Behind the Headlines: Internet Activists Launch Campaign to Net Indicted War Criminal

This past week, many Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ users logged in to their accounts and were surprised to find this:

Who or what is this Kony, what is happening in 2012, and why is this slogan appearing everywhere? It’s Behind the Headlines time!

Kony? What is Kony?

Joseph Kony is the leader of a rebel group operating in Uganda and several neighboring countries known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

This guy.

The LRA has been fighting against the Ugandan government since 1987, and believes Kony is a spokesperson for God and can channel the Holy Spirit. They use this claim of a divine mission to justify large-scale massacres of civilians in several African countries and the kidnapping of children, who are forced to become either LRA soldiers or sex slaves. They have earned a reputation for brutality through such actions as forcing children to kill their parents, forcing survivors of their massacres to eat the dead, burning churches, and hacking people to pieces. On October 6, 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Joseph Kony to put him on trial for the war crimes he and his army had committed.

Why are the LRA doing this?

The LRA claim to be fighting for the Acholi people, who live in Uganda and South Sudan. They also claim to seek the establishment in Africa of a Christian theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.

However, outside observers who study the LRA and its tactics frequently conclude that this ideology is a farce. A report commissioned by the U.S. Embassy in Uganda concluded that most Acholi people reject the LRA, in large part because they are often the victims of its attacks. The report also claimed the LRA “has no political program or ideology, at least none that the local population has heard or can understand.”

So who is behind this Kony 2012 campaign, and what is the significance of 2012?

The campaign was launched by Invisible Children, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the victims of LRA attacks, particularly the children. In 2006 they produced the documentary Invisible Children about the plight of Uganda’s children in the war zone. From the beginning, the organization’s main focus has been raising awareness of the conflict, which is not widely-known or understood in the West, and pressuring the international community to help.

The organization started the “Kony 2012” campaign on the logic that: (1) the international community, and particularly the United States, has the power to help Uganda and its neighbors catch Kony, (2) if the general public demands Joseph Kony’s arrest, the leaders of the United States and other democratic nations will be forced to respond, (3) the main reason people don’t demand action in Africa is that they don’t know what is going on, and therefore (4) if the public is made aware of the problem, they will demand action and Kony will be captured. Thus, the point of the campaign is to stop Kony by the end of the year, hence “Kony 2012”.

This 30-minute video was posted to YouTube earlier this month to announce the campaign, and explain what it is all about:

Sounds like a noble cause, but is there a catch?

Well, yes.

Invisible Children, Inc. has been criticized for sketchy financial practices. Much of the money they raise goes to things like administrative expenses, filmmaking costs, and salaries for their CEO and co-founders of almost $90,000 per year. Even the non-profit’s own website admits that only 37% of its funds go directly to help LRA victims.

Many have questioned whether the campaign would have any impact at all.

Others call the campaign “neo-colonial”, saying this issue is something for Uganda and its neighbors to resolve for themselves and not for outsiders to interfere with.

Then there is this video, posted by YouTube user slubogo:

What if I don’t care about the critics and still want to help?

You can donate to Invisible Children, Inc. here. You can also buy their “Kony 2012 Action Kit” here.

If you are worried about that organization’s practices but still want to help the LRA’s victims, there are other charities you can donate to, such as:

  • uNight – A grassroots organization trying to promote entrepreneurship and job creation in areas recovering from the war.
  • Resolve – An advocacy and lobbying group that is also pushing U.S. leaders to help those who were victimized by the LRA.
  • Child Soldiers Initiative – An organization seeking to end the practice of forcing children to fight as soldiers.
  • Machine Gun Preacher – An organization founded by Sam Childers that provides food, clean water, and an education for African children who have been affected by warfare. They promise that every penny goes to help the children.

Information from Wikipedia and BBC News.