By Michael Wilkerson
“Joseph Kony is basically Adolf Hitler. He has an army of 30,000 mindless children who slaughter innocent people in Uganda.” Have you seen something like that fly across your Twitter or Facebook feed today or perhaps this?: “#TweetToSave the Invisible Children of Uganda! #Kony2012 Make Joseph Kony Famous!!” “Kony 2012,” a video posted by advocacy group Invisible Children to raise awareness about the pernicious evil of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, has already been viewed over 67million times (and surely more by the time you read this) since its release this week.
It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.
First, [let’s look at] the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (and several big screw-ups). In October last year, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army advisors to help the Ugandan military track down Kony, with no results disclosed to date.
Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda. As I wrote for FP in 2010, the small remaining LRA forces are still wreaking havoc and very hard to catch, but Northern Uganda has had tremendous recovery in the 6 years of peace since the LRA left. So why is “Uganda” trending on Twitter?
Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren’t important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands. The video, narrated by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, says its purpose is to intensify pressure on the U.S. government to make sure Kony is brought to justice this year, and as the message broadcast throughout says, what is important is simple: Stop Kony.
Among other emotive shots, the video features Russell’s attempt to explain the LRA to his toddler son, enthusiastic (and mostly white) volunteers putting up posters and wearing Kony 2012 bracelets, and some heart-wrenching footage of children who walked for miles to sleep in a safe place at the height of the LRA’s power in Northern Uganda. The latter comprised much of Invisible Children’s namesake first film and brought the organization to prominence.
But in the new film, Invisible Children has made virtually no effort to inform. Only once, at 15:01 in the movie, over an image of a red blob on a map leaving Northern Uganda and heading West, is the fact that the LRA is no longer in Uganda mentioned, and only in passing: “As the LRA began to move into other countries, Jacob [one of the children filmed in Northern Uganda in 2003] and other Ugandans came to the US to speak on behalf of all people suffering because of Kony. Even though Uganda was relatively safe they felt compelled to tell the world that Kony was still out there and had to be stopped.” That’s it, in a 30-minute movie. And with both the graphic and reiteration of how awful the LRA is, you might think reasonably “move into other countries” meant expanding rather than fleeing. In any case, the focus, seconds later, is on Invisible Children’s activities in the U.S. at the time, not what was happening back in Africa. I can see why some of P. Diddy’s followers might be confused.