This post has been updated.
A new campaign spreading across the Internet says it has one goal in mind: To bring to justice Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent, child-recruiting Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The viral film, with tens of millions of views in the last day alone, was created by Invisible Children, a charity that seeks to end the conflict in Uganda and raises awareness about human rights abuses by Kony and the LRA.
Jedediah Jenkins, director of idea development for Invisible Children, called the criticism “myopic” and said the film represented a “tipping point” in that it got young people to care about an issue on the other side of the planet that doesn’t affect them.
#StopKony has been trending worldwide on Twitter since Tuesday, and, as of this writing, the video “Kony2012” has a combined 47 million views on YouTube and Vimeo — 32 million of which were in the last 20 hours alone.
Kony is undeniably brutal, and the World Bank estimates that under his leadership the LRA has abducted and forced around 66,000 children to fight with them during the past two decades. In October, President Obama committed 100 U.S. troops to help the Ugandan army remove Kony.
But in November, a Foreign Affairs article pointedly challenged the tactics used by Invisible Children and other nonprofits working in the region. “Such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil,” the magazine wrote.
One of Invisible Children’s partner organizations, Resolve, responded to the accusation at the time in a blog post, calling it a “serious charge ... published with no accompanying substantiation.”
Jenkins maintained Wednesday that the numbers of child abductions the charity uses are not exaggerated. They are often the same numbers as the ones used by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, he said.
Charity Navigator, a U.S.-based charity evaluator, gives Invisible Children mixed rankings. The charity received four of four stars financially and two stars for the category of accountability and transparency.
Invisible Children received two stars, Jenkins said, because the charity has only four independent board members instead of five. He said it is currently interviewing for a fifth position.
A bill Invisible Children helped pass into law in 2009 has also been criticized. The bill is designed to support stabilization and peace in Uganda and areas affected by the LRA. Critics say it has strengthened the hand of the Ugandan president, whose security forces have a human rights abuse record of their own. The Enough Project, an NGO that fights genocide and human rights abuses, has said the bill’s bipartisan support showed people “come together for peace.”
“There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa,” said Jenkins. “If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn’t partner with anyone.”
Human rights activists agree, however, that the abuses of the LRA are far worse than those of Uganda’s security forces. Over the past two decades, the LRA made it common practice to enter towns and kill the adults, take the male children as soldiers, and sexually abuse the female children.
Lt. Col. Mamadou Gaye, a military spokesman for a United Nations stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said recently that the LRA “has been weakened” by military efforts. The group is believed to now have only about 250 armed members. Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said recently that Kony was no longer in Uganda.
“This is the day when we will meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up,” Jason Russell, who directed the film for Invisible Children, says in the video. “The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice.”
But “Visible Children,” a Tumblr blog that has received much attention for questioning the efforts of Invisible Children, wrote Wednesday that those social media tactics aren’t helping. “These problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow,” the blog wrote.
Jenkins doesn’t agree. “The film has reached a place in the global consciousness where people know who Kony is, they know his crimes,” he said. “Kids know and they respond. And then they won’t allow it to happen anymore.”
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