In one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever launched, a 30-minute video detailing the horrors of Ugandan guerilla leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter last week.
The “Stop Kony 2012” campaign is a project by the activist group and charity organization Invisible Children, and its YouTube video has racked up 75 million views in less than two weeks.
As a filmmaker, I found the video to be a relatively well-done piece of sentimental emotion porn that was kind of long and pretentious. As a foreign policy and world news junkie, I found it oversimplified and wrongheaded in its methods.
I have absolutely no doubt that almost everyone who posted the video to his or her Facebook page had good intentions, and it was nice to see people take an interest in a worthy cause in a largely overlooked part of the world — though, admittedly, my first reaction was a snarky “thanks, white people, for finally noticing that horrible things are happening in Africa.”
My familiarity with the name Joseph Kony is also relatively recent. Besides vaguely remembering a Vanity Fair article about the LRA by the late Christopher Hitchens in 2006, I first really registered the name Joseph Kony in the fall of 2011.
Last October, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 military advisers to forward operating bases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan in order to assist the Ugandan military in hunting down and capturing Kony.
I also remember shortly after the troops were deployed, the odious Rush Limbaugh basically defended Kony and the LRA and accused Obama of sending troops to murder Christians who were killing Muslims in the Sudan.
That was when I did my first research into who were Joseph Kony and the LRA, and after Invisible Children’s wildly successful promotional campaign last week, I decided to revisit some of that research.
So, let’s look at the facts, shall we?
When Uganda’s horrific military dictator Idi Amin was removed from power in 1979 following the Uganda-Tanzania War, the country fell into a brutal civil war that lasted until 1986.
In the years following the civil war, sometimes referred to as the Luwero War or the Ugandan Bush War, Uganda has been controlled by leaders of the National Resistance Army.
But in Northern Uganda, guerilla groups fought against the NRA’s rule, and one such group was the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.
For 20 years, Kony’s LRA led a brutal campaign of terrorism, rape, abduction and torture, killing tens of thousands of civilians and kidnapping thousands of children who were used as sex slaves and fighters for the LRA.
A 2004 report by the Ugandan Refugee Law Project estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 children had been abducted and that 1.4 million people had been displaced because of the LRA. Presumably, those figures are considerably higher now.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued its first ever arrest warrants for five leaders of the LRA, including Kony, and indicted the LRA on 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of human rights violations.
By 2006, following failed peace talks with the Ugandan government, the LRA moved its base of operations from Northern Uganda into the DRC, CAR and South Sudan.
Since 2006, Kony and the LRA’s sphere of influence have been considerably weakened, and the group is estimated to consist of only a few hundred remaining fighters.
This is not to suggest the LRA does not still pose a threat to Central Africa.
Kony and the LRA remain at large and still carry out attacks on the civilian populations.
A 2011 report by the International Crisis Group estimates that the LRA killed more than 2,400 civilians, abducted more than 3,400 and caused 440,000 to flee their homes in the Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic since 2006.
So, there is no question that the campaign to stop Kony and the LRA is a worthy cause deserving of attention. My issue with the “Stop Kony” campaign was not with the cause itself but with the charity Invisible Children and its methodology.
Firstly, we need to understand that Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda and have not carried out attacks there since 2006. Secondly, the LRA does not have an army of 30,000 child soldiers, as the video suggests.
That figure refers to the total number abducted and killed in the LRA’s 20-year existence.
And the LRA’s real numbers stand at fewer than 1,000 soldiers.
The real question is what exactly does Invisible Children’s campaign actually hope to accomplish? They say they want to make Kony famous in order to aid in his capture.
But isn’t that exactly what the Obama administration is trying to do with its deployed military advisors?
Invisible Children’s video says, “if the [U.S.] government doesn’t believe the people care about Kony, the mission will be cancelled.”
And apparently to show our government that people care, Invisible Children wants people to buy their $30 Kony 2012 kit that includes arm bracelets and posters.
This is just silly, juvenile nonsense. The Obama administration doesn’t care if people wear stupid Kony bracelets. Capturing Kony was already official U.S. policy as well as the policy of the African Union.
Also, whether Invisible Children realizes it or not, it is possible this promotional campaign will help lead to the U.S. expanding its troop presence in Central Africa.
And for a campaign aimed at stopping the use of child soldiers, Invisible Children seems to ignore the fact that the current Ugandan government ruled by the NRA has its own dirty past of using child soldiers.
This is not to mention that the NRA has its own host of human rights abuses under Yoweri Museveni who has ruled Uganda in a near-dictatorial manner since 1986.
While it’s very unlikely that the U.S. will be going to war in Central Africa anytime soon, Washington’s military presence and sphere of influence in the region may soon swell under the auspices of this Kony campaign.
It may also be worth noting that, in 2010, the Obama administration gutted the Child Soldiers Protection Act and waived penalties for Yemen, South Sudan, Chad and the DRC.
So, it’s at least worth raising questions about what Washington’s interests in Central Africa really entail, if not to protect the recruitment of child soldiers.
Look, capturing Kony would be great, and there’s nothing wrong with bringing attention to a worthy cause. But in all honesty, there are better, more effective charities and organizations deserving of people’s money and support than Invisible Children.
If you want to really get involved and make a difference in Africa, then I suggest donating to organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, and leave capturing Kony to the experts on the ground who were already trying to do just that.