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A file photo taken on November 12, 2006, shows the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, answering journalists' questions in Ri-Kwamba, southern Sudan, following a meeting with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland.
This week, a non-profit called Invisible Children launched a many-pronged social media campaign designed to take down the brutal reign of a Ugandan militia leader.
The intent: to bring world attention to Joseph Kony, who, as head of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, has terrorized northern Uganda for the past 20 years with killings, kidnappings, mutilations and torture. His reported crimes include abducting over 60,000 children and using them as child soldiers and sex slaves.
There’s no doubt that the campaign is raising awareness – Invisible Children’s half-hour video, “Kony 2012,” quickly went viral on YouTube, logging over 40 million views so far, while #StopKony trended on Twitter and flew across Facebook feeds as celebrities jumped on board to urge their fans to watch the video. And, as the film takes care to point out, their efforts spurred the Obama administration to deploy 100 military advisors to aid Ugandan forces against the LRA.
But not everyone is thrilled with Invisible Children’s methods. Their approach has been labeled paternalistic and irresponsible by many in the activist community.
They’ve been criticized for oversimplifying the issue and focusing more on publicizing their organization than solving the problem. Detractors have also pointed to factual errors in the film and a lack of financial transparency – both of which the filmmakers deny.
What’s behind the sudden explosion of interest in Kony 2012? Do the ends justify the means? Is there a right way and a wrong way to galvanize social awareness? Why has this issue sparked so much interest among young people in particular? Is funding the Ugandan military the right way to bring justice to Kony?
Ashley Benner, Policy Analyst at the Enough Project, a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity
Solome Lemma, Co-Founder of Hornlight, a web site that shares information on the Horn of Africa