Invisible Children launched its "KONY 2012" campaign this week and within 24-hours the campaign video had captured mass global attention, while also drawing criticism from skeptics questioning the fundamentals behind the campaign.
Joseph Kony is a Ugandan guerilla warlord and head of the notoriously brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a "Christian" extremist group, which operated in Uganda for nearly 20 years, seeking to establish a new governing system based upon the Ten Commandments, according to Kony.
The group has had an active presence in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, but left Uganda years ago, leaving millions across the country displaced and forced to cope with the LRA's legacy of abuse.
The backbone of the "KONY 2012" campaign is a short film which offers viewers a background into the brutal methods of child soldering and enslavement carried out by Kony's LRA forces. The "KONY 2012" video follows the journey of a former Ugandan child solider who was forced to fight with Kony's guerillas. Thousands upon thousands of children in Uganda faced the same fate, the video reveals, while sharing measures that could assist in empowering individuals.
With "KONY 2012" Invisible Children, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is attempting to draw widespread attention to the mass human rights violations carried out by the LRA under Kony's leadership. Although Kony was indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes that include murder, child enslavement, rape, mutilation, torture, and abduction, he has managed to evade capture and has yet to be tried.
According to the organization, the goal of "KONY 2012" is "not to celebrate Kony" but to make him into a household name so that the necessary pressure to find the warlord and ensure that justice is brought to the people who have been raped, pillaged, murdered, and brutalized at the hands of the LRA will emerge.
Invisible Children urges its followers to sign the pledge, purchase a Kony bracelet and action kit, and donate to the cause to also ensure that the 100 American advisers deployed by U.S. President Barack Obama to find the warlord are not withdrawn from the region until Kony is captured or killed.
With its widespread popularity and nobel message, the "KONY 2012" campaign has gathered a fair share of critics, who have referred to the campaign as arrogant, and have suggested that "KONY 2012" simplifies a complex issue without informing viewers of the full historical or geopolitical context of the case.
"Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years," former Foreign Policy intern and Ph.D student at Oxford Michael Wilkerson wrote on a Foreign Policy blog.
He added, "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.
"Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren't important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands."
Chris Blattman, an assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Yale, described on his blog why he finds the campaign troubling.
"There's also something inherently misleading, naïve, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of saving Africa. It's often not an accidental choice of words, even if it's unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man's Burden," Blattman wrote. "The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long."
Others have made considerable mention that the Invisible Children has only gave 32 percent of its 2011 budget to direct services last year.
Invisible Children quickly responded to critics and skeptics, offering a list of explanations on its tumbler page.
"Invisible Children's mission is to stop LRA violence and support war affected communities in Central Africa," the organization said in its rebuttal while explaining why the campaign is focused on Uganda despite the fact that the LRA left the country in 2006.
"Invisible Children's mission is to stop Joseph Kony and the LRA wherever they are and help rehabilitate LRA-affected communities. The Ugandan government's army, the UPDF, is more organized and better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries (DRC, South Sudan, CAR) to track down Joseph Kony," the organization said.
"We've done [our] utmost to be as inclusive, transparent, and factual as possible." it added. "We have never claimed a 'desire to save Africa,' but instead an intent to inspire Western youth to 'do more than just watch.'"
Invisible Children started in 2003 when a group of three young filmmakers, all professing Christians, traveled to Africa "in search of a story," according to the nonprofit's website. The organization, co-founded by Jason Russell and Laren Poole, has its headquarters in San Diego and also has offices in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which it says are primarily managed and operated by staff from LRA-affected communities.
Calls to Invisible Children, which is not a faith-based organization, were not returned by time of press.