Social media is once again proving its power to engage people around the world—this time, in the efforts to find and capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia group that waged a war of terror in Uganda for two decades and is now operating, in a diminished but still lethal capacity, in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.
Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005 based on his record of murder, torture, rape, and the enslavement of thousands of people, mostly women and children. At its height, his army was said to be comprised mostly of child soldiers—the children he abducted and forced to become killers, whose first victims were often their parents. Filmmakers with Invisible Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to influencing change in Africa, created Kony 2012, a film that “went viral” last week and fuelled widespread support for a campaign to support efforts to capture Kony.
Kony and the atrocities of the LRA are not new “news.” AJN reported on the issue of child soldiers in Uganda and numerous other countries in 2005, when we profiled the work of nurses Susan McKay and Dyan Mazurana, who researched and wrote about the plight of girl soldiers in their 2004 book, Where Are the Girls? The New York Times carried an article on LRA activities in 1997. For more than a decade there were official reports and fact-finding committees by the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and others. In 2004, Uganda’s child soldiers was described by the UN as one of the “10 stories the world should hear more about.” In 2008, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1856, condemning the LRA’s continued activities.
And last October, President Obama notified Congress that he had “authorized a small number of combat equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.”
So why the emphasis now? Social media and the activation of a grass roots campaign with a targeted message enabled the message to spread rapidly. The film has been viewed over 55 million times on YouTube and the campaign has made headlines and the evening news shows, with celebrities jumping on the bandwagon, calling via Facebook and Twitter for Kony’s capture. The idea has been to make Kony so famous that he will have no place to hide, and to move people to demand that policy makers intervene.
Emerging questions. As a number of criticisms of the film and the organization behind it have noted (see this New York Times article and this Foreign Policy blog post), the video doesn’t make it very clear that the Ugandan army targeted Kony and drove him out of the country a number of years ago, nor that his marauding forces have since shrunk to several hundred, with most of the original child soldiers considerably older now and no longer with him. The articles also cite a number of sources who have raised questions about Invisible Children and its finances as well as about whether this campaign, however well meaning, is likely to be the best use of resources in a region beset by human rights and public health issues.
Others have argued that any attention to such horrific crimes is worthwhile.
If you’ve missed the coverage, I urge you to view the video (be warned: it contains some disturbing images), explore the evidence, and consider supporting this particular campaign or contributing to other relief organizations in the area.