There’s been a huge amount of media coverage over the past couple of days, of a film about Joseph Kony, leader of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and his ‘army’ have plagued the countries of Uganda, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo for over 20 years. Kony is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes by the LRA, and thousands of children have been abducted and forced to become child soldiers.
The 30 minute film (embedded above), by the American charity Invisible Children, is part of their global campaign to try to bring about the arrest of Kony, before the end of 2012. In 2011, the United States deployed 100 military advisors to help the Ugandan military track Kony down. Invisible Children’s campaign intends to ‘make Kony famous’, and therefore keep up the pressure on the American government and others to put an end to the LRA once and for all.
Different sides to a story
Even though I’ve worked in international development for a few years now, and had been aware of the LRA for a while before that, I confess that it was only a couple of months ago that I began to properly understand just what a huge, abominable problem it really was. At the end of last year, a colleague of mine visited the town of Gulu in northern Uganda, one of the areas worst affected by the LRA, to document a vocational training centre that has been helping young men and women whose lives had been violently interrupted by the LRA. He met people like David Ojok (pictured above), who was abducted by the LRA at the age of 13, and forced to become a child soldier. He came away with stories of hope for the future, of lives beginning to be rebuilt, of opportunities opening up. You can read David’s extraordinary story here.
However, this is just one side of the story; although the LRA was largely driven out of Uganda about 5 years ago, there are many people there who still need help there. Projects are working to help people resettle and rebuild their lives, but the need is still great.
Invisible Children’s campaign presents a different side of this story, in a very different way – equally valid, but not without controversy. There’s been much discussion about the transparency of Invisible Children as a fund-raising charity, and about their campaign methods, but it’s hard to argue with their central message – that the LRA and Kony must be stopped. The video campaign has gone viral – it’s been viewed by some 40million people this week; they are using the internet and social media incredibly well, referencing the Arab Spring and targeting celebrities and politicians alike.
A third (and in my opinion, hugely more powerful) view can be seen through the work of photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale for the NGO Human Rights Watch. Marcus has been documenting this story in one way and another for the last 10 years. His powerful images and videos alone should have compelled the world to act decisively once and for all. You can watch his film for HRW, Dear Obama, below, or explore HRW’s interactive multimedia website.
Although Kony2012 has become an internet phenomenon this week, the world’s media attention is still largely focussed on Syria, and the continuing pace of change across the middle east. Whether you agree with Invisible Children’s motivation, ethics, approach or not, surely anything that focusses a bit of attention on the problem of Kony and the LRA can only be a good thing?