Outrage grows over 'Stop Kony' campaign
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, March 9, 2012 9:19AM EST
A group aimed at bringing elusive African rebel leader Joseph Kony to justice is being praised for its ability to spread its message so quickly and effectively, but it's also being harshly criticized for misleading the public.
The Kony 2012 campaign, orchestrated by non-profit group Invisible Children, calls for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the head of Lord's Resistance Army, a small but infamous militia that has terrorized northern Uganda for years with killings, torture and the kidnappings of child soldiers.
The group released a 30-minute, slickly produced documentary online this week that quickly racked up more than 50 million views in two days, thanks to a highly successful social media campaign.
The video says it "aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice."
But the campaign has also spurred a debate about whether Invisible Children is dangerously oversimplifying the situation in Uganda, using outdated information, and possibly worsening the conflict.
Human Rights Watch was just one of many groups with experience in Uganda that came out this week to note that Kony hasn't been operating in Uganda for years and that his army has withered to just several hundred members. These are two key points that the documentary left out, they say.
Mark Kersten, a Canadian at the London School of Economics who is working on his doctoral thesis about the International Criminal Court, notes that another issue that's not shown in the video is that northern Uganda has been at peace for six years and there has not been a major LRA attack there during that time.
Kersten doesn't believe the film gives an accurate portrayal of the actual conflict in Uganda.
"It paints the crisis in Uganda and LRA-affected areas as one in which the major problem – perhaps the only problem – is Joseph Kony, and therefore, that stopping Joseph Kony is the proper solution. The problem is much more complicated," Kersten told CTV's Canada AM Friday.
Ugandan writer Angelo Izama wrote on his blog: "To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement."
He said while it draws attention to the fact that Kony is still on the loose, "its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era."
Many, like Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, point out that since Kony and the LRA was pushed out of Uganda six years ago, life there has been stabilizing.
"This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It's highly irresponsible," Kagumire said this week.
She says Ugandans are now more focused on rebuilding their country. Inciting more conflict in the area will only set back the efforts of Ugandans who just want to return to normal life, she suggested.
Others have questioned what going after Kony now will achieve. The rebel leader has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, such as rape, mutilation and murder; some worry that seeking to arrest or kill him now might only incite his sympathizers.
"Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong," Javie Ssozi, an influential Ugandan blogger, said this week on his blog.
"Have they thought of the consequences? Making Kony ‘famous' could make him stronger. Arguing for more U.S. troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive."
Ssozi also tweeted Thursday that "the #KONY2012 approach is wrong approach because what does awareness of Kony specifically do? Leads to peace or accelerate war?"
Freelance journalist Michael Wilkerson worries in a blog for Foreign Policy that in the rush to capture Kony, the problems with Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, are being overlooked.
"Museveni ushered himself to a fourth term last year, taking him to more than 25 years in power. Corruption is rampant, social services are minimal and human rights abuses well documented," Wilkerson wrote.
"Stopping Kony won't change any of these things, and if more hardware and money flow to Museveni's military, Invisible Children's campaign may even worsen some problems."
Canadian Kersten notes that the Ugandan government has not been free of guilt for its part in the conflict either.
"When you go to northern Uganda and speak to people, they will be clear that atrocities have been committed by the government of Uganda as well," Kersten said.
Invisible Children released a statement on Thursday to respond to the criticism, including that it has oversimplified the conflict in Uganda.
"In a 30-minute film… many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked," the statement reads.
The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper in learning about the make-up of the LRA and the history of the conflict."
The group says while it supports the deployment of U.S. advisers and soldiers to help locate and bring Kony to justice, it also supports increased diplomacy.
"Importantly, the campaign also advocates for broader measures to help communities being affected by LRA attacks, such as increased funding for programs to help Kony's abductees escape and return to their homes and families," the group says.