Anti-Kony campaign in turmoil as AU sends troops

2012-03-24 14:05

Los Angeles - The public meltdown of the man behind the viral "Kony 2012" video has thrown his campaign into turmoil even as the film succeeded in turning the world's attention to capturing an elusive and brutal Ugandan warlord.

Attempts by regional forces and foreign troops to corner the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony have so far failed. But on Friday, the African Union said it would launch a 5 000-strong force in South Sudan to hunt him.

The African Union move is in addition to 100 US military advisers President Barack Obama sent to the region last year to help Ugandan forces track Kony down.

The mission is to be launched in South Sudan on Saturday and will last until Kony is caught, United Nations and African Union officials said at a news conference in Uganda.

Jason Russell, whose 30-minute video sensation shone a spotlight on Kony's use of child soldiers in Uganda, was taken by police to a hospital in California last week after suffering what doctors described as a brief psychotic breakdown.

Videos posted online showed him pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, naked, in broad daylight, in an incident certain to raise questions over the viability of Russell's Invisible Children group.

"You always hear people say, 'I'm so stressed out, I'm about to go crazy,'" said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "Still, the story of all this happening and then he literally is wigging out is very odd."

He said the episode could serve to divert attention from the warlord to Russell. "Now whenever you see a Kony story, it's about the guy, not Kony."
Kony, accused of terrorising northern Uganda for two decades, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He is accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves and is said to like hacking off limbs.

Russell's wife, Danica, has said her husband would remain under hospital care for a number of weeks, and might not be able to return fully to his work at Invisible Children for months.

In downtown San Diego, Invisible Children's office has been locked up.

Russell's Invisible Children co-founders, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey, declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed, as did the organisation's CEO, Ben Keesey.

Keesey has attributed Russell's breakdown to the severe emotional toll of the previous two weeks in which the Kony video went viral. Even as the video drew attention to the warlord, it sparked criticism over what some called its misleading portrayal of current events in Uganda.

Invisible Children

A spokesperson would not say how or if Invisible Children planned to proceed with a planned April 20 day of action, in which viewers of the video were asked to paper their homes, lawns and cities with Kony posters to turn him into a household name.

Analysts said the fate of the group may be largely irrelevant because it had already served the purpose of persuading millions to care, and policy decisions were taking shape.

"It's rare that we have literally millions of Americans calling for more engagement in Africa," Senator Chris Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs, told Reuters in an interview, noting his subcommittee normally received far less attention than it had since the "Kony 2012" video was released.

"I was both amused, pleased and proud that all three of my kids asked me what I was doing to stop Joseph Kony," Coons said.

Kony's Lord's Resistance Army is a shadow of its former self, numbering about 250 members, according to a December 2011 report published by the Social Science Research Council.

Some 200 of them are with Kony in the Central African Republic, and 50 others are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the report said.
The video Russell directed, interspersing shots of his own young son with those of suffering Ugandan children, depicts children walking into the city centre of the Uganda city of Gulu at night to avoid capture.

But active violence like that has not been seen in northern Uganda in seven or eight years, according to Laura Seay, a professor at Morehouse College, who studies conflict and community in central Africa.

"LRA victims are depicted as absolutely helpless," Seay said, characterising the portrayal as neo-colonial and saying the film may have mischaracterised the nature of Gulu, where the number of children taking nightly refuge dwindled after a truce between government forces and the LRA in 2006.
"You have coffee shops and pizza places in Gulu. It's absolutely peaceful," she said.

Seay suggested that those whose interest in the region were piqued by the Invisible Children campaign turn their attention next to more active warlords in the region such as Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed "The Terminator," and also wanted by the ICC for war crimes.

Ntaganda, a Rwandan operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is accused of conscripting child soldiers under age 15 to carry arms and fight in open conflict.

"He walks freely," Seay said. "I know where he eats dinner every night."

  • Oscar - 2012-03-24 15:26

    The first positive sounds from the AU, are we about to see a turnaround in the AU ideology where they at last are going to turn against the bad guys?

      Africa21stcentury - 2012-03-24 18:14

      @ Oscar Yes, great news!! That is the kind of AU we want to see, a united front against criminal elements who make Africa unstable. And so soon after their swift move on the ( new ) Mali government !! A turnaround...... That would not only impress the world, but far more important; it would impress Africa !!!!

  • Jeeves - 2012-03-24 15:33

    Must have been some epic pressure for the guy to crack like that! It's not easy helping others on a such a large scale, critics are vicious and piled on top of years of frustrating work... not easy. 7 or 8 years of less/no violence does not magically make the fallout disappear. It's a flippin tragedy and I am glad Kony 2012 + Machine gun preacher brought a spotlight on it. now the spotlight will make life uncomfortable for all the other scumbags too.

  • jacovanr - 2012-03-24 18:28

    The people that still doesn't see the agenda behind this whole Kony campaigne should REALLY pull their heads out of their arses and wake up . . .

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