Invisible Children Controversy

Invisible Children

Invisible Children (Image via

OK – after I sent out that last post, I got a lot of questions about whether I have changed my past views on Invisible Children since I chose to promote their video.

I should have been more clear. While I believe they do their work with the best intentions, I am not a fan of Invisible Children, and I would not, personally, send them money.

At the same time, I am a fan of raising awareness about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and nobody else is doing it as effectively as Invisible Children. This video is worth watching even though they completely mislead people about how easy it will be to catch Kony if only people will watch the video.

I must admit that I am conflicted in my feelings towards them. There are a lot of reasons not to like them:

  • They twist information to boost their fundraising efforts rather than trying to put out current facts and educate people. I remain convinced that they want people to think the war still rages in Uganda because that is the country their fundraising efforts identify with. Even in this most recent video, they refer to Uganda as “relatively safe,” without coming right out and saying that the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006.
  • They take sole credit for the advocacy efforts of dozens of people and groups.
  • They simplify the issues in a very mainstream-media sort of way, which can lead to misguided activism.
  • They have never had their finances independently audited, and they have no board of directors. (updated 3/8, apparently they have done audits and have a 4-person board, but have no standing audit committee)
  • Most of all, they have a pretty lousy reputation in Uganda which, to me, is one of the strongest indictments.

And some big guns like the One Campaign (who asked their field staff not to promote Kony 2012 as a representative of One) and the Council of Foreign Relations have either distanced themselves or flat-out shot them down publicly.

Many of the criticisms being leveled against them are bogus. People are crying out about the fact that the top three staffers/founders are each making over $80k. Come on – they are running a $13 million operation, and probably are at it 80 hours per week. That is around average compensation for Executive Directors at organizations with half that budget, and we live in expensive times. If they were working for USAID or the US Embassy in Uganda, they would be making far more, with a benefits package that would blow your mind.

People also complain that they don’t put enough money into programs in Uganda. It is true that they are doing very little on the ground there, but that isn’t actually their main goal. They are a United States lobbying and advocacy group. The problem is, they pretend they are having a huge impact on the ground in Uganda rather than just being honest about it. This is one of the main reasons they aren’t viewed well in Uganda.

They seem to be kids on a joyride who are quite fond of themselves and are very good at what they do, which is media campaigns, not humanitarian work.

And really – is it just me, or is it downright creepy to wear a bracelet with Joseph Kony’s name on it as if he’s your boyfriend?

If Invisible Children would be more honest about what they do and don’t do, if they had a higher financial transparency rating on Charity Navigator, and if they made more of an effort to provide accurate, nuanced information about Africa, I could potentially become a fan since I ultimately support their goal of catching Kony. And really – what am I doing to help? At least they are diving in.

Here are a number of links that dive more deeply into the controversies around IC:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you agree or disagree with me. And feel free to send it on to others so they can add it to the mix of deciding whether or not to become active in the Kony 2012 campaign.

Mark D. Jordahl

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About Mark D. Jordahl

Mark Jordahl is a writer, trip leader and naturalist who has lived much of the last 7 years in Uganda and currently calls Colorado home.
This entry was posted in Articles, Foreign Aid, Human Rights, Northern Uganda, Personal Observations, Politics, Regional and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Invisible Children Controversy

  1. Invisible Children may have its faults, as I’m sure all NGO’s do, but I think they have come up with one of the most amazing campaigns ever and if it draws attention to the outrages of Joseph Kony and the suffering of the people of Northern Uganda and beyond then I believe it is all worthwhile. I did not send money but I believe in shedding light on the atrocities and ultimately catching Kony. Hopefully we’ll flush the bastard out of the jungle once and for all.

  2. Right on, Vicky! I just hope this will inspire people to learn more about the issue, from sources other than just Invisible Children. Why are warlords (and Kony is just one of hundreds) able to operate with impunity in eastern DRC? What can people in western countries actually do to help people who are suffering once they have watched the video (let’s face it – just keeping the 100 US military personnel isn’t going to put an end to this, given that the US has been involved in a number of military efforts to capture Kony in the past)? Why do people in the US generally know/care so little about what is going on in Africa? How does our massive consumption of natural resources feed into the chaos in eastern Congo that allows Kony to operate there? Etc.

  3. Josie Chamla says:

    I just can’t help feeling that Invisible Children are in an amazing position to actually create change, but they stop short at creating awareness. The Kony 2012 video is going bananas in Australia at the moment, and one of the most often repeated comment is that before this, people had “never heard of Joseph Kony”. I think its fantastic that people are learning about this man and the devastation he has wreaked on so many young lives in Uganda, but I have hesitated to click the ‘share’ button for many of the reasons you discuss.

  4. Margaret McLean says:

    Well said, Mark! I haven’t seen the video in question but after reading your blog I think I’ll click on some of your links above instead.

    • Go ahead and watch the video, too, but it’s great to have some other background info at the same time. The problem is that everyone is watching it and immediately sending it on without actually thinking about it. So thanks for thinking!

  5. Pingback: Kony 2012 THOUGHTS: « The Vizzi Hendrix Experience

  6. Linn DeNesti says:

    Hi Mark! Your post is very well articulated and I appreciate hearing your comments as one with first hand experience in Uganda. The firestorm of interest landed on my Facebook page when I posted a link to the video. The comments started coming in, but long and thoughtful ones addressing your very concerns as well as your own thoughts on the positive aspects of the IC organization. These young mavericks have tapped into a vast network with a formula that has not been implemented to this extent. It is truly amazing to me that in a few days a larger part of the world now knows about something it didn’t last weeK. It’s bound to go to the young founders’ heads! I do hope good comes of it. It is certainly a grand experiment and perhaps one that can be replicated over and over as we the people take more interest in our destinies.

    I hope you and yours are well!

    • Hi Linn,

      Thanks for your thoughts. It is such a tough issue. Great intentions, but maybe a bit misguided. And it’s hard to say something against somebody who is trying to make a difference, but at the same time, how do you decide when an effort makes things worse in the long-term? One of the things I have been paying closest attention to is the reaction of people in Uganda, which has been overwhelmingly negative. Many Ugandans feel, once again, insulted by an effort from the West to “help” them, but which doesn’t involve them.

      Thanks for reading, and hope all is well for you.


  7. Robin says:

    And how do we feel about this?,r:5,s:0

    Can you really claim to be anti-war and then pose with military-grade arms?

    I think they are doing something great–raising awareness of a criminal and an important issue–but from what I understand most of the money goes to the Ugandan military which has also been known to commit heartbreaking atrocities.

    I don’t mean to be cynical, but we should know more of the facts.

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