Kony 2012 is talk of the internet - but how wise is the campaign?

Mar 7, 2012
Nigel Horne

A viral campaign to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony to justice has raised many questions

A VIDEO campaign, Kony 2012, launched by the not-for-profit humanitarian group Invisible Children to make the world aware of the war crimes of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has attracted a mixed response today.

Celebrities such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber have retweeted the campaign message, helping make #stopkony the number one hashtag worldwide. But others have raised questions about the motives and transparency of the US-based Invisible Children.

According to the video made by Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, Kony (above) has for the past 25 years been kidnapping children in Uganda, “turning the girls into slaves and boys into child soldiers”.

The video contains clips showing ordinary western children enjoying ordinary lives. It then cuts to the story of a Ugandan child, Jacob, who was kidnapped by Kony and became an LRA child soldier.

Russell found Jacob in 2003. He was on the run from the LRA and feared being caught by Kony’s men and killed. “My brother tried to escape and then they killed him using a panga [an African machete],” Jacob told the film-maker. “They cut his neck.”

“Did you see it?” asked Jason Russell.

“I saw,” Jacob replied.

Some of the 2003 footage was first shown in the UK on The First Post (precursor of The Week online) in January 2007. As we reported at the time, as many as 25,000 children had been kidnapped by Kony since 1987.

The treatment of the children was savage: young boys were made to carry the rebels’ heaviest equipment and treated like slaves.

One boy, Oscar, was beaten, whipped and spat on for the smallest mistakes like tripping over or dropping a bag of rice.

He saw another boy try to run away. Again using a panga, the soldiers reportedly cut him up and cooked him in a broth. As punishment, everyone was forced to eat from the pot.

Kony was indicted in his absence by the International Criminal Court in 2006 for war crimes but remains at large. The ambition of the Kony 2012 campaign is to make him “famous” across the world and thus facilitate his capture.

"It's obvious that Kony should be stopped,” says the voiceover for the Kony 2012 video. “The problem is that 99 per cent of the planet don't know who he is."

That was before today when the video campaign went viral thanks to Rihanna, Bieber and tens of thousands worldwide.

But others are questioning Invisible Children, the body founded by Jason Russell and fellow film-maker Laren Poole.

Some say the campaign is disingenuous because it suggests that Joseph Kony remains a threat today. They make the point that for the past five years Uganda has not been experiencing violence from the LRA. Kony and his men have been run into the Congo and he is no longer considered a danger.

There are also complaints about Invisible Children’s “lack of transparency”.

The website Vice.com asks the question: ‘Should I donate money to Kony 2012 or not?’. It has collected various criticisms of Invisible Children, among them the fact that Russell, Poole and CEO Ben Keesey are all on compensation of $80,000-plus, while Charity Navigator, “an online guide to intelligent giving”, gives Invisible Children only two stars out four for accountability and transparency.

Then there’s the fact that Invisible Children is in favour of direct military intervention. A photo posted by Vice.com shows Russell, Poole and a third westerner posing in the bush with soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The three westerners carry submachine guns and a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

Grant Oyston, writing for Sabotage Times, reports that money raised by Invisible Children supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces in the region. Yet, he says, both the Ugandan army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army “are riddled with accusations of rape and looting”.

The style of the Kony 2012 campaign is also deemed questionable – the words ‘smug’, ‘manipulative’ and ‘naive’ have all cropped up today.

In a 2009 posting that’s resurfaced today, Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, wrote that there is “something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children... in Africa”.

He added: “One consequence, whether it’s Invisible Children or Save Darfur, is a lot of dangerously ill-prepared young people embarking on missions to save the children of this or that war zone. At best it’s hubris and egocentric. More often, though, it leads to bad programmes, misallocated resources, or ill-conceived military adventures.”

Additional reporting by Matilde Pratesi.

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Whoever wrote this is missing the vital point!!!! The fact is, this man should not be allowed to walk free the quote"he is no longer considered a danger" is pathetic. He is a perpatrator and like the perpetators of the Nazi regime at Nuremberg, he should be brought to justice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is 2012 people and you just want to argue about how legible the charity to make this common knowledge is? Come on stop thinking pound or dollar signs and think about humanity!!!!! The goverment is probably not getting involved because there is no oil or revenue in it either!!!!!

Maybe only two stars for accountability and transparency, but five for financial accountability... this article gives a misleading reading of Charity Navigator's review of the company.

Annemack15 you don't know what your on about. think about this to stop KONY you have to get past his army and guards who are mostly children, making the military take the life's of  most of them. They have to kill to save? granted he should be stopped for the crimes he has committed the Ugandan military have to re-think there strategy to save Innocent children. If any military is deployed and they find kony children will be given guns and placed in the front line of defense made to shoot under punishment of been shot by there own. 

At no point does the article suggest that bringing Kony to justice is not a worthwhile cause, it merely suggests that "Kony 2012" is probably not the most suitable way to do it. Moreover, dont you think that donating money towards causes like ending famine - which affects many more children than Kony ever could - would be much more appropriate? Perhaps you should process the information you are provided with a little more before attempting to interpret it in future...

If it is naïveté and egocentricity it is due to lack of experience in this field i think. Perhaps instead of criticising and doing nothing Chris Blattman should consider advising? P.s. please tell him not to mistake smugness for altruism..... And that at least someone is actively trying to resolve the problem and hold Kony accountable which is more than what could be said for most.

Really? Saving children seems egocentric...As a parent I wouldn't  care WHY you want to save my child I just want you to SAVE THEM.  You can quibble about the intention later. This man needs to be brought to justice.  The world needs to realize that we are all connected and that joining together we can make a difference.

I did not interperet the information incorrectly. Again the article states "he is no longer considered a danger" Which is rediculous!!! My answer to your question about donations is no Rob. Oxfam are already collecting for these causes. The tri campaign I can say I have not donated to yet, however they made me and many others aware of a situation which needs addressed. My question, If you were a judge at the Nuremburg trials would you have simply let the indicpicable perpetrators walk free who commited mass murder simply because the war was over and they were no longer considered a danger? This man has mutilated and murdered bodies, imagine if this were in the uk or us for example? The nation would be disguted at your ability to ignore

Are you Crazy??? " Kony and his men have been run into the Congo and he is no longer considered a danger."... There are widespread reports of the atrocities Kony and his men are commiting in the Congo (DRC). What planet are you from? Kony and his men are now controling the mines just over the border. Hundreds of villages have been decemated with widespread raping and killing of innocent Congolese. Unfortunately, they do not have any oil and therefore this is a non-issue as far as the west is concerned.

Alot of people havent questioned why this sort of campaign has been supported before by powerful people that can do something about it. You just hit the nail on the head....OIL!

Apparently Joseph Kony is no longer a threat? Although already he has an army of 30,000 thousand children that do not want to be there? If someone in the U.K had kidnapped 5 children but was not actively kidnapping more, would we class them as 'no longer a threat'? I must admit I am uneducated in regards to this topic, but surely after everything is said and done, this is a good cause that potentially could postively affect children in Africa? - Ross Kemp has a fantastic documentary on this issue.

but if it was your child that got taken away to be a female slave or a child soldier would you not want to have all the help you could get them back?? The fact is that this has been going on for far too long, when the 9-11 attacks hit america do you think that they were more interested in bringing justice to the people who's lives were lost or helping the homeless who are currently hungry?, the fact is with this they are not asking you to donate money to help, they are asking you to spread the word (which is free) and donate money if you wish, which is why i fully support it! 

Could the reason behind the negative press be due to the fact that the film promotes people power? It addresses the issue that money rules the world, makes the decisions, determines actions... We are moving into an age (allbeit at a very slow pace) where humanity and compassion have more of a say. Can you think of anyone that would have a problem with this message? Every single thing you see on television is decided ultimately by these people who decide how the world is run and this message tells us of OUR power. How scary...

And I'm just a student in the UK, I don't know how this transparency thing works, but how much of that $80,000 each leader is on is used for travelling to and from Africa, or used for the cause? These people started with nothing, they have spent nearly a decade on this cause. I think it's safe to say that they are not in this for the money. Be a lap dog, a sheep, a sell out- be that gullible. But you are abusing your power by making these people out to be the bad guys. And you're going to have to do a lot better than that to fool me. This article makes me feel sick.

Really? In this day and age with our superior military defence sytems and intellegence. You think it would be better to just let it happen and his army of children (hostages) to just deal with it also.
Of course I and many others would be concerned over civilian and inoccent child casualties!!! This would be the undersirable effect. However when it was our own people on 9/11 there was no question of action. I again along with others do not want war, but innocent children must be protected. One word sas not the ss. The invisible children charity is spreading awarness of this atrocity to humanity. Furthermore to gain training for the Ugandan army about how to efficiantly deal with this. As again if this happened to a group of children in the uk or us there is no question there would be defence. They need help in the third world to be educated and this includes the Ugandan army who are financially unable to supply thier soldiers with sufficient military intelligence sytems and to train thier army officials for this situation. This is why our soldiers are needed, to educate thier soldiers on how to capture Kony in a masterful specialised limited casualty capture, not to fight the very children.

Yes Luke, sending anyone  after Kony with weapons will probably result in the death of children. If no one is sent in some of those children will still end up dying from some other action that the LRA carries out. The difference is, and it's an important one, is in the second case Kony will replace those children with more children that will die and be replaced and die and be replaced and so on...in the first case the circle will be broken. Does this seem heartless? Maybe. But then you didn't offer an alternative.

Completley not true! The only solution is a political one, not the typical American response of military intervention. Kony has trained 10,000s of child soldiers, therefore if he gets killed there will be plenty of clones willing to take up the mantle. The only way to solve this crisis without bringing even more unrest and instability into the region is to negotiate.

this news source sucks.  

How many more times should they talk with this guy and let him re-arm only to go back to the same old thing? Some people cannot be negotiated with. When they are in business, oh well a deal isn't made but when they are kidnapping, raping, killing and the like then the only "negotiation" they understand is from the barrel of a gun or the edge of a blade. With those people I think we would be better off without them.

As to your "clones" once the leader is out of the picture it will probably be a lot easier to "negotiate" with them.

As I said to Luke, offer an alternative. There could be something better.

** stop that confortable kitchen blablating...acta...! 

This is just some silly persons opinion. The video isn't demanding MONEY, it's asking for people to pass the video on so everyone in the world knows who Kony is and how he is a complete monster!

a sixteen-year-old English-speaking teenager I happen to be right in the middle
of Social Networking and also the perfect target for the Kony 2012 campaign. I
have to admit that I’m scared of what I'm being aimed at with.

I happened to notice that a couple of people
had shared the video online, the one that all of sudden has made everyone
discover Joseph Kony. I started watching it, having absolutely no idea of what
was going on in Uganda. About half way through I had to stop, something about
it was deeply disturbing. Other than feeling great concern for the inhumanity
of what has been happening over there, there was something about the video that
I did not think was right. My first thought was that the video screamed money,
seeing the little boy on the screen playing with an iPhone, the obvious
complexity of the film making and the very long list of people who had made it,
gave off a lack of propriety facing a cause that is so destitute. This then
made me think that the video must be aimed at people who are most likely to
take and interest because of these 'cool features', those people being us, the
youth and age of the internet. I was told this video was mostly aimed at girls
aged 13 to 16, and I got to see full proof of it, as the video grew more and
more viral. The photo of Kony 2012 is being put up everywhere online, girls of
that age telling each other they have 'bought the Kony kit' (posters and
bracelets) and can't wait to go around spreading them. What exactly is the importance
of a thirteen year old's opinion in this world ? After having done a bit of
research myself on the situation in Uganda I realised how much the video has
chosen its facts, how little it can explain the complexities of the situation,
and well just the way in which it is designed to affect simpler minds. It
affects people's feelings and not any actual intellectual knowledge, showing us
images of suffering teenagers our own age that we relate to, and celebrities
whose opinion we will take to be the voice of reason out of admiration. The
fact that it is even called 'Kony 2012' shows how much it is centred on getting
people to unite in hatred for this one man, it is turning him into an icon of
evil, making him known everywhere and by everyone for his crimes, but making
him famous is not necessarily what will get things moving.

Other than this I agree of course that the
situation in Uganda needs to be put right and I can only have a small idea of
how difficult and complicated it will be. I feel for it as much as anyone but I
believe that it is for reasons that have been analysed and thought through,
that the way we are being used as publicity isn't right. What I find horrifying
in parallel to this is the new dimension that social networking has taken when
it comes to diffusing an idea. Suddenly I'm afraid of the way something can
introduce itself into a household, especially starting with the kids. I can't
stop myself seeing it as a form of brainwash, sure the consequences are not bad
because in this case it will benefit the cause, but it was too easy to do. If
all it takes to make us believe in something and act upon it is a video that
makes us want to cry, some famous people getting involved and some neat editing,
then I am worried that we could be made to believe anything, and that it might
not always be for a just cause.


There are many bad men and women in the world. KONY recruiting children is among the worst. As long as his name becomes famously  synomym with EVIL, the campaign has won. He should be caught. If he doesn't, it will make the next KONY a target fast. I salute anyone willing to bring forth via video, any dangerous situation. Bravo Invisible Children