Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kony 2012 aftermath or All I got was this lousy bracelet for $30

It's been  17 days since the viral fraud known as Kony 2012 hit us. What have we learned since then. Well for one, I learned a new word, fapping. Until a certain repressed right wing nutter who wanted to scam impressionable young people got rumbled, I had never heard it. I suppose it was G-d's way of  getting Jason Russell, Invisible children co-founder Jason Russell to stop any more suckers from parting with their money so unwisely. My greatest disappointment is the apparent popular culture in the West that allows people with lots of money or fame to take any cause completely out of context, over simplify it and even lie if they have to get a few million people to have a flash in the pan moment that will at most raise a few eyebrows or at worst divert millions of dollars from deserving charities into the hands of those who's agendas are less than transparent or all that well intentioned. 

Slacktivism or clicktivism: lazy activism, leads to many millions of people feeling they have done something, but have in fact done nothing at all. Once the excitement had settled down to a dull rumble of vaguely embarrassed teens and keyboard warriors, the Guardian interviewed three young people who had genuinely believed they were doing good at first. In the piece, all three sum up their feelings as having "been cheated" and even angry at being deceived. Kony is no closer or father from being caught by the campaign, the money raised was destined to be spent yet again on films and wages with only 20% going to the affected country, in this cast the Government of Uganda. That's 80-20 split to the charity with the rest going to a government at least as corrupt and deadly as the supposed root of all evil Kony who hasn't been in Uganda since 2006. Oh and the money went to bullets in case you were wondering. As it happens, since the meltdown of Jason Russell, which has itself gone viral, I strongly suspect many donations have been rescinded or the money handed over will at last have to be used for something good. I'd like to think this vast farce will force Invisible Children to be more open about their finances, but I doubt even this level of scandal will be enough to open the books. 

Now not to long ago, activism meant you marched in the street, went to meetings and were somewhat more questioning of the causes you subscribed to. Today it's far too easy to LIKE something or retweet it and feel somehow, you too have changed the world in a deep and meaningful way. Now if you mean simply to get people to be aware of an issue and make them vote, maybe facebook helps, but those people still have to get out the door to vote. Frankly the truth is far harder. Back then and still now, real decisions and concrete actions only happen when people mobilize and make a real noise. You could join a party and work in it to make your point, you could join an NGO and affect real change in a real place with real effort, you could even , shock!, do something locally with mates in a place you know about. 

Which neatly brings me to the nub of the matter. Local activism is the only real way to make any change anywhere. If you support a charity in Britain or or some other Western state that wishes to help people in Uganda or South Sudan or East Timor, you need local connections with local NGOs that will insure all your good intentions aren't wasted. Local people understand the issues and the complexity of said issues. NOTHING is ever as cut and dried as it seems in the advert or the well meaning protesting actor ( George Clooney) Actress ( Angelina Jolie) tells you it is. These people wade in with half the info for 5 minutes and pull out. They distract from the experts who should have been listened to in the first place and they displace millions in donations away from legitimate charities to flashy ones who were able to con Justin Bieber or Madonna into a photo op. I was particularly offended a few years back when Angie Joly, UN ambassador, was airlifted by helicopter in the middle of a Pakistani village under several feet of water armed with a sari on her head and no food or information or medicine. After a few video clips, she disappeared about as quickly as she had arrived. One US network chose to pre-empt a live UN meeting with the Pakistani Emergencies minister going out at the time, to talk about Angie Joly and her harrowing trip. Poor old minister and his boring laundry list of what they needed and where to send it and where to make money donations never stood a chance. More recently George Clooney has militated in favour of the Nuba people in border region abutting South Sudan. While I agree in principle with his stand, he like the Kony people, though for far less devious reasons, simplified and trivialized the issues at the core of the problem. 

As with the Kony man hunt issue, the plight of the Nuba people is complex and has a deeply rooted historical reasons for being a massive pain in the backside of Egypt, Sudan, America and other states. Can we support the legitimate demands of the Nuba and not harm our access to oil from the frontier region the North ( Sudan) has done all it could to steal from the South. Were it down to people only, Sudan would have kicked the lot of them into South Sudan, but the rich mineral and oil deposits in the Nuba Mountains mean Khartoum has to defend the sovereign right of it poor deprived citizens to stay in a dictatorship. I'm sure left to their own devices, the Governments of the region and IGAD can come up with a solution that will please at least some and this without the misguided ill informed star powered slacktivism. To be clear, if any of you reading this had paid the least bit of attention to the news on BBC or other reputable networks for the last 20 years, you too would be aware of what's happening. All without the aid of Justin fecking Bieber or the dramatic but otherwise ineffectual Madame Joli, or the ill-informed ego maniac Sean Penn, you would  know, just like all the NGO types, civil servants, diplomats, and generally unheralded unsexy people doing the actual grunt work on the ground all these years, who will in the end, be the ones to resolve the issues. 

Speaking of locals and the issues as seen from the perspective of those in the middle of the palaver, I invite you watch this short video from AlJazeera English.  Seems no one from Invisible Children had bothered to ask the victims of Kony what they thought, wanted or if they were even in favour of the effort being done allegedly for them.  You'll notice that at first it's all very calm , then confusion turns to disbelief, then to anger, then to chaos. I suspect they were not best pleased and would have done far worse to the Invisible Children folk if they had tried to run that past them in the first place. What this proves is that films like this and other such top down campaigns are nearly never ever concerned with facts, needs or complexity of those they are allegedly helping.  The end user is in fact NOT the most important person. many of these self appointed White Man ego trip organizations are in fact fronts for wider political agendas or a simple creation of work by dint of claiming that locals cannot be trusted to do any of this by themselves or to even advise. I remember one particularly galling effort that wished to collect as many teddy bears as possible for the children, along with baseballs, bibles and other such things. First of all, what the children in the affected area wanted wasn't bears but clothes, their religion wasn't Christian and if they played a sport it was football ( the real round one. Such basic lack of information and ignorance lead to the collecting of many useless ( tho well intentioned) gifts that on the ground were discarded or sold on for money. How many more years will be forced to endure celebtivism and the new scourge slactivism?  How much money and time will be wasted while real people suffer from real problems that aren't making the radar due to a total lack of cuteness or saleable quasi famous bored person with a twitter account. 

I admire  Comic Relief, and Sports Relief day and such other campaigns at least for the reason that it's one day, lots of filler content where you find out precisely what the money is for, where it's going and who is getting it. Those  who's lives will be affected are directly involved in the begging and will tell you pretty damn quick if you're havin a laugh at their expense for a few quid. If  the charity you like has open books and spends between 30% and 10% on itself and the rest on the stated aims, give. If some celeb sets up separate fund for the Great Ormond Street Hospital... give to the hospital directly. Don't buy stupid bracelets and t shirts or records ( showing my age ),find a more direct way to help. If you want to help breast cancer, don't buy the special eggs or the shampoo with the pink ribbon, give directly to the charity. It's not that hard, they all accept cheques or have paypal. If some prepubescent starlet with the information depth of a puddle asks you to do something, ask yourself if it's not all it seems to be, particularly if they all suddenly get swept up in a frenzy. I was frankly insulted when a reporter on Canadian television chased down the Minister of foreign affairs and asked if he'd "mention something to his boss", like he might not have had a full and complete briefing on Uganda many times over the years, much to my surprise, former president Jimmy Carter was taken in, but not for long I suspect. 

When I was first introduced to politics and activism I was told the following...
1- Question, always question
2- Do your research
3- Seek more than one source
4- Be prepared to change your mind if  you are proven wrong
5- Do not waste your time, use it wisely.
6- No truly good result can ever be achieved in an instant, it takes time.
7- Build your case
8- Be honest, even if it means exposing flaws. 
9- Working outside of the system is fun and very trendy, but getting things done means you join the system.  ( political parties, NGOs, charities and think tanks ) Banners will only get you so far. 

Years ago in school, my wife got to question a lady from Amnesty International who came to the school to raise awareness and money. She arrived in  a silver Porshe 911, had on enough couture to buy a house, a hand bag worth $4,000 and a pair of Italian shoes that started at $900 a pair.  When pressed why she was so well kitted out, she said "My salary allows me this lifestyle". I bet it did. So that's where your donations go. The next question was even better, "How much money do you make and how much are you embezzling?" For her efforts, my wife got detention.  To their credit , most of her mates and some teachers agreed with her.

Kony2012, Sean Penn, Justin Beiber, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and other such people are guilty of  laziness at best and in the case of Kony2012, self serving lies that were uncovered as quickly as the viral thing took to get going. The victims weren't just the gullible teens who texted their brains out and gave millions, it was the syphoning of attention , energy and money from valid causes and charities that struggle day in day out to get any traction. 
Do yourself a favour today and find a cause you care about, find the best most direct route to help, get of your ass and do something about it.  Don't wait for some washed up star or barely legal flash in the pan to tell you what to do. Seek out those who know, they labour quietly for years and in anonymity to make things better, make their life worth it. You know it wasn't Lady Diana who discovered land mines, but she made them sexy. If you really cared, if you really paid attention, you would have known long before she spoke up. 

No comments: