What good is a Twitter campaign against a war criminal?
By Shabtai Gold Mar 10, 2012, 6:34 GMT
Johannesburg - Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), is suddenly famous far beyond the borders of his native Uganda and its neighbouring states in central Africa.
Through Twitter and Facebook, the US-based organization Invisible Children this week launched a new campaign designed to make Kony a global household name and have him brought to justice by the end of the year.
By Thursday afternoon, almost 40 million people had watched a 30-minute clip about the LRA on YouTube that seeks to illustrate how he has wreaked murderous havoc for nearly three decades. Millions more viewed the video on other platforms such as Vimeo as celebrities such as Rihanna and George Clooney added their voices to the battle against Kony.
'I'd like indicted war criminals to enjoy the same level of celebrity as me,' Clooney said.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on 33 charges, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is an ace in the ICC's growing deck of most wanted people.
His victims range from boys and girls the LRA recruited to be fighters and sex slaves, to entire villages destroyed as the militia passed through.
Invisible Children is asking supporters to sign a petition and donate money for further advocacy, and planning demonstrations across the US on April 20.
Simple enough. But critics are responding almost as fast as supporters virally spread the emotive video at the heart of the campaign.
'The 'Kony 2012' show is here, and the whole thing is a miserable fraud,' wrote Elliot Ross on the activist blog Africa is a Country.
Ross argues that the film makes several glaring factual errors and is laden with personal asides by the director and members of his family.
For example, at points, Uganda is referred to as a Central African country, though most citizens see themselves as being East Africans.
'It's meant to be an 'awareness-raising' film. What it is is a study of a bunch of vain and ignorant young people who can think and feel only in cliches,' wrote Ross.
The LRA is currently on the run. The Ugandan military, with the help of some 100 US Army advisors, continues to chase the group wherever it moves, though both the United States and Uganda have been reluctant to provide any signs that they may be succeeding.
Kony is currently believed to be in the lawless Central African Republic, clinging to power and surrounded by just several hundred hardcore fighters. This represents a massive decline from his heyday.
Part of the concern is that the Twitter campaign could end up supporting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and shows no sign of stepping down.
Museveni, human rights groups warn, uses a heavy hand to stifle opposition. Homosexuals are fleeing the country owing to persecution, while the economy is poorly managed. Perhaps worst still, Museveni was in power for most of the 20 years in which the LRA ravaged the country.
Critics note that despite his questionable behaviour, the president's name is never mentioned in the viral clip.
Lack of clarity about how Invisible Children intends to have Kony arrested, and what it would do with the money it is collecting, has left some wondering - will it ultimately end up supporting drone attacks on Kony or supplying better arms to Museveni? Already there are signs it might seek more US involvement.
'There is intense criticism out there over Invisible Children's finances, including that it spends too much money on administration and filmmaking,' said Michael Wilkerson in a post on the website of Foreign Policy magazine.
'What worries me more is that it's unclear what exactly Invisible Children wants to do, other than raise a lot of money and attention,' wrote Wilkerson, who lived in Uganda while conducting research and is now completing a doctorate at Oxford University.
But for some, just drawing global attention to Kony may be a commendable act in itself. In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland offered praise for the efforts of the group 'to shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA.'
A Ugandan who hails from the northern areas that were most affected by the LRA until the militia were forced from the country in 2006 welcomed the campaign.
'I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children's approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism,' wrote Musa Okwonga.
'On the other hand, I am very happy - relieved, more than anything - that Invisible Children has raised worldwide awareness of this issue. Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity,' he said told Britain's Independent newspaper.
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