Joseph Kony, the leader of the religious extremist group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has recently become a focus of our social media lives thanks to the viral release of the mini documentary “Kony 2012.” Created by the non-profit organization Invisible Children, the short film–which has over 76 million views on YouTube alone–highlights Kony’s crimes against the population of Uganda. There has, however, been a backlash from the success of the video for Invisible Children and their supporters, with some critics saying that the documentary’s execution is skewed and limited. Blast Magazine takes a look at the history of Kony, the rise and fall of the LRA, and the emergence of the “Kony 2012” phenomenon.
Kony, born in Northern Uganda in the early 1960s, had his first taste of power as the leader of an Armageddon cult in 1986. He later would become the leader of a religious resistance movement called the United Holy Salvation Army, a faith-based military group made of mostly Acholi people, who opposed the National Resistance Army (NRA), the main military force in Uganda after The Ungandan Bush War. For the next three years Kony would strike several victories against the NRA, and his army’s growing ranks would become known as the Lord’s Resistance Movement (LRM), sometimes also called the United Democratic Christian Army, with Kony claiming himself to be a prophet of the Christian Holy Spirit. The LRM received heavy support from the government of Sudan in retaliation of the Ugandan government’s reported support of rebels in southern Sudan.
While Kony and his army gained many supporters through resisters of the NRA’s control over Uganda, the bulk of his army was made up of kidnapped children, whose families and neighbors were often killed by LRM forces. It is reported that the children were anointed with holy water and told that it would make them bulletproof during battle. It is also said that deserters would be hunted down and beaten to death by other child soldiers, while anyone who sheltered runaways would be beaten, raped and executed. Kony was also known to take several teenage girls and make them his wives, forcing himself on those who would not willingly engage in sex with him.
The first attention that was officially given to Kony by the United States came when the LRA was declared by George W. Bush to be an official recognized terrorist organization soon after the 9/11 attacks. Bush also signed a directive for the United States Africa Command to assist the Ugandan government in assaulting the LRA. in 2008. Kony’s biggest blow, however, came in 2005, when the International Criminal Court issued warrants for Kony and top LRM generals. This caused Sudan to pull its funding for Kony’s cause and greatly weakened the LRM. The last confirmed sighting of Kony was in the Republic of the Congo, whose government has stated that a search continues now for Kony and the LRA. In 2010, President Barack Obama designated 100 U.S. soldiers to assist in the LRA’s elimination and in the capture of Kony.
Though Kony and the LRA have had a spotlight in world affairs and are recognized by the U.S. government as an official concern, they had not been widely covered for some time. This changed, though, after Invisible Children’s viral “Kony 2012” campaign began a widespread social media push, informing the public of the LRA’s history of crimes against humanity and urging the U.S. to remain involved in the hunt for Kony and in the destruction of the LRA.
Though “Kony 2012” has been praised by many for bringing the hunt for Kony into the main stage of American culture, both the film and Invisible Children have come under criticism since the film’s success. It has been said that the film used exaggerated numbers when describing the number of children misplaced and taken by Kony, as well as omitting the human rights violations perpetrated by the current Ugandan government. Invisible Children itself has come under heavy fire for the amount of money spent on the production of the video and the travel expenses used in its making and promoting, with critics claiming that not enough money is being used directly to assist the people the documentary focuses on. Invisible Children has issued an official statement on their website regarding the accusations.
It should be said that the “Kony 2012” campaign does not address all the concerns surrounding Kony and the LRA. It should also be stated that the strength of the LRA had been greatly depleted from a combined U.S. and Ugandan effort before this project was ever conceived. But what “Kony 2012” does without question is bring up the fact that Kony has not been held accountable for his crimes in any official court of law. The Invisible Children organization has said that “’Kony 2012′ is a film and campaign by 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.” By most accounts, the campaign has accomplished this. While not perfect, the campaign is an example of how social media can be used to fight for a cause and to get the masses to focus attention on an issue about which they may otherwise be unaware.