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Stop Kony

March 11, 2012

Since 2005, there has been an international arrest warrent for Joseph Kony, head of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. The video 'Kony 2012' now calls on millions of web users to back a final push to bring him to justice.

The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony
Image: AP

"This film has only one goal: stopping the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army and their leader Joseph Kony!" The video is about thirty minutes, it's been made by film maker Jason Russell for the aid organization Invisible Children and has gone viral on the Internet.

At the very beginning of the film, Russell talks to Jacob. Jacob is a teenager in Uganda who had been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and forced to be a child soldier. The movie doesn't explain how Jacob managed to escape – but it does show Russell giving a promise to the teenager: "We will stop them. We will do anything we can to stop them."

The crimes of the LRA

Many have tried to stop the LRA and their leader Joseph Kony. In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued for him by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Kony is accused of crimes against humanity – murder, rape, slavery. He is believed to have kidnapped thousands of children, training the boys as child soldiers and using the girls as sex slaves. Aid organizations like Amnesty International estimate that Kony has recruited more than 20,000 children.

LRA soldiers
The LRA is believed to have kidnapped more than 20,000 childrenImage: AP

"Most of them are being abducted from home, they're being drugged or given alcohol and forced to kill their own parents," says Franziska Ulm, Africa specialist at Amnesty International Germany. "They are literally trained to kill."

The LRA began its brutal campaign against the government of Uganda in 1987. "There was a religious movement under Alice Lakwena in the 1980s," explains political scientist Peter Meyns. "Joseph Kony joined that movement and after Lakwena's death headed it under the new name of Lord's Resistance Army," says Menys.

"Kony claims that he is acting on behalf of the will of God," Ulm adds. "He claims he's setting up a state based on the ten commandments."

Kony is a member of the Acholi people in the north of Uganda that feel sidelined since Yoweri Museveni came to power in the country in 1986. But Meyns says that the LRA's campaign of violence is not primarily ethnically motivated.

"It's rather a form of religious fanatism. There have been similar movements in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone and in Liberia that all were based on fear and violence," he explains.

Failed peace talks

The government in Uganda has so far failed to put an end to the LRA. Several peace talks initiatives have tried but failed to convince Kony to lay down his arms. Those negotiations have in fact slowed down the efforts by the International Criminal Court to bring Kony to justice, says Ulm.

The LRA leader remains a free man, the last efforts at peace talks failed in 2008. While Kony did indeed withdraw from the north of Uganda, he moved his army to other countries, like Sudan or Congo. "This is a huge territory," Ulm says. "The east of the Congo alone is as big as all of France. And it's also a territory with no infrastructure and little government control."

Screenshot of 'Kony 2012'
The 'Kony 2012' video has tens of millions of viewersImage: youtube.com

Even in places where there are government troops, they are not very effective. "Those armies are in part made up of former rebels, so they are less disciplined than armies we know in Europe. And of course there are not enough troops to successfully hunt down Kony and his rebels," notes Ulm.

In October 2011, US President Barack Obama sent a team of 100 soldiers to Uganda to help local troops track down Kony. A few years earlier a similar mission of US experts failed. The current US forces are focusing on improving communications between the government troops of Uganda, Congo and South Sudan. In the past, Kony often managed to escape because he kept moving from one country to the other.

The might of social media

Now, it is the NGO Invisible Children that has set out to stop Joseph Kony. Film maker Jason Russell is the co-director of the California-based organization. The film's message is clear: Everybody has the ability and the power, to make the world a better place. Russell calls on viewers to buy stickers, brochures, wristbands – all with the slogan "Kony 2012". He hopes that this way the world's attention will focus more on Kony and that eventually it will lead to his arrest. Russell says the problem is that too many people simply don't know about the LRA and its crimes.

In a way, the "Kony 2012" campaign seems to be working. The video has gone viral with tens of millions of clicks on Youtube alone. Celebrities like Rihanna or Stephen Fry use Twitter to call on their followers to watch the movies. But there are also critics who accuse the NGO of mishandling the money it collects in donations. Allegedly, only some 30 percent actually went into aid projects in Uganda while the rest is to fund films or pay salaries.

Other aid organizations like Amnesty International support the project even if they themselves follow a different approach. Franziska Ulm of Amnesty Germany says they focus more on long-term aid.

Silvia Holton of World Vision Germany, however, is very critical of both the film and the project "Kony 2012" because it calls on people to actually kill Joseph Kony. "That's something we cannot support," Holton insists. the Invisible Children film does not explicitely call for Kony to be killed, but rather for him to be "stopped" – without explaining how exactly that could happen.

The project sets a deadline for itself. By the end of 2012, politicians, celebrities and above all normal people are called upon to make sure that Joseph Kony is "stopped."

Author: Andrea Rönsberg / ai
Editor: Gregg Benzow