Invisible Children missing big picture

Michele Snow

I could start off with a comment on Jason Russell, a co-founder of Invisible Children, getting caught masturbating in public; but I won’t.

Invisible Children is an admirable organization. It raises awareness for those who can’t advocate for themselves. But with its recent 30-minute video going viral, a harsh spotlight fell on its administration, effectiveness and influence.

From the very mouths of the Invisible Children organization came the confirmation that it does, in fact, only spend one-third of its money on “programs on the ground” that provide “protection, rehabilitation and development assistance” in war-affected areas of east and central Africa. The other two-thirds of its profits go toward two other goals that IC claims are just as important as operating programs on the ground: producing films to raise awareness and “channeling energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns.” Neither of these goals are worth two-thirds of the millions of dollars IC is making.

What really needs to change in Africa are the grassroots policies, the structures and attitudes of African nations themselves. This cannot turn into another example of the ongoing narrative of the West coming to Africa’s rescue. The power to change Africa lies in African government and in local initiatives on the ground, it does not lie in the benevolence of Americans, or millions of people watching a 30-minute-long video.

These were points made by a female Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire, in response to Invisible Children’s video. What was missing in the video, Kagumire said, was the current situation on the ground. Instead, the focus was on one man, Joseph Kony, and the crimes he is committing against humanity.

The reality is that bringing Kony to justice alone will not solve the problems in Africa. With all the power and outreach Invisible Children has, it should zoom out to focus on the Ugandan civil war, the violent situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, or Central African Republic. If it can educate the world about Kony, why couldn’t it use that power to educate the world about the larger problem across Africa?

The Invisible Children video, along with the resulting shares and re-shares through social media, seems to imply that the worst part of all this was the ignorance of Westerners to these atrocities. This completely discredits the African people. “If you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story, if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on,” Kagumire said.

We should be telling the whole story of Africans, and setting them up to sustain their own peace, rather than promoting the continuation of Western power and resources to prop them up indefinitely.