The dominant discussions this week have focused on the implications of Super Tuesday, where Peyton Manning is going to play football next year or how cool the new iPad is. But a new-found movement surrounding one of the most dangerous African warlords is erupting across the Internet, bubbling across social media, and lighting up the blogosphere thanks to the push of a non-profit film that has gone viral seemingly overnight.
Kony 2012 is a film produced by Invisible Children, a charity dedicated to raising awareness about child soldiers in Uganda. Despite only being uploaded to YouTube Monday, the 30-minute film has, as of 10 a.m. Thursday, more than 35 million views.
One half of the slickly-produced film highlights the charity director's interaction with one particular child and his fear of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord Resistance Army, a rebel force that has clashed with the Ugandan military and forced thousands of children to fight in its battles or be killed.
The second half of the film is dedicated to a movement the charity is undertaking in order to, in their words, "make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice." The film also shows how the charity has gotten celebrities and politcians involved, along with how it will use the backdrop of the 2012 presidential election to further its cause.
The film does an excellent job of showcasing the awareness Invisible Children has already brought to the violence in Uganda, as well as stirring up the call for a grassroots movement simliar to Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring directed at tracking down Kony. But it has also led to an outcry on the Internet that has criticized everything from the atrocities of the Ugandan military to the operating budget of the charity itself.
With the campaign's goal being Kony's arrest before the end of the year, the film may be just the beginning of a larger movement. However, the film is just the tip of the iceberg in a wide range of events. Here is a primer on Kony and Invisible Children, who is involved in the campaign, and how it may unfold in the coming months.
Who is Joseph Kony and what is the Lord's Resistance Army?
The LRA is a group of rebels that have been fighting the Ugandan government since the 1980s. Kony is their leader, preaching a radical form of Christianity and believing he is a prophet created to promote peace in Uganda.
What the film claims Kony has done seems to be the total opposite of peace.
Kony's crimes are particularly heinous, including the alleged rape, torture and enslavement of children across Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA has been at this for years, and is only one of many groups causing chaos in an area of the world that is very unstable.
How long has this been going on?
For a while. The situation has a long, sordid history that is laid out in this Foreign Affairs article. The fighting in central Africa has been on the radar of the United States, and as the video points out, there are 100 U.S. military advisers and special forces helping out the Ugandan army.
Special forces? So why hasn't Kony suffered the same fate as Osama Bin Laden?
As highlighted in a blog post from Yale political science professor Chris Blattman, there is only so much 100 troops can do when trying to advise a full military force. Plus, the Ugandan national army is far from innocent during the course of the violence.
If both sides are guilty of alleged crimes, why is this charity sponsoring the Ugandan military?
That's the question many people are asking, including a blog post entitled Visible Children, the work of a college student in Canada that has been passed around as a counterpoint to the charity's film. The founders of the charity didn't help themselves by posing, armed with weapons, in a picture with the Ugandan military that has popped up on various websites, leading some to cry that Invisible Children is only concerned with capturing Kony through the support of military action.
So, where does the money that people donate go?
That's another point of contention across the Internet. The bulk of Invisible Children's donations go towards awareness campaigns in America rather than to resources in Africa. Another non-profit that measures the transparency of charities isn't too high on Invisible Children.
So what does Invisible Children say to its critics?
Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children and director of the film, brushed back accusations about the way his charity operates and his message about Kony.
"We don't like war — we want to end war. I'm a pacifist at heart," he said in a television interview. "This is going to take a strategic force of last resort to go in and capture him."
As criticism rose over the course of Wednesday, Invisible Children released a lengthy blog post addressing all of their main points, including a breakdown of of their operating expenses.
So what comes next?
According to the movie, Invisible Children has rounded up 20 celebrities and 12 policy makers who they will target to help spread the message about Kony. Among the politicans the charity wants to get involved are former president George W. Bush, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Among the celebrities the charity wants people to target are Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Jay-Z and Rush Limbaugh.
Rush Limbaugh is involved?
Oddly enough. In a graphic shown in the video, tucked in the bottom left hand corner, Limbaugh's face appears. While Invisible Children probably produced the video way before the conservative radio host became the ire of Georgetown University, this wouldn't be Limbaugh's first time adressing the LRA.
When President Obama first sent the 100 U.S. military advisers to Uganda, Limbaugh chastised the move on his show, saying the president sent "a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda." He later backed off after realizing his source at the time, Wikipedia, might have gotten the facts on LRA wrong.
This campaign appears to have legs, what is the next big event?
Barring something unforseen, those who donate to the cause will be sent action kits full of posters, stickers and signs that people will post in order to fulfill the promise of making Kony "famous." Those promoting the charity cause can organize and follow the progress of the campaign on the charity's website and other social media outlets.
The film also touts a "cover the night" event on April 20, where people will "blanket towns" with anti-Kony propaganda, to bring even more awareness to the warlord's alleged crimes.
In order to find out more, visit the Kony 2012 website.
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