12 May, 2009

So why are the children still invisible?

So we all should have guessed that this day would come. See the thing is I've known for a while that something is very very very wrong with this organization but haven't been able to place exactly what.

So I'll let others do it for me:

1) TexasinAfrica:
Sigh. Invisible Children is a fantastic example of exactly the worst kind of advocacy on behalf of victims of armed conflict. It's ethnocentric, culturally insensitive, and apparently driven by the idea that having American college kids pull stunts like this weekend's "Rescue" will somehow make the lives of children in Northern Uganda better.

The problem with IC, as Professor Blattman pointed out a couple of months ago, isn't that they're raising awareness about a serious situation. It's that they're doing it in an entirely self-centered, White Man's burden, rich kids off to "save Africa" way. "Abducting yourself" is just ridiculous; there's no way that a night or two out under the stars downtown comes remotely close to helping students empathize with the Ugandan children who face the fear of abduction every night. And it's not really an "abduction" when you know that at any time you can go home.

2) And since she transitioned so well to Prof. Blattman, we'll just go to him next.

In response to the new IC movie, Blattman writes:
There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.

One consequence, whether it’s IC or Save Darfur, is a lot of dangerously ill-prepared young people embarking on missions to save the children of this or that war zone. At best it’s hubris and egocentric. More often, though, it leads to bad programs, misallocated resources, or ill-conceived military adventures. There’s lots of room for intelligent advocacy.

3) And finally I go to Wronging Rights who somehow manages to be intelligently sassy while telling you just how it is:

First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more intelligent advocacy. ... Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as "The Raped" and Ugandan children as "The Abducted" constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems. (emphasis added)

Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn't help anyone.

So ok, IC did some good things. They raised the bar for advocacy and advertising and proved that college and high school kids can get behind something that is seemingly "not about them." The pressure has been turned up in N. Uganda - but all that did was push Kony into the Congo (1, 2, 3, 4 to list but a couple). For another good blog, we turn again to Blattman.

So, question: what good has IC done?

No seriously, they did a good job at getting the word out and then it became all about advocacy and comparing kids to cups of Starbucks (don't get me started)... Now they are on this movie benge moving to DC to stop the LRA - which, from what I have read and seen, is nothing but a big joke that let's little 18 years old feel like because they slept outside for one night and got someone to come "rescue them" they can totally identify with the kids in Northern Uganda and the LRA that actually live this day in and day out.

To me there is a difference between Invisible Children and Polaris Project - an anti-trafficking organization started by college kids coming out of Brown University that is doing something impactful, changing the face of anti-TIP in the U.S. and is doing advocacy and lobbying right.

Gimmicks vs. impact - which one is more important - being trendy or actually educating and letting the issue be about the people it affects and not the people who thinks it's cool.

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