Who is Joseph Kony?

Have you seen this video yet? It hasn’t been hard to miss – the internet has been frenzied with mentions of the word Kony this week. Just in case you’ve had your head in the sand and think Kony is a new type of computer or ice-cream, here’s what you need to know:

‘Invisible Children’ is an organisation, set up by three Californian filmmakers back in 2006 with an aim to stop Joseph Kony – leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army – who has terrorised communities in Uganda for years by abducting children and forcing them into child soldiery and sexual slavery.

This week, Invisible Children have stirred up a worldwide frenzy, capturing headlines with the launch of the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign, which aims to stop Kony and raise awareness of his actions – i.e. make Kony ‘famous.’ They aim to do this through a social media strategy built around a viral video (watch above) that relays the roots and vision of the organisation. In just a few days, the video was viewed over 10 million times and its current viewing figures weigh in at just over 78 million – impressive, eh? Celebrities such as Bono, Justin Bieber and Oprah are among the high profile names to be endorsing the campaign.

As I am sure you will gather, there is much to admire in the Kony 2012 campaign. There’s little doubting the goal to stop a man whose name has topped the list of “International Criminal Court’s Most Wanted” list for years. Neither can we argue with its ability to engage the public worldwide to care about a humanitarian crisis in Africa without an obvious lead or news hook. Even more, it shows the sheer strength of the Internet and social media in enacting change and raising awareness.

However, in all its intended goodness, the video has come under fierce criticism. The Telegraph reported that many Ugandans are outraged by the film, claiming the film exaggerates Kony’s current presence in Uganda. Some argue that this could undermine the country’s efforts to rebuild. Others are suggesting that my making “Kony” famous may have the opposite effect of reinvigorating his forces and provoking aggression, as opposed to decreasing it.

“What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us,” Beatrice Mpora, director of a community health organization in Uganda, told the Telegraph.

An added problem, some argue, is that the key goal of the Kony 2012 campaign to put public pressure on the American government to keep a small U.S. military presence on the ground in Uganda – yet the film doesn’t offer enough information about the cost of this presence and what it would actually achieve.

Others simply say the campaign makes it look, well, too easy: you can’t change the world with one tweet, sceptics suggest. In fact, there is a complex web of international diplomacy and humanitarian aid (see last post – ed).

So, what do you reckon? Does the video dumb down a whole series of big issues in desperate need for attention? Or do you think that the video represents something much more – a way of spreading ideas to spark change and engage the population?

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