Visible Children: Viewed Critically

March 7, 2012 at 9:30am

This is my own personal, response and does not reflect the views of any person or any organization besides myself.



The above link. It is being posted as a response to KONY 2012. And so I would like to respond to it. This is my own personal, response and does not necessarily reflect the views of IC.


I believe dialogue is extremely important and so I invite everyone to bring your concerns, comments, or compliments here and I will address them as best I can.



"Visible Children: Viewed Critically"



I will try to keep this succinct an address each point one at  a time. Let me know if I miss any.



1) The article links multiple times to this Foreign Affairs piece:


This piece has many inaccuracies that are addressed here:




2) "Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production."



This is a gross misrepresentation of how Invisible Chilren uses their financials.  Invisible Children’s financial statements are online for everyone to see.  Financial statements from the last 5 years, including our 990, are available at The organization only spent 16.24% on administration and management costs in FY2011.




3) "This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that."



Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children's programs its highest rating of 4 stars. IC's Accountability and Transparency score is currently at 2 stars due to the fact that they currently does not have 5 independent voting members on our board of directors--they currently have 4.  IC is in the process of interviewing potential board members, and their goal is to add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013.  




4) "The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”"



Not to put to a fine a point on this, but... BS. At least for the part where they claim Invisible Children supports the UPDF and SPLA. IC never have supported the UPDF or SPLA with money and they do not hide those militaries obvious human rights abuses. The UPDF IS the best equipped group even though the LRA does not operate in Uganda anymore. Anyone who argues otherwise does not understand how ineffective the SPLA (S. Sudan military), FACA (Central African Republic Military), and FARDC (Congolese military) are. 



IC does not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army. None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda.  Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.




5) "Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking. Which can be great, except that Foreign Affairs has claimed that Invisible Children (among others) “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.”"


See above points about how IC does NOT support African militias and the irony of the FA piece accusing us of manipulating facts. 



6)" As Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, writes on the topic of IC’s programming, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”"


Our programs are Ugandan inspired and Ugandan led. As in they were created by Ugandans for Ugandans. Nobody is more aware of the dangers of the "White Man's Burden" messiah complex than Invisible Children. Our programs actively seek to empower Ugandans to help themselves. Every. Single. Program. that IC starts is based on the advice of those who live in the communities and who came before us and know a lot about said particular projects.  The only saviors here are the Ugandan people themselves. And soon to the Central African, Congolese, and South Sudanese people once the LRA is removed from their homelands. 





7)"Still, Kony’s a bad guy, and he’s been around a while. Which is why the US has been involved in stopping him for years. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent multiple missions to capture or kill Kony over the years. And they’ve failed time and time again, each provoking a ferocious response and increased retaliative slaughter."


This has been taken into account and IC, Resolve, Enough and many other organizations have written extensive reports expressing the important of protecting civilians. The military interventions did not slaughter the civilians, the LRA did. If the civilians were adequately protected by military forces, these slaughters would not have happened.




8) "The issue with taking out a man who uses a child army is that his bodyguards are children. Any effort to capture or kill him will almost certainly result in many children’s deaths, an impact that needs to be minimized as much as possible. Each attempt brings more retaliation. And yet Invisible Children supports military intervention. Kony has been involved in peace talks in the past, which have fallen through. But Invisible Children is now focusing on military intervention."


A very valid point. I would love to hear suggestions from the author on how they would stop Kony. The fact of the matter is that peace talks have failed six times and every time Kony uses the lull in fighting as a chance to rebuilding his forces and abduct and kill more people. So what is better? Another peace talk so this fight can drag on, or militarily ending this thing once and for all? Nobody wants  violent solution. We all prefer peace. But what happens when peace talks fail repeatedly? What happens when peace talks actually exacerbate  the problem?




9) "Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow."


IC is not naive. They understand the complexities of this situation. The author fails to understand to power of public opinion and social media. His loss. 



That's all I got, my friends. Please re share this or reply to it. I would love to start a dialogue on this.


Much love,  

  • John "Pockets" Beaton 
  • Twitter - @Johrune