Storm over viral campaign to arrest Kony

2012-03-09 18:11

Los Angeles - A viral campaign to bring accused Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony to justice has sparked a growing storm, with millions viewing an online video whose makers deny it oversimplifies the facts.

The hashtag "#stopkony", about the fugitive head of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, has surged on Twitter and a 30-minute video has been viewed by over 40 million people in barely three days.

The White House has praised the campaign, while a string of celebrities have weighed in by tweeting links to the emotional video, "Kony2012", and promoting the initiative by California-based non-profit group Invisible Children.

"Here's the biggest problem. Do you wanna know what it is? Nobody knows who he is. He's not famous. He is invisible," said the documentary's maker Jason Russell. "Here is how we are going to make him visible."

The film has triggered a growing wave of support from the rich, famous and influential. "Good to see such strong interest in #stopkony - a key step to helping those most vulnerable," tweeted Microsoft boss Bill Gates.

"Dear Joseph Kony, I'm Gonna help Make you FAMOUS!!!! We will stop YOU #StopKONY ! All 6 OOO OOO of my followers RT NOW!!! Pls!" hip-hop icon and fashion mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs said on his Twitter feed @iamdiddy.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney recalled that President Barack Obama announced in October he was sending about 100 military advisors to help Uganda and neighbouring countries hunt down Kony, as part of a wider response.


"And I think that this viral video .. is part of that response - raising awareness about the horrific activities of the LRA," Carney added.

But the Stop Kony campaign has not been without controversy.

The group has been criticised for using funds raised - some 70% or more by some accounts - for salaries, travel expenses and filmmaking. Watchdog Charity Navigator gave it a low two-star rating for lack of financial accountability.

Others question the timing of the campaign - coming six years after Kony and a diminished army of several hundred fighters left Uganda - a fact mentioned in passing halfway through the 30-minute film.

"Why now? What does it profit to market the infamy of a man already famous for his crimes and whose capture is already on the agenda?" Ugandan writer Angelo Izama wrote on his blog.

"To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement," he added.

"While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era."

Responding to the criticism, Invisible Children put a statement on its website saying it had been "publicly denouncing [the] atrocities" of the LRA since they left Uganda in 2006.

Accountability and transparency

And it denied oversimplifying the facts, saying: "In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format."

To this end the campaign has focused "on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights", the group's latest online statement said.

As for its finances, the group, founded in 2003, explained that its Accountability and Transparency score is currently two stars because it does not have independent voting members on its board of directors.

"We currently have four. We are in the process of interviewing potential board members," it said.

Invisible Children also published details of its accounts online, showing that of the 9 million dollars in income last year, mostly from donations, 37 percent went directly into social programs in central Africa.

For the tens of thousands of people who have expressed support after viewing the video, the questions don't appear to be a problem.

"Either way, I support the movement," said a Twitter user with the handle @MDeGuuzzY.

  • Hildegard - 2012-03-09 20:03

    "While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era." Really? So we'll just let Kony disappear back into the bushes because this happened a couple of years ago and no-one really cares about it any more? No wonder they call themselves "Invisible.." - their own people don't care enough! This man deserves a public hanging, nothing less. After 20 years there is no hope for rehabilitation of any kind. And Invisible Children are not only campaigning for his arrest, but are also contributing to the rebuilding of societies in stricken areas. Maybe its time that we got off our high horses and started doing something visible for a change...

  • Scoots - 2012-03-09 20:32

    Official response to the criticisms from Invisible Children:

  • Scoots - 2012-03-09 20:32

    Official response to criticisms from Invisible Children:

  • Michelle Kirsten - 2012-03-09 21:37

    I love it! In Europe people have until quite recently been prosecuted for war crimes as Nazis, but Kony's atrocities are from a \bygone era\.

  • Deon - 2012-03-09 21:40

    Although the premise behind this campaign is laudible and worth of praise I do detect a certain invasive liberal idealism that is so typical of many Western countries and Americans in particular. The same liberalism that has resulted in much of Africa's woes by the constant call for "liberation" of countries when they were not ready to be liberated and the resultant mess that is left to be cleaned up by the locals Fact is, this is Africa - Western mentality, morals, ethics and culture has no or little place in Africa and thinking that one can enforce said Western ideologies is misplaced and a fools' errand at best I hope this campaign is succesful if only to remove one mad man from the equation but I'm afraid that there are hundreds if not thousands of Kony's floating around Africa. We have one just north of our border and, dare I say, a few within our borders as well. Western liberals and do-gooders should learn from this and protect the African populace from future Kony-like individuals

  • jorg.gurtler - 2012-03-10 13:12

    go for it...we are the people...we can change everything...ill be getting my kit....will you?

  • Mildly_Amused - 2012-03-14 16:37

    What people don't understand is that this project was initiated by people who as ordinary as the rest of us: 1.) They need to make money to survive and in order to make money to survive they need to work. They need to get paid. So they made this their job. You can't criticise them for getting a salary. 2.) They, like we, don't have control over armies and war weapons. The main idea was to create awareness - so that people who are in power to deploy armies and do whatever they need to do to stop Kony will get the message and do something about it. Their point is not to actually physically catch Kony, but to appeal to the people who CAN to catch Kony (through the voice of the masses).

      Mildly_Amused - 2012-03-14 16:45

      In order to create awareness, one needs to go on a huge marketing campaign. We all know it's super expensive to market a business. Therefore, money has to be spent in order to "market" the cause and it has been successful. The video is not 3 hours long and boring. It is 30 minutes long and emotive. This is because if the video was 3 hours long and boring and contained all of the political history of Uganda, most of us wouldn't watch it. We all would be none the wiser. But now that we know, it is our decision as to whether we are interested enough in the caus eto actually do more research on it. Also, even if America are only helping Uganda because they want oil... I reckon it's worth sacrificing all the oil in the world in exchange for the safety pf a country's children.

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