This post has been updated.
The hubbub around Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” campaign has mostly died down now, with online interest in the brutal Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony dropping precipitously over the last several weeks.
A follow up video released by the group last week has received half a million views, compared to the original film’s 87 million.
“In the jungles of this vast region of central Africa, villagers are grappling with the emotional and psychological scars left by Kony’s militia,” he writes. “The LRA today is thought to be greatly diminished... but it remains a threat, and villagers live in constant fear.”
On Wednesday, I sat down with Adam Finck, Director of Programs at Invisible Children, to hear more about the post-conflict recovery in Uganda, whether Kony is aware of the campaign to catch him, and the results of the non-profit’s very viral film.
(Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length and includes answers by Finck and from Invisible Children headquarters.)
Q: Invisible Children has been criticized for not doing enough work on the ground in Uganda. Can you talk a little about your country programs?
Finck: We work on post-conflict recovery. We do a lot of work with our local communities on livelihoods and education. Our Schools for Schools program works with secondary children in northern Uganda, to give them scholarships and mentoring. It builds leaders. Our Village Savings and Loans Association helps build small businesses and literacy.
Invisible Children also operates programs in DR Congo and the Central African Republic. There, we work with partners to creat fliers which encourage the peaceful defection of people from the LRA, and help in rehabilitation. We also have an early warning network [which alerts communities and humanitarian agencies of possible activities of the LRA in near real time].
Q. How do people defect from the LRA?
Finck: There is actually an amazing story about one of Kony’s wives, who escaped recently.
Invisible Children: Kony's wife was abducted from Obo, Central African Republic (CAR) in March 2008, during the Juba peace talks. She escaped last August in CAR after spending three years with Kony. She mentioned Kony listening to FM “Come Home” programming (an initiative that Invisible Children supports) and all the wives being in earshot, so they could hear all the Come Home messages. It made her question her time with the LRA, though -- according to her -- Kony's lies kept her in fear from actually escaping. The young woman came across a defection flier in the forest and saw a former wife of Kony in it. She was sent to loot outside of a village and instead, took the opportunity to flee, attributing her courage to the flier.
Q. Did you learn more about Kony from her or other people that escaped the LRA?
Invisible Children:We learned over the high frequency early warning radio network of a 14-year-old boy escaping from Kony's group in CAR. The high frequency report came in on Dec. 2, 2011 and this was the direct message: “Joseph Kony now knows of the United States' plan to stop the LRA and he is going to change his tactics to avoid capture, now that the great power is upon him.” Late last year, in conjunction with Kony's September meeting in CAR and this report, we saw the lowest LRA activity recorded in years. It appears the LRA has become more desperate, however, and incidents of both looting and abductions are now on the rise once again.
Q. When was Kony last publicly seen, to your knowledge?
Finck: Last September, he called a meeting in the Central African Republic with all of his top commanders. He has not been seen since then.
Q. Do you think Joseph Kony knows about the “Kony 2012” campaign? Is it possible he’s seen it?
Finck: We know that Kony listens to short wave radio broadcasts, like the one his wife heard, and they carry Ugandan broadcasting as well as BBC World. So it’s very possible he’s heard about Kony 2012 on the radio.
Q. How many LRA fighters do you believe are still with Kony? How many total?
Finck: There are about 250-300 fighters total. But the group is fractured. The largest group, the one with Kony, is not exceeding 100.
Q. And yet there are 100 U.S. soldiers on the ground in the region to fight these 100?
Finck: Well, they are advisors, people who are there to assist the regional efforts to arrest Kony and his top commanders.
I think people underestimate the detriment to the civilian population of the LRA. Invisible Children estimates that since 2008, 2,400 people were killed, 3,400 were abducted and half a million were displaced. And the LRA is still holding women and children. [The numbers of dead and abducted are the same as those used by the U.S. State Department.]
Q:In the follow up Invisible Children video, you ask people to gather on April 20 to “cover the night.” Can you explain more about that and how that will help stop the LRA?
Finck: The idea is for people to be heard globally by acting locally. We hope that, on that day, people will serve their community. It can be something as simple as a car wash or a beach clean up. The idea is that they earn the right to be heard, about Joseph Kony and the LRA, or other issues [they care about].
Q. Your first film was the most viral in history, but in the weeks that followed interest has waned. How do you plan to excite people again?
Finck: The goal for our first film was just 500,000 views in a year. Of course, it went way above that [with 87 million page views]. Our second film, where we went deeper into the details, has one and a half million hits. And we still see that as a big success.
Q. If Kony is caught, will the focus of Invisible Children change?
Finck: There is still much to be done on the ground. We will be doing post-conflict recovery long after Kony is gone.