leader and warlord. In a matter of minutes, he became a pop culture icon, made famous by a 30-minute documentary produced by Invisible Children that spread across the worldwide Web and generated 112 million views earlier this week.

Although the Brandeis community does not host its own Invisible Children chapter, many Brandeis students plan to be involved with “Cover the Night” on April 20, in which people are encouraged to put posters all over campus in order to show Kony’s face. There are also many conversations going on with student activism clubs, including Brandeis’ Chapter of Amnesty International.

The video aims to expose the war crimes committed by Joseph Kony and his paramilitary group. They are accused of kidnapping girls and using them as sex slaves as well as forcing young boys to become child soldiers for the past 26 years. Kony has been accused of compelling these children to mutilate people’s faces and kill their own parents. Critics argue that Invisible Children has exaggerated the crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), producing a disproportionate amount of attention. Children are dying on a daily basis in northern Uganda from malaria, diarrhea and nodding disease, but there has been no viral video for these children.

Daniel Goulden ’14, president of Brandeis’ Chapter of Amnesty International, critiqued the message but not the effort of the group.

“I don’t think you can argue that what Invisible Children is trying to do isn’t commendable, but you can definitely argue with the way they are getting their message across,” he said.

Critics are also arguing against Invisible Children as the one organization that has centered itself as the main agent of change. The organization has received an incredible amount of backlash because people think the documentary was a ploy to make money.

Invisible Children spent only 32 percent of its money on direct services, and according to the group’s financial statement released on its website, much of the rest of the money goes toward film production, travel costs and staff salaries.

Goulden argues that nonprofit organizations such as Invisible Children need to use these administrative costs to build themselves up into becoming efficient.

“I think charities get much more scrutiny than companies do. Charities should be able to operate the way they want to operate,” Goulden said. “In order for a charity to be effective, it has to spend a fair deal of money of administrative costs just to build itself up, especially a charity like Invisible Children, which hasn’t been around for that long.”

“As a human rights club leader, a lot of what’s really important is just getting people to be aware. A lot of people do care, but you have to inform people about that, and that can be very difficult and time consuming,” Goulden said.

Goulden commented about an unspoken mentality that he believes exists on some college campuses. The mentality is that if you go to a private, small liberal arts college, then you don’t need to be educated about the news, but he believes this is completely untrue at Brandeis.

TIME Magazine has named the video the the most viral video in history. Since the 1980s, Kony and the LRA have kidnapped more than 30,000 children, according to the video.

GOOD News reported Monday to The Guardian about its interview with Invisible Children’s director of communications Jedidiah Jenkins. “Our films are made for high school children,” he said. “Our films weren’t made to be scrutinized by The Guardian. They were made to get young people involved in some of the world’s worst crimes.”

Kony has been number one on the International Criminal Court’s World’s worst criminals list since he was indicted on July 8, 2005. His crimes against humanity include murder, sexual slavery, rape and abductions. In 2010, Congress passed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Last October, President Obama sent 100 special forces to Africa in an attempt to capture Kony, but his lack of presence in Uganda has complicated the search.

Professor Richard Gaskins (AMST), Proskauer Chair in Law and Social Welfare, believes that Kony’s case will not receive immediate attention, because there are more urgent cases awaiting justice.

“Right now, something far more important for international justice is the judgment that will be handed down in the Hague this coming March 14 in the case of Thomas Lubanga, who is being prosecuted for recruiting child soldiers. This will be the first trial completed at the ICC, and the eyes of the international legal world are on this case,” Gaskins wrote in an e-mail from the Hague. “The Kony tape is more interesting as a media event than for what it means for international law.”

Legally, Gaskins points out that this case has been on the ICC’s list for more than a decade, which makes people wonder why the case has not been settled sooner.

“His importance from a legal point of view (as opposed to his sudden celebrity) stems primarily from the fact that his prosecution is unfinished business for the International Criminal Court, which has had its troubles in its nearly 10 years of existence,” Gaskins wrote.

The KONY 2012 campaign spread like wildfire across the worldwide Web. Politicians, economists and citizens from across the world are critiquing each and every aspect of the campaign. And while the views of each critic vary enormously, all individuals share the common goal of stopping Kony and his paramilitary group. The campaign to capture and arrest Kony, according to Russell, expires on Dec. 31, 2012. Goulden says that Invisible Children has put itself at a large risk.

“This tactic that has an enormous amount of risk. I think they are close to finding him or they wouldn’t have produced this video. That being said, as we’ve learned, it’s really hard to find [warlords]. I don’t know if he can be captured, and although it’s a risky tactic, the payoff will be huge and will change the world if he is.”