KONY 2012: Only one thing we can all agree on?
APRIL 29 — So the streets around my Upper East apartment didn’t turn red on Friday night, and Saturday I spotted just two “KONY 2012” posters; one locally and one in the Meatpacking district. I don’t know what I expected, maybe not Kony’s blood-coloured face emblazoned on digital billboards overlooking Times Square, but definitely more posters, stickers and wall murals.
“Cover the Night” on Friday, April 20, involved a grassroots movement to blanket cities across the world with “KONY 2012” posters in an effort to make Joseph Kony “famous.” This ambitious campaign was led by Invisible Children, a Californian-based charity, who have made it their mission to garner global support for capturing the Ugandan warlord and his Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) this year. A noble cause underpinned by the slogan “one thing we can all agree on” ; only its critics would have you think otherwise.
What started as one man’s genuine desire to help stop Kony’s 20-year reign of terror in which more than 30,000 children from Uganda and Central Africa are said to have been abducted — the boys turned into gun-toting soldiers and the girls into sex slaves — has sadly (and perhaps inevitably) become dogged by controversy.
So much so that Jason Russell, Invisible Children’s co-founder, and creator of the ground-breaking KONY 2012 documentary, suffered a near mental breakdown outside his San Diego home last month. Video footage of the 33-year-old running naked, shouting incoherently and pounding his fists on the sidewalk (a form of “reactive psychosis” his family say), admittedly hasn’t helped matters.
Russell’s involvement started after befriending a fear-stricken child soldier called “Jacob” on a work assignment in Uganda back in 2003. His efforts peaked with the making of a 29-minute film, “KONY 2012”, which portrayed the devastating effects of Kony’s rule in a powerful way.
Both Jacob and Russell’s young son feature in this film that went viral in epic proportions when posted on Facebook on March 5 (and later on YouTube). “The film’s an extraordinary example of the power of social media as a means to raise awareness of a pressing issue... it’s a complete one-off,” Adrian Pettett managing director of social media group Cake NYC commented.
More than 100 million people have viewed it; 3.5 million in 204 countries have signed the KONY 2012 pledge in support of Kony’s removal in 2012 and other initiatives; the US Congress has since signed two resolutions pledging support for the capture of Kony; the African Union have announced a 5,000-strong army backed by US intelligence to target the LRA; and for good measure the usual suspects, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, have thrown their weight behind the campaign.
And yet the criticism has rolled in: the campaign oversimplifies matters; the alleged mismanagement of funds raised; concerns that any military offensive will result in LRA retaliation attacks and result in further loss of innocent lives; Russell, blessed with Hollywood good-looks, is on some kind of self-satisfying evangelical Christian crusade; the US are only sending military assistance because there is oil in the area and the “KONY 2012” film itself was deemed insensitive by LRA victims according to one Ugandan NGO.
A second film released a month after the first to further explain the LRA’s current activities failed to appease critics.
Press reports over the weekend were quick to diss the success of Friday’s Cover the Night campaign—meant to kickstart the process of turning awareness into action. It may not have had the desired effect, but the facts remain unchanged:
• Joseph Kony is still Number One on the International Criminal Court’s “ICC” list of most wanted persons, after his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005;
• Peace talks and past efforts to capture Kony, the latest in October 2011 when Obama sent 100 armed military advisers to Central Africa, have failed;
• Kony continues to act with impunity solely to satisfy his desire for power — current estimates suggest he has a core of up to 500 fighters;
The “KONY 2012” film has brought unprecedented attention and awareness; what better time to bring Kony to justice? Critics are correct — taking military action against the LRA is risky and will result in the loss of innocent life — but what is the alternative?
Luis Moreno Ocampo Head Prosecutor for the ICC interviewed in the film said: “We have to get serious...the only way to stop Kony is to arrest him.” Surely, that is one thing we can all agree on?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the correspondent.