Child Slaves, Child Soldiers, World Problem… Beyond Kony

Child From Uganda

A Few Facts On Human Rights No One Should Dispute

  1. An individual who rapes, murders, tortures, terrorizes, and abducts children to use as slaves or soldiers should always be brought to justice whenever possible.
  2. A government that rapes, murders, tortures, terrorizes, and abducts children to use as slaves or soldiers should always be brought to justice whenever possible.
  3. An individual is always easier to target, particularly when governments hold something of value – whether that be resources, personal connections that allow for ICC indictments to be dropped[1. Friends for Peace in Africa], or a political agenda to use as it suits.

I remain confused just how millions of potentially misdirected people will be able to solve any of the above crises or how purchasing products and stapling posters, particularly with the added problem of creating an enormous amount of waste, will either. If you know the answer, please let me know.

Awareness is important, but it doesn’t solve much without real action based on best practices. I am not sure Invisible Children, the U.S. government, or Ugandan government know how to do that when it comes to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

A Call to Social Justice

I have written, and will always be passionate, about social justice. I don’t believe we should ever turn a blind eye from the types of atrocities that Kony and the LRA have committed. Yet, I also stand by my opinion that the Kony 2012 campaign is rife with inconsistencies, problematic for the children that are missing and will certainly be in harm’s way if a military attack is waged[2. A War Victim’s Opinion on Invisible Children’s KONY 2012], and at the end of the day does little to aid the survivors, except small peace of mind.

I think there are some incredibly unfair accusations against Invisible Children, but there are also some very real ones. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that the discussion about good development practices is at least as important as, if not more than, raising awareness. I hate to think the youth of America are being taught that going into another country guns a blazin'[1. Invisible Children founders posing with guns: an interview with the photographer] is going to solve anything. Is this awareness campaign looking to incite sustainable peace or war?

I believe that any legitimate non-profit would be thrilled for such a successful campaign, however their concerns over direct military action is not one of sour grapes, but knowledge of the region. I would hope that when a problematic situation presents itself, we shouldn’t have to remain silent, but invite educated, respectful discussion. I for one am happy for the opportunity to engage in dialogue to make the world better, and call people to action.

Every one of the non-profits I have ever been involved with ALWAYS has a call to action.

The Complex Issues in Central and Eastern Africa

It is well past time to stop Kony and his beyond brutal tactics with the LRA, unfortunately this recent campaign from Invisible Children comes with its own set of issues, but I am grateful for the awareness that it has raised. I do want more and hope that all who have just learned about Joseph Kony and the LRA will continue to be cognizant of world issues, continue to seek out the truth.

I have my own issues with this organization – you may not – but I really want people to think critically before pushing a particular agenda.

“Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before.” [3. Wronging Rights]

The complexities of the culture, the politics, the danger in many parts of Africa – including, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) – is a big web of mess. Have you seen those trees covered in webs from millions of spiders? It looks like that. You can pull one thread, but that won’t eliminate the entire web.

What I see is, eliminating Kony by using military forces and governments who have committed (and still are) similar atrocities (and first)[2. Uganda News] smacks of hypocrisy. I see a government who stood and looked Kony in the eye, but decided to prolong the fighting to suit their own interests. I see a government, or its military, who bombed a building full of children where scheduled peace talks with the LRA were to have been.[4. The War That Isn’t What it Seems (2010)] I am not sure that I would have shown up for them either… I see a government who refused to take part in any peaceful apprehension of this monster.

And now, for the second time, we sent military advisors with technology, weapons, and resources to help them when we have provided financial and logistical resources toward his arrest since 2008 to no avail?

Why should we support a military that have been reported raping and looting their way through the DRC while supposedly hunting for Kony? Because Uganda is fighting a proxy war for us in Somalia, because it might give AFRICOM a larger foothold, or is it really because only now do we care to bring Kony to justice? It didn’t work the last time we tried to aid a direct military intervention[5. AFRICOM’s Ugandan Blunder and Obama Takes on the LRA].

In this case does the end justify the means? Perhaps, but only if the end is an end to the LRA without causing more harm than good. And only if those we are purporting to save have a voice[6. ‘Kony 2012’ Is Not a Revolution] (beyond employees of Invisible Children). Colonialism left a taste in the West’s mouth that we must always be the ones to “save” Africa from itself. How patronizing.

This movement might be better served if it were designed to empower the people most affected by the violence to be a part of the solution. This story has been about Invisible Children. That is not what is needed and will only disenfranchise the very people this campaign is purporting to “save.”

A Campaign of Awareness (Only?)

If we are confused about supporting a military effort, we may also be about the organization behind it. There are a few things that I look for when thinking about charitable organizations: one is a 4 star Charity Navigator rating with low administrative expenses (below 12%) and another is believing in the mission and principles of the organization.

“The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has tried for six years to get Invisible Children to cooperate in a charity review. Since 2006, BBB has sent 18 letters (12 via Certified Mail) to the non-profit behind the Internet phenomenon Kony 2012 video, but has received no response.”

“I don’t understand their reluctance to provide basic information. The whole point of the effort is to shine the light of truth on a terrible atrocity, and yet they seem to be reluctant to turn that light on themselves. It’s really unfortunate, because their campaign has the potential to inspire and galvanize millions of young activists and future philanthropists.”[7. H. Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance]

This is where things get interesting… because there are no easy answers here. We may be able to quip, “of course there is an easy answer, arrest Joseph Kony and justice will be served.” I truly wish it were so simple.

“The question should not be whether there is a downside to the attention social media campaigns bring to terrible problems, but rather: a downside for whom? Learning something new is always valuable for the learner. But campaigns like “Kony 2012” don’t claim to operate for the edification of the Americans they target for “awareness.” They promise that awareness is a path to solving the problems being publicized.”[8. Who Is the Hero?]

I do not believe in sitting idly by. I absolutely and passionately do not. If this film is what it takes to engage young people, then I applaud that aspect. I can’t even tell you how exciting it is that there is a real dialogue happening because of the film.

However, no matter how you slice it, and Invisible Children is fully aware of this and has said as much, a 30-minute video will not teach you all the nuances that you should know before dictating solutions for the problems in Northern Uganda and throughout Central Africa. That is when people need to start educating themselves, no matter their age.

The IC’s Director of Ideology said in a recent interview:

“But aside from that, the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”

“Of the 37 percent of funds that go to central Africa, I’d say about 30 percent goes toward energizing Uganda.”[9. Interview With Jedidiah Jenkins, director of ideology for Invisible Children]

I recently watched a video interview with Jason Russell at Liberty University (which, for me, is an issue in and of itself)[10.] where he proclaimed that they don’t think of themselves as a charity or a non-profit, but as a business, as a company. I have to admit that both of these are surprising, coming from an organization that solicits charitable donations.

I support raising awareness. I support giving people information they didn’t have before and encouraging them to learn more. What I don’t support is people being led to believe that their donations will go directly to stopping Joseph Kony.

I must admit that it concerns me greatly that the reasons many parents and teachers are so impressed by a mobilization of youth are (1) youth previously lacked social justice awareness, (2) they were not compelled to take action on important issues, and (3) they had either never heard of Uganda and/or could not place it on a map. I am not sure which is more disappointing.

“This film attempts to purportedly “change the conversation of our culture,” however it remains a highly sophisticated refurbishment of pro-military interventionist foreign policy propaganda, dependent on dangerous subliminal messaging.”[11.]

What I ask is that you consider what you are being told to believe, what is likely to be true, and then at the end of the day make a decision based on the best information available. If you decide that based on all the evidence, that a militarized campaign in Central and Eastern Africa is the right thing to do, then spread the word. If not, there are still plenty of ways to spread awareness and support effective change. Some won’t even cost you a dime (see below).

The problem with global politics is that nothing comes easy, if it were then there would be no need for a campaign such as this. Keep fighting the good fight, people. As was said in the film, it is an experiment in harnessing the power of social media. So do something good with your newfound knowledge!

Other Ways You Can Help

The abuse of men, women, and children across the globe has been well documented, yet when it is somewhere like Africa or a lifestyle change that causes an inconvenience, then people do not raise much protest. If one amazing thing could come from this campaign, it would be to shine a light on despicable practices by warlords, governments, and corporations.

Child Soldiers[12.] have been used all over the world, in all manners and purposes. The United States has even held children as young as 13-14 at Guantanamo Bay as “enemy combatants.” The governments which used child soldiers in armed conflict between 2004 and 2007 were Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan & Southern Sudan, Uganda and the Yemen. Many of these children are forced to fight, all should not be involved in armed conflicts.

The governments of Chad, Colombia, DRC, Iran, Sri Lanka and Uganda also make use of paramilitary groups that actively recruit child soldiers. Others torture children to extract information such as, Israel and the DRC. Then there are the armed militias that are often fighting against a central government or ethnic group, such as the LRA.

How to help: Urge your government to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict, specifying at least 18 as the minimum age for all forms of military recruitment. Contact political leaders and ask what they are doing to stop the use of children in armed conflict whether at home or abroad. Right now, the US and Somalia are the only members of the UN to have not ratified this treaty.

Give support to organizations that provide education and support to child soldiers.

Nestlé, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland source cocoa from plantations that are guilty of human trafficking and slavery, primarily of children. Why are these three corporations singled out? There is proven evidence against them, although other major chocolate producers are suspected and ought not be left off the hook.

Nearly 2 million children are forced to work on cocoa farms, mostly in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which are the source of almost 70% the world’s cocoa.[13. Tulane University Project PDF] The International Labour Organization (ILO) says, “These are either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked.”

This video doesn’t even show the most egregious abuses, but this shows how ingrained the problem has become in West Africa.

The International Labour Organization estimates between 56 and 72 million African children work in agriculture in general. Some of these are the children of the farmers, but what many discover after traveling to the region is that it becomes incredibly difficult to tell, particularly because of language barriers when the children do not speak French or the local language. This means that they have no access to an education. They are not paid for their work. They have no rights at all.[14. Key Documents on Abusive Child Labor and Slavery in Cocoa]

That alone should cause uproar worldwide. Are consumers angry?

One way that large corporations get around culpability is because they use wholesalers, exporters, importers before it ever gets to the manufacturers, meaning that by the time it becomes a chocolate bar, the source has almost entirely been lost.

How to help: All it takes to change things it to vote with your purchasing power. Buy ethically produced chocolate! Do not buy from the above listed corporations and push for greater transparency from all those that do not source their chocolate from fair trade or direct trade sources. It truly is as simple as making a decision when buying chocolate.

Buy[15. Slave-Free Chocolate Sources] :


So, yes, please keep the pressure on your government to condemn all who would use children as slaves, soldiers, or laborers. This is unconscionable to anyone with a brain. Why has our political leadership not pushed for better? Why do corporations, governments, and militaries believe they are above the law? Both good questions and both I am glad I can ask and have people actually listen. For that I can certainly give credit where it is due.

So share, discuss, act with an open mind and open heart, read, learn, act on behalf of the world’s children, just do it with all the facts before you.

Links To Consider

Many IC supporters have asked in comments on critical articles, just what those writers might be doing themselves that was better than the Kony 2012 campaign because at least IC was out there trying to make a difference. I certainly can’t answer for anyone, but I know a lot of people that work hard to do something good in this world. every. single. day.

What will you do today to change the world?

Please try to follow the rule that I have so much trouble following myself, don’t read the comments. (Except here!)

A War Victim’s Opinion on Invisible Children’s KONY 2012

Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world

Guest post: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)

Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda

How Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 Will Hurt – And How You Can Help – Central Africa

My thoughts on KONY 2012 (and a defense of Invisible Children?)

UNICEF Pressing to End Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Central Africa

UNICEF in emergencies: Children and armed conflict

Invisible Children, the next chapter

photo credit: Robin via flickr

And, please check out the footnotes and leave a comment.


Child Slaves, Child Soldiers, World Problem… Beyond Kony — 15 Comments

  1. Stories like this put our own lives into perspective and makes me so much more appreciative of what I have. Thanks for raising awareness about this important issue.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this and bringing awareness to this situation. Things like this really make me realize how blessed I am.

  3. What a detailed and compassionate post! Thank You bringing this important issue into light and for the wealth of resources.

  4. Brenna, this is a great post. I discovered it through Lisa@Retro Housewife Goes Green. I am in full agreement with you and so glad you point out that people can actually DO something about the child trafficking involved with the chocolate business.

    • Absolutely! It can be difficult to get someone to changer their lifestyle when it is “inconvenient” and that is the challenge of any movement for lasting change. My hope is this campaign will lead to a lasting conversation about how to make things better, here, there, and everywhere.

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