Invisible Children founders check up on how their money is being spent. Photograph by Glenna Gordon - click image to visit her site.
DISCLAIMER FOR LIBERALS: We at DemandNothing do not support the actions of the LRA or Joseph Kony. We have no objection to the principle of highlighting the activities of groups such as these, which are often overlooked in the western media.
Invisible Children released a video, KONY 2012, that called for the raising of awareness of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda across the world. In their video they seek donations so that they can continue their project to bring US advisors in to work with the Ugandan military in finding and apprehending Joseph Kony. Their ultimate wish is for their supporters to agitate for an armed military intervention to stop Kony by raising awareness and confronting policymakers. The US has already deployed a small contingent of armed forces to advise and assist the Ugandan military but Invisible Children would like to see more pressure put on governments to give the Ugandan military more money, technology and foreign military advisers to push the fight on. They are effectively calling for an armed intervention in Uganda.
Armed interventions in Uganda to find and kill Joseph Kony have been tried repeatedly over the decades with no success. Each push scatters the LRA to civilian areas with terrible costs to those who live in those areas. For example, Operation Lightning Thunder, which was a joint operation with the involvement of the US, resulted in the abduction of 700 people and the deaths of 1, 000 civilians.
One of their partners and donators is Chase Community Giving who awarded them $1million as a prize for winning a contest that was mired in controversy and accusations of fraud. This organisation is part of JP Morgan Chase Foundation who are also listed as one of Invisible Children’s network of supporters. This organisation is also owner of Chase Military, an organisation that offers loans, mortgages and insurance to soldiers that are to be deployed abroad. JP Morgan have also used foreign military interventions in the past to secure investment opportunities such as in Afghanistan with the full support of the US Government. Further ties with Uganda include their recent investment in Ugandan agribusiness and their ties as broker and adviser to Heritage Oil, whose operations are expanding into the border of Uganda and the Congo where the LRA are currently based. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, when situating these operations with their support of Invisible Children in the past year, JP Morgan are very interested in Uganda’s assets and are looking for means to foster business-friendly awareness of Uganda’s problems for their own benefit. Military intervention would do nothing but bolster JP Morgans profitmaking opportunities in the region.
This increase in funding from JP Morgan also coincided with Invisible Children’s “Fourth Estate” program. This program was designed to foster a youth-oriented grassroots movement by the controlled manipulation of youth culture, social media, and youth activism. It is to this end that their video was released, which ties into their ventures with the music industry, which concentrates specifically on popular youth bands like Mumford & Sons and Frightened Rabbit, and their Fourth Estate activism education conference in August 2011. Between 2010 and 2011, resources spent on media creation rose from $463, 666 to $699, 617. Similarly, the amount of money that they spent on media awareness rose from $133, 600 to $301, 000 in the same span of time. At the same time, only a little over a third of the money that they raise is spent on their programs. The rest goes to awareness, management, and their product line. In fact, spending on programs went down from $3, 752, 435 to $3, 303, 218 in spite of their overall increase in funding.
Invisible Children’s actions are tied heavily into the promotion of a false consciousness type of activism that glosses over the complex history of the region that they purport to support and ignores the myriad of crimes the Museveni government is embroiled in or the Ugandan People’s Defence Force’s (UPDF) checkered history with profiteering, the use of child soldiers, and rape. The LRA are not even based in Uganda anymore and this has been the case for many years now. Their business-friendly awareness campaign is exemplified by their championing of predatory microfinance initiatives in Uganda, which are offered by CARE international, a charity that is also sponsored by JP Morgan.
It should come as no surprise that the US Government and an investment firm like JP Morgan would show such interest in the work of an otherwise unknown charity. If crowd-sourcing activism in this way was always so successful then we would expect larger movements such as Occupy to have also made similar headway into governments. That is simply not the case though, as the interests of corporations and government run explicitly counter to those in Occupy. This is not to say that Invisible Children and its members are out there to explicitly profiteer or that this is some kind of shadow conspiracy. What they are is an effective propaganda-making organisation whose interests have happened to coincide with the rich and powerful who are seeking to exploit the massive mineral wealth in Uganda, and the conflicts in the country, for their own profit. It’s a lot easier to make a video viral when you have millions of dollars worth of resources at your disposal.
Pushing this rhetoric through the sponsoring of charities such as Invisible Children helps people to believe that what they are doing is for some nebulous “good“ when, in reality, they are sponsoring those who aim to exploit the people of Uganda and armed intervention against child soldiers . The last thing that is needed is well-meaning, energised students committed to action without any real understanding of where their money is going and what their actions are committing them to.