A new campaign spreading across the Internet says it has one goal in mind: Make Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) “famous” so he can be brought to justice. The campaign may be working. #StopKony has been trending worldwide on Twitter since Tuesday, and as of this writing, the video “Kony2012” has almost two million views on YouTube.
The viral film was created by Invisible Children, a charity that seeks to end the conflict in Uganda and raises awareness about the use of child soldiers and other human rights abuses by Kony and the LRA. Kony is undeniably brutal, and the World Bank estimates that under his leadership the LRA has abducted and forced around 66,000 children to fight with them during the past two decades. In October, President Obama committed 100 U.S. troops to help the Ugandan army remove Kony.
But with the Kony 2012 campaign refocusing the attention on the LRA, some activists have raised concerns about the methods Invisible Children has used to raise awareness.
A request for comment from Invisible Children was not immediately returned.
“Visible Children,” a blog devoted to questioning the efforts of Invisible Children, wrote Wednesday that while Kony is an “evil man,” the KONY 2012 campaign’s social media tactics weren’t helping.
“These problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow,” the blog wrote.
In November, a Foreign Affairs article more pointedly challenged the tactics used by Invisible Children and other nonprofits working in the region. “Such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil,” the magazine wrote.
One of Invisible Children’s partner organizations, Resolve, responded to the accusation at the time in a blog post, calling it a “serious charge … published with no accompanying substantiation.”
Charity Navigator, a U.S.-based charity evaluator, gives Invisible Children three out of four stars overall, four stars financially, and two stars for accountability and transparency.
A bill Invisible Children helped pass into law in 2009 has also been criticized. The bill is designed to support stabilization and peace in Uganda and areas affected by the LRA. Critics say it has strengthened the hand of the Ugandan president, whose security forces have a human rights abuse record of their own. The Enough Project, an NGO that fights genocide and human rights abuses, has said the bill’s bipartisan support showed people “come together for peace.”
Human rights activists agree, however, that the abuses of the LRA are far worse than those of Uganda’s security forces. Over the past two decades, the LRA made it common practice to enter towns and kill the adults, take the male children as soldiers, and sexually abuse the female children.
Lt. Col. Mamadou Gaye, a military spokesman for a United Nations stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said recently that the LRA “has been weakened” by military efforts. The group is believed to now have only about 250 armed members. Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said recently that Kony was no longer in Uganda.
On April 20, Invisible Children is calling on its supporters to stop Kony and the LRA’s campaign once and for all — by using the social media and viral tactics that have made “Kony2012” so widespread, and that “Visible Children” has questioned.
“This is the day when we will meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up,” Jason Russell, who directed the film for Invisible Children, said in a statement. “The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice.”