We do not have an interest in spreading conspiracy theories. There is no evidence of any direct and deliberate collusion for ulterior motives. JP Morgan is not the puppet-master of Invisible Children. However, we recognise that those who do believe in such conspiracy theories will damage Uganda less than those who support the armed intervention and promulgation of ignorance that is championed by Invisible Children. Our analysis is intended to show the coincidence of interests and aims of Invisible Children with a material analysis of its partners. It does not show direct, deliberate collusion with Invisible Children at all – only that there is an overlap of interests. In that vein, we have looked into the work of its other supporters and partners.
Of Invisible Children’s network of supporters, two are run on a specifically US evangelical Christian stance. These are AIM AIR and National Christian Foundation. AIM AIR involves itself in the transport of resources to help expand evangelical work and Christian relief in Africa. Their aim is to “share the vision of Africa Inland Mission: to see Christ-centered churches among all African peoples.” National Christian Foundation sponsor organisations who push Christian ideals. They believe in funding organisations that will lift those out of poverty and educate them with Western Christian morality. They seek evangelism and discipleship amongst less controversial aims such as clean drinking water.
The National Christian Foundation is run by board members who have ties to many conservative religious political organisations.Terry Parker is a founder of National Christian Foundation and has served on the Family Research Council , which is registered as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center for its denigration of the LGBTQ movement and lobbying against equality legislation. James B. McCabe is senior vice president, finance and chief financial officer of Chick-Fil-A. His company has given $3 million to conservative anti-gay organisations since 2003 and $2million in 2009 alone (technically speaking they did it through their charitable arm, Winshape, and not directly. see: pp41-42 of their IRS form). Jay Bennett is trustee to The Bob Buford Institute.This institute runs several initiatives dedicated to expanding church activity and influence across the US.
The NCF is one of the largest donor-advised funds in the US and are opaque in their operations and dealings, guaranteeing anonymity to their donors and giving business deals to individuals on their board. They are incredibly effective in gathering together the resources of evangelical Christians and deploying them towards many evangelical causes but also political projects that include:
“American Conservative Union Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Free Congress Foundation, Accuracy in Media, the Federalist Society, and Judicial Watch, among others. “
It seems clear that the NCF is not a non-partisan Christian charity but one with an active ideology that is tied to US conservative politics and evangelicism. Their board members dealings with other institutes show their dedication to the evangelical idea of promoting the Kingdom and this is shared in their mission statement, “To enable followers of Christ to give wisely to advance His Kingdom”. In “The Power Of Nightmares”, Adam Curtis explains more fully the link between neo-liberal conservative policy and evangelism. Essentially, these conservative Christians see it as their moral duty to use their considerable financial and political power to spread the word of God and to push for the development of neoliberal ideals in periphery economic nations. That they are part of Invisible Children’s network of supporters cements the context of IC’s role in Uganda as being part of a wider narrative of coinciding political and business interests but this is not evidence of direct collusion.
US Evangelical influence has been firmly established in Uganda for several years with Cornerstone Development Africa, AIM AIR, and College of Prayer all operating openly. NCF’s partnership with Invisible Children shows an extensive coincidence of the aims and interests of conservative US evangelicals with those of IC. College of Prayer have ties with the Ugandan government in the form of Julius Oyet:
“COP Uganda President Julius Oyet, friend to the President and First Lady of Uganda, who says he’s co-written the Anti Homosexuality Bill along with Bahati, is more direct. At a Kampala rally filmed by the BBC six months after Hartley’s parliamentary COP training, evangelist Oyet declared, “It is not Uganda putting a death sentence on homosexuals, it is God and his word!” Oyet led his audience in repeated chants of, “No to sodomy! No to sodomy! NO to sodomy!,” and opined, “Even animals are wiser than homosexuals!””
The College of Prayer use their influence to financially support those who will further their own evangelical cause, seemingly regardless of their material impact on the country. This is an attitude that is shared by Invisible Children’s awareness raising platitudes. Much of their money goes into raising awareness for their cause and soliciting donations but, as has been discussed on other sites, with little concern for communicating the complexity of Ugandan politics.
Cornerstone Development has a strong interest in the building of schools and sponsorship of the youth. These schools inevitably follow “the principles, precepts and person of Jesus.” These schools offer scholarships as part of youth leadership programs, which seek the mobilisation of youth awareness to bring together their youth with policymakers in government. They are responsible for the running of Africa Youth Leadership Forum, which seeks to strategically bring together students who happen to be part of their cause with influential policymakers and businessmen in East and Central Africa.
The importance that they place on schoolbuilding and leadership creation in the area echoes the Invisible Children’s programs, “Schools for Schools” and “The Legacy Scholarship Program” but with added evangelic rhetoric. They both follow the same colonial impulses and rhetoric of the wider evangelical movement that is associated with AIM AIR and NCF – White, US citizens using their resources to develop a country on their own terms towards their own ideals. We are not saying to deny education to Ugandans – that would be ridiculous – but encourage you to consider that there are wider political and social implications involved beyond “education is a good”.
Another aspect of evangelism that Invisible Children share is their relation to “business-as-mission” (BAM), a term that evangelical organisations, including the NCF, use to describe the growing movement of entrepreneurs and investors that seek to use their finances to create sustainable foreign business. It is through the proselytising of microfinance in developing nations that much of this is made possible. Invisible Children’s ground operations follow a strikingly similar M.O. They helped form the Village Saving and Loans Association to expand and propagate microfinance initiatives. It shouldn’t surprise us at all that Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children also sits as a 2012 Accelerator Mentor for Praxis. Praxis are an evangelical BAM program operator. Their website states:
“Praxis was created to support social entrepreneurs who are compelled by their faith to advance the common good. The vision for the organization was formed out of a passion to assist in the development of high-impact organizations, while providing an environment that allows the leaders of these organizations to explore how to embody the Gospel within their work. Our first and primary offering is the Praxis Accelerator, a mentorship-driven program for these social entrepreneurs & innovators.”
Invisible Children’s campaigns are so similar in style to evangelical modes of operation because they are simply a continuation of the same tactics used by more explicitly christian charities that operate in Africa and internationally..
Although the language that Invisible Children is grounded in humanist rhetoric, their ideals and manner of working tread closely to historical evangelical and neoliberal intervention in the area. They both attempt to establish businesses, education programs, and ties between their sympathetic youth and those who have power and wealth to further their cause (at home and abroad) . We think it to be overly simplistic to view Invisible Children simply as a charity doing “good” things when they have: established ties to the US evangelical movement through their partners; neo-liberal policies that support entrepreneurship and business with an evangelical spin through Russell’s association with Praxis; and a coinciding of aims and interests in the region with regards to awareness raising, business creation, and foreign intervention.
Links to African responses to the KONY 2012 video and Invisible Children. Do not get caught up in IC’s historical and material ties with the West at the expense of these voices.
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