By Samuel Nota
Up above the current stars of Twitter, nestled neatly in spots usually reserved for Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Peyton Manning, was an unusual interloper on Wednesday – Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.
Top hashtags for the day included “#stopkony”, “#makehimfamous”, “#LRA”, “#Invisible Children”, and “#Uganda” – all of them tied to a new viral video by a social-media-savvy group of documentary filmmakers who go by the name Invisible Children, and who want to make Kony famous, in a bad way.
KONY 2012, a documentary-style work of interviews with former child soldiers, took nine years to make and aims to end the war in Uganda, stop child abduction and the use of child soldiers, and ultimately lead to the arrest of Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders.
Northern Uganda was the centre of a brutal, two-decade insurgency by the LRA that saw 2 million people uprooted from their homes and tens of thousands kidnapped, mutilated or killed. Kony has repeatedly failed to sign a final peace deal, and his rebels are now active in Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic where they still kill and abduct civilians.
What started as a promise to a young Ugandan boy to end the violence turned into a full-fledged effort to make Kony “famous – not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice,” the group of filmmakers says.
Invisible Children members went to the United States’ government to seek action against Kony, only to be told nothing could be done. So the organisation found an alternative solution. They built an “army” of their own, armed not with guns and knives, but with their voices, their knowledge and their stories.
This army – largely young people in the United States who donate money to the campaign and lobby lawmakers to arrest Kony and other human rights violators – seeks to end the violence in northern Uganda.
The video has had remarkable success. Within two days, KONY 2012 has attracted almost 2 million viewers on YouTube and over 100,000 comments from around the world, many from people pledging donations or wishing the campaign good luck.
It has also become the top trending topic on Twitter, with thousands of tweets expressing gratitude and encouragement for the campaign. Young people, in particular, who may never before have heard of the long, brutal conflict, now know of the atrocities committed by Kony and his LRA.
As the video shows, Kony – the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) most-wanted criminal – is notorious as a textbook war criminal, known for being behind abductions of children from their homes, boys being turned into child soldiers and girls into sex slaves.
One goal of the campaign is to put pressure on policymakers in Washington to keep military advisors in Uganda. With the aid of U.S. advisors, the Ugandan army would have a better chance at tracking down and finding Kony and other LRA leaders, the filmmakers believe.
In the video, Luis Moreno Ocampo, head prosecutor for the ICC, lays out the price of what it means if Kony isn’t caught.
“It is not bad for the youth. It’s bad for the world if we fail. It’s important for everyone,” he says.
Thanks to organisations like Invisible Children, and the momentum of social media, worldwide eagre volunteers for the campaign are hearing the message loud and clear.
Samuel Nota is an AlertNet intern.