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Kony 2012

Filed under: Activism

A documentary about a little-known conflict that has devastated Uganda since the early 1980s has set social networks ablaze, being viewed nearly 4 million times in two days. Kony 2012, named after the infamous leader of Christian terrorist group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is a film and campaign by humanitarian group Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, “not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice”.

The film focuses on the issue of child soldiers, with Kony’s LRA reportedly having up to 30,000 boys and girls who are used as soldiers and sex slaves. Kony is alleged to have fathered over 200 children during his 26 years on the run from the Ugandan government.

Kony, who wants to implement a theocratic government in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments, is wanted on 33 separate criminal charges, including 12 counts of crimes against humanity, following his indictment at the International Criminal Court in 2006. Other charges include murder, enslavement and rape, while the US has named Kony as one of the world’s most wanted terrorists after being on the run for over 26 years.

However, progress on arrest and formal prosecution has been painfully slow as Uganda does not register on the foreign policy screens of most first world nations. If America’s national security interests are not at risk, why would we intervene? Popular support for such an effort would be limited as the overwhelming majority of people have no idea who this man is and what he has done.

Enter a small group of passionate individuals, armed only with social media accounts, who wish to bring the man to justice by telling everyone in the world of his crimes, presumably leading to a global demand for justice.

Invisible Children, an activist group that campaigns to end genocide and crimes against humanity, said the goal of Kony 2012 was to raise awareness about one of the world’s most brutal warlords in an effort to expedite his arrest.

The documentary has also called on supporters to act on April 20, 2012.

“This is the day when we will meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up. The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice,” Kony 2012 documentary filmmaker Jason Russell said.

If you’d like to get involved in the effort right here in Buffalo, click here to join the Facebook Group (2,000 members and growing) or share the documentary or images above on Twitter with the hashtag #Kony2012.

  • Alan Bedenko

    It’d probably be easier for American policymakers to make Kony famous and secure his arrest & prosecution at the International Criminal Court in the Hague if the United States was a ratified signatory to the Treaty of Rome which created it, or otherwise a member state subject to its jurisdiction.

  • It seems as though Invisible Children might not be a very good group either. Not as bad as Kony, of course, but… I don’t have the time to fully parse all of this out, unfortunately.

  • Chloe

    As a non-profit, Invisible Children has quite a few issues re: appropriation of funds. Only 31% of their spent money last year went to actual charity in the region; the rest has been used for salaries, travel expenses, funding films like this, etc. IC supports what they call “strategic intervention” – ie, more military action in extremely unstable regions – and has shown some support for the Ugandan army, even though that army has been documented committing some of the human rights abuses as the LRA. Any attention to the grotesque atrocities committed by the LRA is certainly a good thing, and Kony does need to be brought to justice as soon as possible, but I don’t think you could call IC the best charity to support. The sleep-out, especially, smacks of slacktivism; how exactly is hanging out for a night going to help the victims of the LRA?

    • Yup, the contra-Kony reports are drifting in. The Reddit community is doing their best to fact check the whole thing.

      I’ve already started seeing allegations that this organization and issue are propaganda efforts by the CIA intended to militarize the Ugandan Army so we can establish permanent AFRICOM bases and begin stealing natural resources. So, the wingnuts are also on patrol here.

      I read some of this stuff last night and I knew this would happen, it’s how the Internet works. I figured I would post a clean version of the mission and goals and then update as further information emerged. I think the situation in Uganda is fluid. The existing government is corrupt, horrifically anti-gay, murderous and difficult to deal with. The LRA (as noted in the film) is involved in peace talks, but Kony has engaged a peace process before only to use the time to regain strength for his organization and re-launch his offensive, so it’s a tenuous peace.

      Most people are being introduced to African politics for the first time and this issue appeals to idealism and millions will want to support it. The crux of the film is that first world governments won’t act because their interests aren’t at stake and the people don’t know or care about the problem. So, the goal of this effort is to teach people about the problem, get them active and in the streets…which will hopefully force governments to take action.

      As for how they spent their money, 80% went to program activities which include the production of the film, distribution and campaign materials. As they are an organization with a mission to raise awareness, that’s not out of order.

  • Franky

    Im Franky Barbee and im talking to people on facebook of “Kony2012”
    People in San Miguel De Allende MEXICO NOW know
    Stop at nothing

  • Was I the only mom who was disturbed by the narrator’s discussions of a “bad man who kidnaps children and makes them kill people” that he had with his four year old son? This just seems really inappropriate. Check out all of my thoughts about it on

  • Colin

    There are actual civil society organizations on the ground in Uganda, composed of Ugandans. Maybe we should take our lead on this from them, instead of paying attention to this white man’s burden horseshit?

  • The contra-Kony2012 stream continues.

    In a nation with short attention spans and limited knowledge of foreign affairs, social media efforts like this one by Invisible Children are valuable tools to raise awareness and remind people we live in a world that is bigger than the Kardashians and the latest celebrity news. So, mission accomplished. So far, IC has gotten 17MM people to watch their video, but they left the nuance and a lot of facts out of the video in the interest of emotional simplicity. If the story explained the totality of the situation and the complexity of African politics, would anyone care?

    Is there more value in emotional appeals that may lack some critical facts than straight, nuanced reporting when the goal is to stimulate global consciousness? PETA and thousands of other organizations have been putting out one-sided emotional appeals for decades. Is it that terrible?

  • Colin

    Yes, it’s terrible. It’s an attempt to get the public to support military intervention on the basis of bad information and a focus on “getting” an evil individual. Sounds familiar.

    • Sometimes military intervention from international authorities and the removal of evil individuals is necessary.

  • Colin

    Sure, on rare occasions, it is. But:

    1. the U.S. isn’t an “international authority.”
    2. the people advocating for the intervention don’t actually know what they’re talking about.
    3. the people advocating for the intervention aren’t Ugandan, which is to say that they’re playing with other people’s lives.
    4.the people advocating for the intervention valorize — intentionally or not — forces that have been accused of terrible atrocities.
    5. the campaign is based on (and reinforces) a whole set of dangerous narratives: white people saving the world/a context-free focus on the personal wickedness of an individual/the inscrutability of the non-western other.

    • I’d argue with “rare occasions”, I think it’s more often than not that swift international action could prevent horrific and widespread atrocities.

      1. No one is arguing that the U.S. go it alone, this would need to be a multinational effort and ultimately, Kony would be turned over to the ICC for prosecution.

      2. I think that’s a stretch. I think they know what they’re talking about, they’ve just made a simplistic and emotional case to appeal to the broadest demographic possible. If presented with a blank African map, what percentage of the US populace could find Uganda? I’d say less than 5%. That’s rather the point, isn’t it? People need to be made aware of the problems on the continent, previous efforts have failed, and celebrity endorsements and emotional arguments work in our pop culture driven, purposely ignorant society. These guys are capitalizing on what works to increase consciousness.

      3. That’s not quite true, it would appear that the filmmakers are using Ugandan voices to make the case and there are certainly many people in the region (not just in Uganda) who want to see Kony prosecuted for his crimes.

      4. True.

      5. Personalization is one of the quickest ways to raise awareness and generate involvement. Every horrible atrocity is assigned a face in order to make the case, this is no different. I hesitate to brush the organization of capitalizing on the inscrutability of the “other”. I think that’s more your own bias than anything else.

      It is clearly an imperfect message.

    • Alan Bedenko

      1. We’ve already intervened.

      2. Because the western free world generally has free speech and a marketplace of ideas, these guys are advocating for the capture and prosecution of someone who objectively is a really bad guy. I didn’t get from the Kony video that they’re lauding anyone being a good guy versus Kony being a bad guy – I got that they want to bring Kony to justice for his crimes – crimes for which the ICC has indicted him. He’s wanted internationally for these crimes.

      I’m a big proponent of the world community bringing war criminals to justice, so I’m a big fan of any effort being made to publicize any ICC indictee to help ease any effort to bring him to justice.

  • Not to interject, but #3 doesn’t matter at all. The US had Iraqi’s advocating for intervention, which meant nothing. No individual Ugandan, or group of Ugandans, can claim to speak for the whole, except a democratically elected leader, of which there are very few in Africa.

    Also, every genocide has an Ann Frank – didn’t we learn that at TEDx? Not every genocide has a Hitler (see: Rwanda), but picking one sure makes life easier to those staunching the bloodflow.

  • Colin

    No, Americans don’t know very much about Africa. That’s true. But the solution to that problem can’t be to “raise awareness” by spreading incorrect and misleading information. In fact, the focus on a single bad individual lets Americans off the hook when it comes to knowing anything about Africa (or other places around the world) since everything can be explained by reference to Kony/Saddam/Kim/bin Laden/whoever. One of the reasons that we don’t have to know anything about the world is that these “bad man” narratives are served up on a silver platter.

  • Colin
  • Colin

    Of course, no Ugandan or group of Ugandans can claim to speak for the whole. But they can do a much better job of it than a group of Americans. That’s why it matters — Ugandans have standing.

  • Berenice_StopKn

    We need eachothers help! Let’s do this. Not only because they don’t live in our country doesn’t mean that we can’t care about them. They have the right to be free and to have a good life. Not a perfect life because no one does but at least to be happy! Please Help Us Out!

  • Berenice_StopKn

    Ugandan Kids need our help too.

  • Yolil

    why was april 20th the day to post pictures of kony up? whats the meaning behind it?

  • @Colin – those guys think they’re badass. Which is helpful, right?

    I think “standing” is relative, and nationality is hardly trump, considering our recent history. I care more about objective facts, and difficult and messy and hard as they are to find, from whomever, whatever they’re nationality or “standing.”

    Really, I should just back off, because we’re arguing details I am less invested in that the overall question: is it ever okay to do anything, because if in this case its not, its hard to figure out when it’ll ever be right. Messaging beside the point.

  • Trevor

    Kony must be stopped, NOW. One way to help is make flyers, posters, SPREAD THE NEWS. WE MUST STOP KONY

  • Colin

    I wrote a long response, but erased it — there’s no point. I have an analysis of race and imperialism, and other people like to see the boogeyman of the moment get what’s coming. Oh well.

    But really, look at that picture again. White Bro’s Burden.

  • Colin
  • @ Colin: The problem with the line of thinking you link to is that it quickly reduces to a white-people-can’t-think-or-do-anything-independent-of-their-whiteness problem. Where “people” can’t be concerned for “children” being killed, if the people happen to be white and the kids happen to be black. Once those opposing races have been established, all motivations are reduced to the alleviation of some subconscious post-colonial burden, which no one is aware they feel except for the smart people on that blog that are able to point it out to them. How can you charge that Americans are simultaneously ignorant of an entire continent, and yet at the same time be motivated by a burden they don’t know exists? Me, the guy who over-parses, calls that over-examined. And more, its a cynical sad world I chose not to make my reality.

  • Chris Smtih

    Much like Colbert, I quite literally don’t see color.

  • Joshua

    Do I think Kony needs to be stopped, yes. Do I think we are going about it the right way. No. Joseph Kony wants to become a powerful man. That is EXACTLY what we are unconsciously and blindly helping him do by making him “famous”, with popularity will come power.

    • Alan Bedenko

      Sometimes, when indicted war criminals are on the lam, it comes time to stop fucking around and catch them. (See Karadzic, Radovan; Mladic, Ratko). I don’t really give a shit what the motivation is, or what anyone’s white guilt might be. It’s about catching a notorious fugitive.

      So, do you want regime change in Uganda, as the linked-to article writer apparently calls for, or do we just go back to not knowing anything. I’m so confused.

  • Pauldub

    Colin does see color, his own, and feels guilt. Not trying to be an asshat here Colin, but I think your view on history and the world as it is now has a white guilt spin. Not so much personal, more of a “White people were/are bad and should be ashamed of their arrogance”.

  • The West would want stability in Uganda and the surrounding countries, even if the regimes in charge are as corrupt and/or evil as groups like the LRA, which could threaten such stability. Why? Well, there’s plenty of oil; with potentially 1.5 billion barrels of exploitable deposits, with “exploitable” being the key word. Uganda’s oil potential could raise the citizens out of poverty. Or fatten the coffers of the corrupt leaders, as Uganda rates pretty high on the Transparency International’s corruption index. If Kony (or someone of his ilk)represents a threat to those interests, you can bet a drone will soon be shoving a bomb up his ass. Should Kony pay for his war crimes? Yes. Is this another example of the “White Man’s Burden” like Colin may argue? I wouldn’t go that far. How about “White Man’s Greed”? That rings more true to me.

  • valerie

    My kids just showed me this video and I am outraged at myself for not knowing about this sooner! My support will overcome the delay in my reactions. April 20th will be the day that I stand-up and make my voice heard that “Violence against children and women has got to stop!” SOLIDARITY!!!!!

  • Omg!;o