Three days ago, Americans were exposed to a crisis taking place on the other side of the world through the ever-growing momentum and influence of social media. Through the power of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the “Kony2012″ campaign has rallied human-rights activists and regular citizens alike in an effort to take down Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and save the lives of thousands of children held captive by his rebel forces.
The now-infamous YouTube video, produced by Invisible Children Uganda (ICU), the controversial San Diego-based NGO has thus far garnered over 55 million views, shedding light on the criminal insurgency in Uganda committed by Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that has spanned the past 25 years.
Among Kony’s wartime atrocities is the capture of 60,000 children, who were brutalized and turned into child soldiers for the LRA. The hostages were raped, taught to handle munitions and steal food; citizens were also subjected to acts of mutilation and entire civilian populations have been massacred.
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” begins Invisible Children’s campaign video. Beginning its work in Uganda 2005, the Gulu-based organization employs about 100 Ugandan professionals who work “alongside four international staff members to implement and manage program activity on the ground,” according to ICU’s website, http://www.invisiblechildren.com.
ICU stresses in its 29-minute video that Facebook is the ideal grounds to raise awareness of the issue: “Right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago.” Jason Russell narrates, as both a father and champion for human rights. On behalf of ICU, he urges that we sign their pledge, donate to the cause, and join the “Army for Peace.” Ultimately, it is with Americans’ support and word-of-mouth that the group hopes to persuade the Obama Administration to find and capture Kony.
Since the video’s posting on March 5, their goal has proven effective on the social networking site, and then some. #StopKony became a prominent trend on Twitter, and Hollywood celebrities have emerged in support.
But with this support comes wariness on the part of critics who deem “KONY 2012” a mere phase, and warns against ICU’s true intentions. According to The Daily What’s website, Invisible Children, Inc. “is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ‘misleading,’ ‘naive,’ and ‘dangerous’ by a Yale political science professor, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of ‘manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes.’” The site goes on to state that where the ICU’s charitable funds go has been held questionable and are gleaned through the strategy of “well-engineered emotional blackmail.”
The success of the campaign has also drawn backlash from scholars who study Africa, and Africans themselves. As much as social media sites have helped boost ICU’s cause, they have riled up impassioned protest against it in equal measure. The Canadian newspaper The Globe And Mail points out that neither the executive staff or the board of directors of the group includes any Africans, and it cites Ugandan blogger TMS Ruge as employing Twitter to spread the notion that the activists are “selling a pack of lies to unaware youth to raise money for themselves.”
Bloggers have likewise expressed their distrust of ICU, feeling as though it’s inconsistent with its message. While the cause claims to focus on Uganda, it remains that LRA was pushed out of Uganda several years ago. It has also been noted that despite the Ugandan army’s implications in human-rights abuses, the group backs U.S. government support for the ravaged country’s militia.
The United States has yet to officially recognize the ICC’s legitimacy, and the do-good campaign continues to raise suspicion. However, what many critics can agree on is that the viral video has raised social consciousness throughout the country—especially among youths—regarding the tumultuous current events that exist beyond their immediate surroundings, and that it would be difficult to argue against Kony’s liability for the lives and welfare of his fellow citizens.
Kony was placed at the top of the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list in 2005, indicted on 33 counts including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Uganda’s Gulu-town has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Known as a spiritual leader and healer among the Acholi people, he formed the Lord’s Resistance Army on the basis of his version of the Ten Commandments, and brutal punishments in the form of mutilation were enforced on those whom he suspected of disloyalty, according to CNN.
On Thursday, President Obama came out in support of the campaign. In 2009, a campaign by Invisible Children helped bring a bill to support stabilization and peace in Uganda and areas affected by the LRA into law, and the president has reaffirmed support of that bill.
At a news conference, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president congratulates the “hundreds of thousands of Americans who have mobilized to this unique crisis of conscience.”
Carney stated, “I think this viral video that you mentioned is part of that response, raising awareness about the horrific activities of the LRA, and consistent with the bipartisan legislation passed by our congress in 2010 the United States continues to pursue a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy to help the governments and people of Central Africa in their efforts to end the threat posed by the LRA and reduce the human consequences of the LRA’s atrocities.”