Monthly Archives: March 2012

Great quote on Ugandan agency from a Ugandan stakeholder

“The Women of Kireka are the most resilient group of individuals that I know. Spend a day with them and you will wonder how they manage to so calmly describe to you watching their entire families burned alive, their husbands and children hacked to death, in front of them. They do it so calmly, methodically, with such articulate prose that it leaves your soul victimized for it’s privilege. Yet they don’t pause from rolling a perfectly crafted paper bead for a beautiful necklace. They don’t waste their time lamenting the lack of justice for the fallen or the abducted. Why? Because it doesn’t bring back the dead, it doesn’t dissolve the horrific images of their huts burning, or ease the scars borne of running scared into the night.

Instead, they want work and respect and business to be able to make decisions that move their lives along. They want desperately to forget and rebuild anew; thankful for their lives. They want radios and cell phones and grasp at any semblance of normalcy. They cuddle and nurse their newborns like delicate, cherished gifts. What they don’t talk about is justice. They talk about how to forgive and move on.

But I can’t tell you their story. Why? Someone else has taken over their part in this complex saga, simplified it, branded it, packaged it and is reselling it as an Action Kit. For as little as $30 and up to $500, you get your very own pimplicious t-shirt (that was made somewhere other than Uganda or Africa) and various assortments of SWEDOW you won’t care about in a month. But hey! At least you did something…

I am coherent enough to realize when someone is trying to genuinely do good. At the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with assuming that the people who you are trying to help 1) need help, 2) want your help, or 3) can’t help themselves. IC and this video assumes all the above. Before anyone says ‘why haven’t you done anything to stop Kony?’, may I point out that it took the world’s most sophisticated army over a decade and billions of dollars to catch Osama bin Laden. Kony has been on the run for 25+ years. On a continent 3 times the size of America. Catching & stopping him is not a priority of immediate concern. You know what is? Finding a bed net so that millions of kids don’t die every day from malaria. How many of you know that more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2838) than have died in the past 3 years from LRA attacks in whole of central Africa(2400)? We’ve picked our battles and we chose to simply try to live. And the world should be helping us live on our own terms, by respecting our agency to choose which battles to put capacity towards.”

– TMS Ruge, “A Peace of My Mind: Respect My Agency 2012,”

It’s possible that lack of exposure to such trauma, suffering and persons from a different culture may lead one to assume their voice, rather than actually speaking for them. Let’s find ways to respect, partner, and work together with actual people.

I am only posting this short bit via my blog to encourage you to read the much longer article:

Selling Old Newspapers Shouldn’t Be Profitable: Invisible Children and Kony 2012

If someone on the street was selling you an old newspaper, would you buy it?  Okay, let’s move to the 21st century:  if your iPad was only downloading podcasts from six years ago, would you continue your subscription?

Invisible Children - Gulu Office

In 2006 Invisible Children began its campaigns to educate Western audiences via media and marketing about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the LRA. What resulted is millions of dollars in advertising, action kits, and attention intended to benefit the children of northern Uganda. In their latest flick, Kony 2012, Invisible Children continues to sell the stories of night commuters and the overwhelming fear and agony of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as the “real story” of northern Uganda, invoking Western audiences (both rich and rich) to make an effective impact by tweeting the video to their friends, holding Gulu Walks, and raising awareness.

In 2008 I received a university research grant and, partnering with a local university research facility, I began gathering information and interviewing both primary sources as well as secondary sources in northern Uganda on the effects of long-term conflict and camp settlement on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north—persons who are forced to flee from their homes as a result of conflict. What resulted was a wakeup call in my research:  much of my intended research was outdated, the LRA threat has greatly diminished since 2006, and the real story that needs to be researched, quantized and talked about is growth and development in a post-conflict northern Uganda, particularly as the Ugandan Peace and Recovery Development Plan (PRDP) continues to fail on its promises of funding.  What does post-conflict economic recovery look like? How can international, national, and local nonprofits and social entrepreneurship be constructive during the transition from aid to development?

Despite my research, degree and opportunities to travel to Uganda, I definitely do not consider myself an expert; there are so many organizations and individuals I know who have been there from the beginning, who can actually speak Acholi and Luo, and who have a much better idea about what “the real story” in northern Uganda looks like today.

But Invisible Children continuing to sell the stories of night commuters and the overwhelming fear and agony of the LRA is the same as selling old newspapers to an ignorant public that may be too busy to realize that the date on their page (or their podcast) is from six years ago.

One blogger made a pretty good analogy to what this looks like in American terms:

I’m going to compare what IC is doing to an analogy that I thought of this past summer when I was Uganda thinking about this issue. Imagine that today you heard about what happened in NYC and Washington DC on September 11, 2001 for the first time. You were shown a video of footage from that day. You saw the planes hit the towers, you heard President Bush’s address, you saw the Pentagon wreckage, you watch in horror as you see people plunge to their death, jumping from the burning towers. Now imagine that you are inspired by this disaster. You want to something to help. What if you went to NYC today, expecting to see piles of rubble to clean up? What if you went, expecting that there would be thousands of people in the streets crying, looking for loved ones? But what would happen when you arrived and discovered that there was none of this, but a whole host of other problems? (

Similar examples can also be found in the delayed timing and results of campaigns against Darfur.

So, why are we getting old newspapers? 

Western audiences know the “African” story already and don’t bother to look at the dates.  We know that in “Africa,” people are poor and helpless and unable to do anything for themselves.  We know that “Africans” are uneducated and trapped in a sea of corruption, unable to escape without the help of foreign rescuers.  These are all assumptions in Western audiences (for more on the source of these assumptions and further illustrations, I would point you to Erik Ritskes’s post: Therefore, watching Invisible Children reminds us of what we already “know,” ignites our guilt and armtwists us into at least doing something, even if it’s just spreading a video across social media (Notes on video specifics found here on How-Matters:

The people who sell the newspapers are likely passionate and well-intentioned, but their good intentions don’t make good results.  As many bloggers criticize Invisible Children, they often welcome in their own criticisms towards young people, the American public, Western civilization, the power of social media, technology, people who don’t like “Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like,” and everyone who does not have a degree or certificate in African Studies. Many essentially criticize that most people (excluding themselves) are just not as well informed as they are. I commend Invisible Children for their efforts to rally young people toward things bigger than themselves. But I’m sure that even those who work for Invisible Children – anyone who has visited Gulu – would be able to attest that the story being sold in Kony 2012 is an old one.  I’m sure that it was someone’s idea to push for the story, thinking that people would give more and then, as they get inspired, they would learn about more of the facts.

However, from a legal and ethical perspective, should selling old newspapers be profitable—particularly for 501(c)3 nonprofits like Invisible Children?  Sure, if celebrities do it, it’s on their dime (note how “successful” Oprah’s African school and other celebrity experimental examples have been) but unfortunately at the expense of beneficiaries. Is it okay that people are induced to funnel money via manipulative marketing and media? I’m pretty sure the answer is a resounding “no.”

As we now move from one Invisible Children movie to the next, the question remains:  when or how will Invisible Children catch people up on what is actually going on?

Do they intend to?

As my newsfeeds have and will continue to flood with Kony 2012, I, for one, am definitely not renewing my subscription.