One month ago, the name “Joseph Kony” topped the International Criminal Court’s list of Most Wanted Men. He has appeared on this list for seven years.
Seven years as the ICC’s Most Wanted Man, however, has failed to gain the rebel Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army as much fame as two months on YouTube accumulated for celebrities like Justin Bieber and his song “Baby.”
It seems that Invisible Children, the organization dedicated to Kony’s capture, has taken note of this fact. Now, the group has a YouTube answer of its own.
With Joseph Kony as its central focus, the Kony 2012 video has become a social media sensation since its launch on March 5, pulling more than 100 million views in the first week.
Its staggering success makes it one of the most viral Internet videos of all time.
Amid a resounding flood of both criticism and praise, this viral social justice film has prompted scores of viewers to prepare for Kony 2012’s main initiative, an event called Cover the Night.
On April 20, participants will place posters, stickers and buttons bearing the name and image of this Ugandan exile in cities across the nation.
When Tulsa awakens on the morning of April 21, a group of ORU students hopes to give the city its own striking introduction to this infamous figure.
At a Social Justice Club meeting four days before the video premiered online, about 50 ORU students previewed Kony 2012 and heard firsthand from Invisible Children about this new campaign.
The 30-minute video provides a brief context about the central African conflict involving Kony and shows how viewers can help the pursuit of him.
It lists names of 20 “Culture Makers” and 12 “Policymakers” for viewers to target in raising awareness about Kony. The campaign pairs together allies as unlikely as Rihanna and Mitt Romney.
In light of last October’s legislation to send 100 American troops to central Africa to help find Kony, many believe that awareness is the key to catching this elusive criminal.
As part of the ORU initiative in this campaign, senior Amber Albrektsen said that the Social Justice Club plans to participate in the Cover the Night event. Albrektsen is the vice president of the club.
“We can actually do something history changing,” she said.
Though not directly involved with the Social Justice Club, sophomore John Weiand said he also plans to lead a group of students on April 20.
Their aim is simple: Make Kony famous.
“The only reason the American troops are there is because of the public outcry,” Weiand said.
He added that sustaining this outcry is needed to keep troops in Africa. Kony 2012 makes use of the power of media and social networking to raise the rebel’s notoriety.
While it has engaged a multitude of supporters, Kony 2012 is not without its share of critics. Part of the criticism eddies around claims that the video oversimplifies the problems in central Africa, particularly in its portrayal of Uganda.
ORU graduate and African missionary Tim Way lived in southern Uganda for nine years. Though he called the atmosphere of the south “very different” than the areas plagued by Kony in the north, Way has been to Gulu a number of times over the years. Invisible Children features Gulu as one of the places where thousands of people would come to sleep at night in the hope of being safe from the raiding LRA.
The city no longer serves this purpose. Ugandan forces drove out Kony and his rebel army in 2006, which some think the video underemphasizes.
“There are no more nightly walks into the safety of large towns,” Way said. “The refugee camps, which at one time were home to something like 2 million people, are closed. But there is still a lot of work to do.”
Though Kony is no longer in Uganda, the kidnappings continue.
Mark Bartels, director of the Uganda Studies Program at Uganda Christian University, explained that despite the nation’s progress, apprehension remains.
“Most [Ugandans] will say they won’t feel safe until Kony is apprehended or killed,” Bartels said.
This is where the U.S. troops come in—to help the African militaries find Kony in the African jungles.
Another criticism of the Invisible Children video regards the organization itself, particularly in light of the recent controversy surrounding its co-founder, Jason Russell. At the center of this controversy rests a video of Russell nude in a residential area, yelling at cars in what medical officials have called a stress-induced mental breakdown.
Weiand, like many Kony 2012 participants, said that Russell’s personal problems are irrelevant to the purpose of the video and do not “change its mission.”
Weiand plans to print 1,000 stickers and 1,000 posters bearing the name and image of Kony to place on mailboxes, light poles, power poles and high traffic areas in Tulsa.
In going into the Tulsa community to combat a problem 8,000 miles away, he said that this campaign gives ORU students a chance to step outside the bubble of their daily lives.
“It has made people think about what is going on in the world,” Weiand said. “We live in a world that is so interconnected that there’s this risk of becoming those people who know [of atrocity] and do nothing.
“I don’t want that to be my legacy.”