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Invisible Children seeks to give youth an outlet, but at what cost?

December 13, 2012

The following is from a recent article by Ayesha Nibbe on Invisible Children and the Stop Kony campaign:

…In other words, the specific case of conflict in northern Uganda, Joseph Kony, and the LRA is a vehicle through which Invisible Children can address a universal, i.e. a perceived sense of aimlessness, alienation, and disempowerment of American youth. Invisible Children aims to “change the mindset of Western young people to see…that they can do profoundly good things with their life.” One could argue that the ultimate goal of Invisible Children is not to capture Kony or to “End The War” itself – or even to “make the world a better place” – but rather to offer young Americans a one-way ticket out of their social ennui.

I have encountered this “giving American youth a sense of purpose” rhetoric consistently in my dealings with Invisible Children over the past six years, but I never understood the centrality of this part of their ideology until now. About a month ago, I visited Southern California to give a talk about KONY 2012 and I was invited to dinner by the Invisible Children club at UCLA. Just minutes into our conversation, the club members realized I was not a “fan” of KONY 2012 – but we still talked and listened to each other. I explained the history of the conflict, who benefits from the conflict (and KONY 2012), and how powerful entities are in a sense using the Invisible Children movement to justify military expansion and dictatorial powers in the region. Hearing the damning evidence about their organization, the faces of these young people dropped and they looked at me with blank, vacant stares – so I stopped at one point and asked, “Wait…you’ve never heard any of this before?” They shook their heads – they hadn’t. Towards the end of our conversation one of the students said, “Well, I’m probably going to stay involved in this…and probably will for the rest of my life because it’s changed my life, and I’ve seen how it’s changed other people’s lives as well.” I could not believe what I was hearing – she was completely focused on the benefits to her of being involved in this group, regardless of whatever geopolitical mess they as a group were stepping into. Being in Invisible Children gave her and others a reason for being, and perhaps a sense of community that they could not find elsewhere.

I know, this is yet another piece on Kony and Invisible Children, but I think Nibbe’s discussion of the wider cultural implications are extremely important.

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