This week, ‘Stop Kony’ captured our hearts. A powerful YouTube video detailing the plague of child soldiers in Uganda and demanding action against warlord Joseph Kony has received almost 30 million views while attracting a stream of celebrity supporters. But there’s a problem: critics say it’s not true.
Relief groups such as ActionAid Uganda have pointed out that the bloody civil war in the country has abated in recent years, and that the video grossly exaggerates the number of children forced into combat. Joseph Kony has long abandoned his home country along with his militia, the Lord’s Republican Army.
ActionAid director Arthur Larok criticised Invisible Children. “The perception of a country at war is not accurate at all”, he said, accusing the filmmakers of “playing on people’s emotions”. Respected Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama wrote on his website that the film was “misleading” and claimed the message will detract from more urgent causes in the country, such as the spread of deadly diseases.
Invisible Children are being examined for their suspicious finances. According to its own accounts, just 32% of donor funding went on actual development work with large sums devoted to promotion and salaries. The Stop Kony campaign carries repeated calls for funding and has an online store promoting branded merchandise.
Independent watchdog Charity Navigator gave the group just two stars for transparency. Comparable child protection groups Save the Children and World Vision have the maximum four-star rating.
Invisible Children has issued a response on its website, claiming the transparency problem is just a technicality. “The two-stars are due to the single fact that (we) do not have five independent voting members on our board,” its statement said. The group also defended the focus on Kony despite his disappearance from Uganda: “The mission is to stop Kony and the LRA wherever they are.”