Kony 2012 is a campaign established by the ‘Invisible Children’ non-profit organisation, see aiming to ‘Stop’ Joseph Kony leader of the Lord’s resistance army in Uganda. The 30 minute video produced by the organisation boasts over eleven million YouTube hits (at the time of writing), and countless ‘tweets’ and Facebook ‘shares’.
The campaign accuses Kony of routine abduction of thousands of children, turning boys into child soldiers, and girls into sex objects. The army is targeted as the perpetrators of the murder, mutilation and torture of thousands. The aim of the video is to raise awareness of Kony and give him the fame he deserves turning him into a “household name”. This, it is hoped, will keep pressure on the US government to maintain the current deployment of 100 personnel within Uganda to assist the national army in the capture of Kony, currently number one on the International Criminal court’s wanted list for crimes against humanity
However, concerns have been voiced over the legitimacy of ‘Invisible children’, as well as the methods and message of the campaign as a whole. A Tumblr page, ‘Visible children’ has become one of the main exponents of the criticism, arguing that the organisation is financially unsound only spending 32% of their funds last year on direct services. In November 2011 journal ‘Foreign Affairs’ stated that the organisation had “manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers”
Numerous online articles and blogs have also appeared criticising the ‘simplicity’ of the campaign and its message. Key arguments focus on the lack of understanding of the political situation in the region as a whole, and the focus of money and support to Uganda when it is known, and accepted by the campaign, that the LRA have moved into surrounding countries. Furthermore, there is a sense from some that the campaign represents a wave of neo-liberal colonialism and sugar-coats what is essentially a call for military intervention. Eric Ritskes, an online blogger, comments that the campaign is “Built on the idea that Africa needs saving, but doesn’t not tackle the structures of oppression”, and “It falls into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education.”
The charity released a statement countering the criticism claiming that their financial record is sound, and defending their cooperation with the Ugandan government and army as “the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets”.
On 20th April 2012 organisers hope that in cities across the world people will poster and campaign their message, and currently it looks set to succeed. ‘Kony Dublin 2012’ already has over 1,600 members with the UCD Kony group sporting a membership of over 800. Brendan Lacey, campaigns officer, has voiced his interest in the campaign, but the Student Union cannot officially take a position until the whole council meet.
Despite criticism there is no doubt that the campaign has already achieved its aim of gaining global awareness of Kony and the LRA. Neither cynic nor optimist can doubt the power of the internet and social media to engage the global community as a whole, and the sense that ‘Kony 2012’, for better or worse, may herald a new era in global activism.