(Photo: Joseph Kony, via Reuters)
On his personal blog, Marc DuBois of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) writes about the impact of the viral Kony 2012 campaign on the work of long-established humanitarian efforts in Africa.
"Most madmen love the idea of fame, so Joseph Kony's wet dream just came true," writes DuBois.
Many aid workers are simultaneously offended by the project and jealous of its unprecedented reach. At the time of this blog post, the promotional video for Invisible Children's fundraising/"awareness" campaign about the fugitive African rebel leader has exceeded 70 million views, making it the fastest-growing viral video in internet history.
Snip from DuBois' blog post:
So why, really, are we aid insiders so bothered? It's the big green monster. Is there another charity whose message has captivated so many so fast? About six months ago, my niece "Lisa" in Chicago excitedly asked me to contribute to Invisible Children. At the time, I'd never heard of it. I poked around. I can't say I was taken by the cause, but I couldn't help feeling envious of IC's having so effectively reached Lisa, usually more interested in dance and boys. These young upstarts at IC are the next big thing. And we aren't.
Why? Well, for one, they have a simple message that people grasp. For another, good looks. More importantly, Invisible Children has discovered what the entertainment industry figured out a decade ago. It's not about us old timers. It's not people who read the Philip Roth or contribute conscientiously to their pension fund. It's about the under 25s, maybe even the under 15s. It's about the kids. That's why there are a couple dozen TV shows about teenage vampires. That's why we have Jedward.
The aid industry has just been Biebered. IC's hundreds of thousands of donor / activist – they were invisible to us. Kids. That's the target and that's the message. If you think the aid world depends on gray haired HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals, aka rich folk), wait and see what IC does with its pubescent legions. My advice to the aid industry? First, get over it. Then, get on the boat.
DuBois isn't speaking for MSF, but I spoke to another MSFer via Twitter today: Avril Benoît, the group's Director of Communications, who pointed me to DuBois' blog post. I asked her if MSF had released an official statement in reaction to the Kony campaign: No. But, she said, "MSF teams in LRA-affected regions of DR Congo, Central African Republic & South Sudan are likely wary of retaliation risks."
Does the viral campaign, and reactions to it on the continent, up the risk for aid workers, I asked?
"It's more that, historically, military offensives v. LRA (as the campaign calls for) triggered retaliatory atrocities against villages," she replied.
Too bad those ugly, complicated realities don't easily fit into Invisible Children's 140-characters-or-less narrative.
The Invisible Children viral video may be the "most-viral" in history, but it's one of the most expensive, too. The group raised $13.8 million in 2011, according to the non-profit's financial statements [PDF]. In an interview with CNN, co-founder Jason Russell says they spent one-third of raised funds on the film, another third on "film-related advocacy" and the rest on a "a mission to end the war, and rehabilitate war-affected children."
They've released no specific price tag on the film, but: do the math. This is a group that is, ultimately, calling for military intervention.