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