To its credit, Invisible Children has done more than just advocacy. It has raised funds to support education, wells, and economic growth in Uganda. Primarily, though, it is an advocacy organization. It is not fair to criticize an advocacy organization for not being a development organization. A primary mission of the organization is to make the invisible visible, to give a voice to the voiceless.
But here’s where it gets tricky: giving a voice to whom? True, northern Ugandans are not a monolithic group. But does the video attempt to represent the perspectives and opinions of the people depicted on the screen?
It is evident that the video does not have Ugandans in mind as the intended audience. Last week, in Lira District, word had spread that a video depicting this horrible war was suddenly the most popular video on the Internet. A public screening in that district of northern Uganda was held by a charity organization so that those directly affected by the conflict could see what the world was watching.
People came from miles by foot, bicycle, and boda boda (motorcycle taxi). When they saw it, many were offended. Some threw rocks. The screening was halted.
In interviews with the media afterward, collective outrage was palpable. Several expressed that in watching the video they felt oddly left out of the conversation – foreigners talking to foreigners about them. One man, a former abductee who, like many others, had undergone a horrific amputation at the hands of the LRA, remarked that the all experts and commentators on the video were white.
Others were offended that Kony, a man who had caused them such suffering, was being presented as if to make him famous, rather than infamous. One can purchase Kony 2012 merchandise, such as T-shirts and yard signs. This all underlines a basic tension in advocacy: Who is your message targeting and for what policy ends?
In conversations with our Ugandan colleagues, it seemed that a predominant objection to the video is that it claims to speak for them, but it does not advocate policies they necessarily support nor does it do much to portray the current realities.