Campaign to catch war criminal goes viral

Young campaigners have used posters and the internet to boost awareness of Kony’s crimes.

For decades, Joseph Kony has enslaved children and forced them to wreak horror on their communities. Now, Facebook is echoing with calls to bring him to justice – but experts are critical.

All over the world yesterday morning, people logging on to Facebook and Twitter were surprised to find their feeds flooded with messages calling on them to #StopKony. Who on earth, many wondered, is Kony?

The accompanying video explained: Joseph Kony is a Ugandan warlord responsible for some of the most blood-curdlingly awful human rights abuses of modern times. His revolutionary organisation, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is manned by child soldiers kidnapped from their families and forced to commit terrible acts of brutality.

But the video was more than just a documentary. It was a call to arms, produced by a charity called Invisible Children. The tragedy and horror of the tale it told was overlaid with an inspiring, slickly-produced message of hope: together, claims the video, we can put an end to the crimes of this villainous man. And all we need to do is care.

What matters to us matters to the politicians who depend on our vote; and what matters to them, they can change. Invisible Children pressures Western governments to keep troops in Uganda until Kony is captured and brought to justice.

Unfortunately many experts find this argument simplistic. For one thing, they point out, Kony is not even in Uganda. The LRA now consists of only a few hundred fighters spread across an area the size of the UK; the focus of their terror shifted long ago to neighbouring countries Sudan and the Congo.

Secondly, the Ugandan army are no angels themselves. Their human rights record is shady, and they have been accused of using aid money to fund diamond smuggling operations for private profit. Furthermore, capturing Kony would probably involve fighting his child body guards.

Northern Uganda is a more peaceful place these days than the Kony 2012 campaign implies. Conflicts still trouble the region, but its main problems are different now: disease, destitution and some of the highest rates of child prostitution in the world. Many Ugandans and development workers say that what the country now needs is peace, stability and economic growth – not military intervention.

Unwelcome aid?

Supporters of Kony 2012 say the campaign is making the world a better place. A few days ago nobody knew who Kony was. Now, through the power of social media, we are coming together to aid his victims and rid Africa of one of the continent’s most notorious villains.

Slow down, say critics. It’s great that the video has opened so many eyes, but caring is just the beginning. We need to think consequences and context before charging into action – for a start, that involves listening to Ugandans themselves. Real change takes more than a click: it takes toil, time and genuine commitment.

You Decide

  1. Are most things best left to the experts?
  2. How can internet campaigns make a real positive difference?


  1. WatchKony 2012and write an analysis of the techniques it uses to evoke emotions like sadness and hope.
  2. What issue would you most like to raise awareness about? Design a viral campaign to get people to spread the word using websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Some People Say...

“People only support charities to feel better about themselves.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So I shouldn’t donate to Kony 2012?
That’s completely up to you. It’s a contentious issue, and before jumping in it’s worth educating yourself about the debate. Perhaps your research will leave you passionately believing that foreign troops can achieve something worthwhile in Uganda. In that case, by all means join the cause – and good luck!
What’s the alternative? Just let the killing continue?
Not necessarily. It’s a hard reality that the world is full of tragedies without an obvious solution. We might not be able to fix them immediately, but we can all do something. Respected charities in the region you could look into include AMREF, Africare and If you want to take things further, great: just stay informed and think about how you can devote yourself to making a difference.

Word Watch

Child soldiers
The Lord’s Resistance Army recruits fighters in the cruelest way imaginable. They raid villages and abduct children, forcing them under pain of death to commit murder, rape and mutilation. Even cannibalism has been reported. The children are then turned on other villages and forced to inflict on others the same horrors that they have suffered themselves.
Invisible Children
Invisible children has two branches: it campaigns in the USA for action against Kony and also works on the ground with areas affected by the actions of the LRA. Some admire IC, but it has been criticised for the amount it spends on things like film-making.
President Barack Obama already sent 100 troops to Uganda last October – not to fight, but to support Ugandan security forces. But without success, there is a possibility that they might pull out.
Northern Uganda is rife with many health problems, including the new and mysterious ‘nodding disease.’ This brain sickness mostly affects young children, sending them into fits in which they uncontrollably nod their heads. Many become brain damaged and die.


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