What you can learn from Invisible Children

Authenticity matters

Nadine Riopel, who has written for us here at Unlimited, is an amazing writer, thinker and consultant in the non-profit space. During an event at which she was speaking there was a Q&A after her presentation where she brought up a phrase that’s popular in the international NGO space. “Whites in Shining Armour,” is an idea that needs to explored more than ever in the aftermath of the Stop Kony viral video affair.

If you’re not familiar with the Stop Kony project by the NGO Invisible Children here’s a useful recap.

Essentially an NGO called Invisible Children created a super viral videocalled Kony 2012 that went on to detail the horrendous story of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and what you can do to help. The LRA is a brutal revolutionary group that started in Uganda but has since operated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. They’re most famous for kidnapping children and forcing them to become soldiers. It’s a brutal, nasty story and if anyone deserves to have a spotlight shone on them it’s Joseph Kony. The video asks for people to donate money to their Kony 2012 campaign and purchase t-shirts and bracelets.

Everything sounds great right? Oprah, P. Diddy and even President Obama throw their support the campaign.

Then a critical reaction bubbles up. At first it was your usual cast of misfits like Vice and the Exile which raised doubts but as the video became more and more popular and more people looked into the organization and the claims made in the vide0 serious and legitimate criticism was unearthed. Now, let’s be clear I don’t doubt that the people behind the Stop Kony campaign have good intentions nor do I refute the fact that Joseph Kony is terrible, dangerous human human being, regardless, legitimate concerns have been raised.

This fact-check by NPR is a useful place to begin. Also, Michael Deibert makes the argument that the campaign will hurt the issue more than help it. Visible Children offers up a pretty devastating critique as well. Do you think that Oprah and bracelets are enough to motivate the international community to slog through the forests of Africa to track down a man who has evaded capture for two decades?

But the real niggling issue in all of this is the authenticity problem. Are white, upper middle class Brooklynites really the best people to raise this issue? Are they just post-colonial whites in shining armour? It’s a question they tried to answer, at least indirectly, in their response to criticism in the Washington Post. Have a read and tell me if you think they answered it satisfactorily

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