WASHINGTON, March 9, 2012 —Millions have witnessed the dramatic viral video the nonprofit organization Invisible Children created. The thirty minute video documentary directed and narrated by Jason Russell, urges worldwide awareness over an effort to capture the violent Ugandan war lord Joseph Kony.
Over the course of a mere five days, forty-million people viewed the YouTube video created by Russell, a graduate of the University of Southern California film school, that provides action steps to out seat KONY’s Lord’s Resistance Army from its reign of terror.
This morning, some people are taking a critical and cynical look at the group behind the video, their religious history, questionable images of some of its members posing with weapons and rebels, and spending a mere 30 to 40% of the $8 million dollars in donation it has received.
But people should be careful about focusing on the side issues surrounding the people behind the video and think critically about the crimes of this vicious man, while remembering that Kony and his crimes are not unique to many of the war-torn sub-Saharan African nations.
The story of Kony is impactful, but not new. There is an estimated 300,000 child soldiers in over 50 violent conflicts going on now, and in the recent past.
The difference is that we now live in an era of social media, viral videos, and online outreach, where anyone with a message and mission could galvanize millions around one cause.
Other similar crises have existed for years did not have the benefit of the power of citizen journalist and online media.
Kony is but the 2012 version of what, sadly, has been going on for decades in many impoverished and war torn regions throughout the world, particularly in Africa. Kony 2012 focuses on the story of one out of thousands of boy soldiers forced to maim and kill their own people and relatives as part of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“For 26 years, Kony has been kidnapping children into his rebel group, the LRA,” the narration explains. “He’s been turning girls into sex slaves, and the boys into child soldiers. He makes them mutilate people’s faces, and he forces them to kill their own parents. And this is not just a few children — it’s been over 30,000 of them.”
The 30 minute video gives me flashbacks of what happened in my own native Sierra Leone that ended a little over a decade ago when rebel soldiers used shallow swamp mined diamonds to fund their terror on the tiny West African coastal nation.
They too, like Kony, forced hundreds of thousands of children to be boy soldiers.
One soldier, named Jacob who the narrator promised to help stop Kony, is our Ishmael Beah from Sierra Leone.
Beah was one of our lucky boys, who at age 16, was rescued by UNICEF from the drug-fueled haze that was his life and blessed to survive to go on to attend a prestigious high school in America, go to college and eventually pen award-winning book. Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” chronicles several tortuous years as a boy soldier, much like those who currently work for Kony.
During a decade long struggle, rebels from Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a military regime headed by Foday Sankoh, raped, pillaged and cut off the limbs of villagers.
The sadistic group instilled fear in the people by leaving a trail of amputated victims across the country. Along their trail, the folk lore is: rebels, supported by boys who were kidnapped along the way, asked their countrymen-victims if they wanted “short sleeves” or “long sleeves.”
The choice determined where the cutlass would land on the arm and which limb was severed. My daughter’s nanny recounted a tale of having to scoop up abandoned and orphaned children as she and her family ran to escape rebels.
Wanting to see for myself the effect of the war, in 2007, I took a trip to Sierra Leone with a now defunct non-profit I co-founded. During the trip, I met with amputees at camps set up just for them. The casualties of Sierre Leone and of “our Kony” have been all but forgotten and forced to live in exile.
A similar fate may await Kony’s victims if there is no follow-through with the renewed energy being gathered behind ousting the leader.
The Blood Diamond-fueled civil war in Sierra Leone ended, with attention from hip hop stars like Kanye West who produced a remix to his Diamonds hit, Angelina Jolie and others who spoke out and testified for its cause.
Sierra Leone was fortunate, if you could paint a silver lining on the slaughter and maiming of thousands.
Our carnage ended in 11 years, but Kony has been on his terror streak for much longer.
The LRA is now what Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front was then, only it is personified, amplified and augmented by this now viral video Kony 2012.
The video’s message is having the very potent affect of spreading worldwide, complete with action items for viewers to take to bring Kony to capture and justice.
So far, the story and call to arms of conscious Americans is being heeded, with the likes of Sean “Diddy” Combs broadcast the story to his near 5 million Twitter followers and other notables, including Oprah Winfrey, are getting on board with their tweets, and money.
“Even if its 10 minutes … Trust me, you NEED to know about this!” Rhianna tweeted.
“This is not a joke. This serious. TOGETHER we can #MakeAChange and #STOPKRONY — help another kid in need!” Justin Bieber tweeted.
Oprah Winfrey reiterated her support for Invisible Children. “Have supported with $’s and voice and will not stop.”
Keesey said all celebrities acted without being contacted first by Invisible Children, except Winfrey.
“They all saw it online and were asked by thousands of young people via Twitter. It was all organic. They found it on their own,” he said. (Source: Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press)
Only in these times can idealistic relief workers be able to amplify atrocities, even if through melodramatic, Hollywoodized mini-movies, created to tug at heart strings and encouraging the youth to do things that some may characterize as silly and insignificant.
But if we recall how the Red Cross text donation campaign following the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti was successful in getting people who would ordinarily seem powerless to feel empowered by a simple step of sending a text message, social media is playing a part in awareness and funding of positive global response.
In this Kony 2012 effort, the bracelets and bumper stickers campaign is another example of getting people who ordinarily would be focused on our-first world problems to actually care and be empowered to do more for this other third-world, even if that response is minimal.
So I understand the concern that to do something more would be better but realistically, they are doing and asking people to do what they can—the bare minimum —but the bare minimum when multiplied by millions doing the minimum may just have the intended effect of shaming leaders to do more to shut this guy down.
The motives are good. People are questioning the validity of the organization and are saying it is part of a scam or propaganda, but at the end of the day, this is a guy who is known to have done some really awful things.
Joseph Kony is out there and needs to be stopped.
Americans have a superhero complex and want to be the savior or the world which is simply not possible. But if this effort, despite how contrived, melodramatic and seemingly corny it may be to some people, is successful in saving but one life, perhaps it is worth it.
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