Social media clearly has the potential to reshape the world in which we live, and not long ago Invisible Children, a non-profit organization which attempts to bring an end to the crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), took to the internet to harness this incredible tool. Numerous people have been inundated with invitations to the KONY 2012 Campaign, the Cover the Night event, and encouragement to watch a half-hour video on Youtube.
Invisible Children is not a new organization; it began with a documentary which was filmed in Uganda in 2003, and since has drawn substantial attention to the plight of children in the North of country. The LRA itself is far older, existing in one form or another from the late 1980’s until today, claiming thousands of lives, displacing hundreds of thousands and, most chillingly, abducting countless thousands of children for use as sex slaves and child soldiers.
The LRA was initially a rebel group bent on installing a Christian theocracy in Uganda; however, this initial aim has since been forgotten. What the Youtube video fails to mention is that, decades later, the LRA does not operate in Uganda, but rather can be found in the North-Eastern tip of the Democratic Republic of Congo, pockets of South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
It seems that Invisible Children has created the perfect viral storm; Facebook events are popping up in a number of major cities, and the Youtube video is swiftly gaining attention. It appears that the organization is attempting to emulate the success of Unwatchable, the big-budget viral video which depicted the sexual violence of Congo juxtaposed into a British home. The organization is citing 2012 as the year that, once and for all, the LRA threat will be extinguished. Examining this new viral campaign provides us with a number of insights into effective organizing strategies.
The campaign has made a number of excellent decisions in promoting itself. First and foremost, the production values in the KONY 2012 video are excellent. Anyone who has watched the original Invisible Children documentary will note the progress that has been made. The visuals are smart, and the images are evocative.
That said, the new video lacks some of the raw emotional impact of the first documentary. The film Invisible Children confronted viewers with a young boy named Jacob whose brother was killed by the LRA, as well as images of hundreds of children asleep and piled like firewood in a community centre in an attempt to avoid abduction. Undoubtedly though, the new video is a stirring call to action, and holds great emotional pull.
Invisible Children have also put most of their focus on Joseph Kony, the elusive leader who through charisma and sheer stubbornness has held his ragtag group of fighters together. Kony is indeed a menace, who has brutally murdered his own deputies in the past. Citing him as the focal point of the campaign appears to have paid off.
Invisible Children is also taking an innovative approach to social media. In addition to Facebook and Youtube, the group intends to target key voices in the realm of pop culture and policy making. The organization has identified 12 celebrities and 12 policy makers, including Rihanna, George Clooney, Stephen Harper and Bill Clinton. Though their choices are questionable, they feel that by focusing on these individuals, the organization will elicit enough support to maintain the United States’ assistance mission with the Ugandan military.
The final key strength of the campaign is the simplicity of the message: the arrest of Joseph Kony will bring an end to the suffering. This message is easy to comprehend and to undertake, but unfortunately it is also a weakness from a policy perspective.
Joseph Kony is indeed the focal point of the LRA, and has held together the organization and allowed it to persist for two and a half decades. At one point from the KONY 2012 video states that nobody supports the LRA; however, this ignores the key fact that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has offered support to the LRA to wreak havoc in South Sudan. With hostilities heating up again, the likelihood of continued support from Khartoum is very real.
Furthermore, removal of Joseph Kony will only be the beginning: disarming and reintegrating child soldiers is a terribly painful process. The social damage wrought by the LRA will not be quickly repaired.
The new campaign also overemphasizes Uganda. The LRA are no longer to be found in Uganda, where the rebel movement was formed. Instead, they are scattered across three of Africa’s poorest countries. The KONY 2012 video completely ignores the suffering in these countries, with no mention of such atrocities as the massacre of hundreds of Congolese civilians on Christmas Day 2008. This disproportionate emphasis on Uganda is another example of oversimplification of the situation, which was a frequent criticism of advocacy campaigns for Darfur.
For all its faults, the new Invisible Children campaign has the potential to make a significant impact. The Cover the Night event is an exciting opportunity to make a tangible impact in the fight against the LRA. If enough grassroots support can be solicited to keep American military advisors on the ground, there is hope that the local armies will find a way to bring Kony to justice.
Unfortunately, this has been tried before on numerous occasions. Uganda is the military power in the region, but Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic are all horribly impoverished and dealing with other insurgencies. Numerous military manouevers have tried and failed to capture the LRA leader. Stressing the need to remove Kony by 2012 is an admission by Invisible Children that the risk of fatigue is real: if tangible results are not forthcoming, the force behind the campaign may begin to dwindle.
Invisible Children have created a far-reaching social media campaign in an attempt to bring attention to an issue that has long been ignored in the mainstream media. We can only hope that 2012 is indeed the year that Joseph Kony is brought to justice for the terrible crimes that the LRA has committed. This past year, social media has toppled dictatorships and won elections; now, perhaps it can bring hope to a neglected and desperate corner of central Africa, and the children in need of a brighter future.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
Want to respond to this article? Send a letter to the Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).