Living in the town where Invisible Children all started give you a unique view and understanding of the organization that is very polarizing for many. The organization announced it is winding down its operations this past December and it brought mixed emotions for people in the US. While it is very easy to identify with the criticism that many lob at IC, it is hard not to step back and admire the organization for what they were able to accomplish.
As someone who started his journey into International Development because of what was going on in Darfur about 10 years ago, you have to give props to IC for getting off their butts and doing something. Without IC, many of us wouldn’t have known about the atrocities that took place out here and would never have heard the name Joseph Kony. And for that reason alone you have to acknowledge IC’s success. They were founded as an awareness organization and guess what? We are all aware now.
Where IC drew a lot of criticism starts from the point that people don’t want to be aware about problems ultimately they want to solve them. Yet is it really fair to put the stopping of a civil war on three filmmakers in their 20s? If we are to judge the success of IC on stopping the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony, as many do and did, then IC was set up to fail from the start. Politicians and academics with PhDs abounding struggle to solve civil wars so why many want to criticize IC and do so loudly, I think they completely miss the point.
In my mind if IC is subject to any criticism it is being naïve. But nearly every organization and well-intended person that enters Africa has to go through that. Arguments about CEO pay and how much go to programs are for the birds. NGOs and nonprofits will always deal with them unfortunately but in my mind IC is no better or worse than any other organization in my mind. The subject of IC comes up every now and then in Gulu with the Americans here as well as sometimes with the locals. Even met Tony who is a bit of a celebrity now.
Even in Gulu people express mixed feelings for different but similar reasons than those in the US but I don’t think anyone could have executed a vision they way IC did. It is only because of their incredible success that we find it so easy to criticize them. If an organization is small we always give them the benefit of the doubt but as soon as you grow to the heights that IC did, everyone wants to tear you down. So while many people have issues with IC, including myself, they not only dreamed but worked ceaselessly to achieve it. Today Joseph Kony and that LRA are a shadow of what they used to be. Many top leaders have either defected or been killed and Northern Uganda has seen the peace that they desperately needed. It is hard to fully measure IC’s impact but the fact that nearly everyone in their 20s knows of the organization it is hard to argue of its success. It should inspire each and every one of us not just on what is possible but how much people care for and want to be a part of change in Africa. For those reasons I love Invisible Children.