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Invisible Children's Kony 2012 movement goes viral

By Haley BeMiller
On April 1, 2012

Stop Kony. Kony 2012. Those messages flooded Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook after the video "Kony 2012" took over YouTube March 12.

The video was produced by Invisible Children, an organization famous for its drive to help Uganda, the Congo and other parts of Africa free themselves from the Lord's Resistance Army. The goal of the video is to make the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, famous. The organization hopes the viral spreading of his name and the movement will lead to his arrest in 2012.

According to Matthew Sebastian, a graduate student researching Northern Ugandan conflict studies, Invisible Children has been around since 2003. Each year, the organization does a tour with Ugandan and American representatives. Kony 2012 is this year's campaign, and it will culminate April 20 with "Paint the Night." Supporters will be encouraged to paint the streets with signs and information about Kony to spread the video's intended message even further.

"This is a long time coming," Sebastian said. "They've been involved since 2003."

Kony 2012 has more than 80 million hits on YouTube. Sebastian, who is also the president of DePaul's Invisible Children chapter, said the group met March 12 to premiere the video and discuss strategies for getting people's attention. However, with the help of celebrity tweets and social media, the Internet took care of that.

"This just absolutely exploded the whole thing," Sebastian said.

According to Sebastian, the video has provoked two opposing viewpoints. Some say Kony is evil and the United States needs to help regional troops combat him. Others believe Invisible Children is a scam that the U.S. should stay away from. Additionally, some opponents have raised questions about the organization's spending and marketing methods. However, Sebastian isn't convinced that these arguments - for or against the organization - are relevant to the conflict at hand.

"Neither one is actually talking about anything," he said. "Everyone feels like they have to say something."

However, some criticisms go deeper. Ogenga Otunnu, an associate professor in DePaul's history department, believes the video neglected other atrocities occurring in Africa. In particular, he said Uganda's leader, Yoweri Museveni, has perpetuated the rape and torture of unarmed civilians, while also enlisting children in his army.

"If the video released was accurate, timely and sought non-violent conflict resolution, it would have been a wonderful piece of work," he said. "However, it was none of the above. It failed to present the conflict in which the government of Uganda violently uprooted and kept almost the entire civilian population in Acholiland in concentration camps for over a decade."

"Where does the report the Social Science Research Council of New York-published two weeks before the video was released-that accused the Uganda army of atrocities against civilians in Central African Republic while on a mission to fight Joseph Kony and the LRA fit into the propaganda by the Invisible Children?" he added. "The title of the video should have been Museveni-Kony 2012."

Otunnu also said the video ignored demands by human rights groups to indict the LRA and Ugandan Army for war crimes. Because of Invisible Children's work with the Ugandan Army, he believes they chose to overlook its misdeeds.

"It is quite a tragedy that the Invisible Children wasted a golden opportunity to mobilize the world for social justice," he said. "It has undermined social activism by misleading tens of millions of well-meaning citizens of the world."

Since Invisible Children is designed to inspire a younger generation, Sebastian said the conflict itself has been simplified. However, he maintained that this is a great disservice. Many people, even supporters of Invisible Children, are largely unaware of the issue's complexities.

"There are so many geo-political forces going on in this conflict," he said. "We're asking the wrong questions."

Sebastian believes Invisible Children is now in a unique position and has a great opportunity to "push people beyond their own video" now that they "have 80 million people listening to them." He also stressed the importance of people educating themselves inside and outside of the organization.

"I don't think that's a difficult thing to do," he said. "There are a lot of resources out there. There's so much work out there that doesn't use Invisible Children as an object of analysis.

"I really want people to be bold in the way they learn more," he added.

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