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Byron Shire
June 15, 2024

Can PR campaign help capture a monster?

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Hans Lovejoy

Heard of Kony 2012? If you’ve been on Facebook this week you most likely would have seen a call to arms against Joseph Kony, one of the most evil fuckers on the planet.

He tops the most wanted list from the ICC (International Criminal Court), and is leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerilla group, comprising mainly children. For 20 years he’s been at war with the Ugandan government and is well known for countless abductions, rapes, mutilations, enslavements and murders. In perhaps the first time in history, a global action is gathering force against a brutal psychopathic tyrant.

Armchair activism

Kony 2012 is a 28-minute film that has been watched more than 71,914,203 times on YouTube. It says it wants to redefine ‘the propaganda that we listen to and watch every day’ and aims to keep up the political pressure to bring him to justice.

And it’s an impressive campaign; the PR advertising spin and slick video production is akin to an election strategy, and, like an election, it even has a cut-off date: April 20.

Filmmaker Jason Russell and his NGO, Invisible Children, say they seek to make Kony ‘famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice. In this case, notoriety translates to public support.’

The NGO also says real change has been enacted through legislation. ‘We have lobbied congress on multiple occasions, but especially in 2009 and 2010 which led to the passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.’

In October last year, US president Obama sent 100 ‘military advisors’ to assist in tracking Kony.

But controversy has erupted, causing many to ask whether this gives the Ugandan government – with its own record of human abuses – more power. In November last year, The US Department of State [www.state.gov] reported, ‘The United States is concerned about Uganda’s deteriorating human rights record’.

It’s hard to argue that the abuses of the LRA are far worse than those of Uganda’s security forces, however. The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Flock says this week, ‘Over the past two decades, the LRA made it common practice to enter towns and kill the adults, take the male children as soldiers, and sexually abuse the female children’. It’s a complex, unstable, war-torn and tribal region.

Local human rights activist Kirsty Sked knows firsthand the devastating effect of Kony and his army of children. She has travelled to the region 11 times in the last seven years and is planning a trip in 2013. ‘I travel as an independent, which means I can move more freely and be allied more closely with ex-child soldiers,’ she says.

Fewer attacks

While supporting the efforts of Invisible Children to raise awareness, she is quick to point out that some of its facts are out-of-date. ‘Uganda is not engaged in an active war anymore, and the night commuting [for children to safe houses] and large-scale abductions are not happening there.’

She says it now happens in smaller numbers in Sudan and in the Congo, and despite Kony now laying low with fewer attacks, he is ‘most likely regrouping or even conceding that he won’t be able to overthrow the government.

‘The jungles bordering the Congo (DRC) are his safe haven – they think he moves between Southern Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR).

‘A formalised agreement between Uganda, Sudan and Congo began in 2010 to stop him moving between countries but it seems to have had little effect.’

As for arming or assisting the Ugandan and Congolese governments, she says, ‘No developing country is devoid of corruption’.

‘As for what happens in the Congo, it makes Uganda’s government look pretty stable.’

At the very least, millions of people now know something about Uganda and the Congo and what is happening to children there.

‘He needs to be captured; if he doesn’t he will continue to abduct kids,’ Kirsty adds. ‘We need to know and care about what goes on in our world and this publicity can only be positive.’


Image: Jason Russell and fellow NGO members with a photo they later regretted. ‘Let me start by saying that that photo was a bad idea,’ he says on his website. ‘We were young and we got caught up in the moment. It was never meant to reflect on the organisation… And we still don’t want war. We don’t want him killed and we don’t want bombs dropped. We want him alive and captured and brought to justice.’ Photo Glenna Gordon

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