March 7, 2012
Why Joseph Kony Is Trending (And What Invisible Children Wants with Rick Warren and Tim Tebow)
(UPDATED) A new campaign is raising questions about advocacy in an attempt to get the head of the Lord's Resistance Army arrested.
Update (Apr. 3, 2013): The Obama administration is now offering a $5 million bounty on Joseph Kony, though a joint manhunt for the warlord has been stopped because of the rebel takeover of his suspected hiding place: the Central African Republic.
CT examined Kony in a 2006 cover story on why Ugandan children were killing each other in the name of the Lord, and reported how churches responded to an amnesty offer. CT also ran reactions to Invisible Children's advocacy on Kony 2012, including how the Golden Rule should apply.
A viral video has captured widespread attention across social media outlets over an effort to arrest Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army that abducts and forces children to become soldiers.
A 30-minute video from the nonprofit Invisible Children has more than 15 million hits on YouTube and Vimeo since it was posted on March 5. The KONY 2012 campaign targets 20 celebrities (including megachurch pastor Rick Warren and outspoken Christian NFL quarterback Tim Tebow) and a dozen policymakers to spread the word.
Bloggers like Matthew Paul Turner and Rachel Held Evans shared the video, but the two have since pulled back. In response to some challenges from others over Invisible Children's role, Evans pulled her post and Turner updated his to note the responses.
The campaign raises questions about advocacy, media attention, and how money should best be spent to fight injustice.
On a widely circulated Tumblr page, Acadia University (Canada) student Grant Oyston rounded up criticisms of the KONY 2012 campaign, saying that Invisible Children supports the Ugandan army, which is accused of raping and looting those in their own country. Oyston also questions whether money should go to support an organization focused on advocacy and film making.
An Invisible Children employee addressed the criticisms in an interview with the Washington Post, emphasizing the awareness the video created. “There is only so much policymakers and foundations can do,” he said. “The film has reached a place in the global consciousness where people know who Kony is, they know his crimes." The video includes clips of the narrator talking to his young son in an attempt to explain the Lord’s Resistance Army and Kony to a global audience.
Last year, Foreign Affairs challenged strategies nonprofits like Invisible Children use to raise awareness, suggesting groups have manipulated facts. Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children three out of four stars overall, four stars financially, and two stars for accountability and transparency.
Washington Post columnist Mike Gerson has lauded the Obama administration's previous efforts to get Kony. At the time, Rush Limbaugh said Obama was planning “to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda." Michele Bachmann warned against “unnecessary foreign entanglements,” but also said, “I do not know enough about it to comment on it.”
Christianity Today profiled Kony in 2006, noting how he twists religious texts.
Kony, 41, envisions an Acholiland ruled by a warped interpretation of the Ten Commandments. He uses passages from the Pentateuch to justify mutilation and murder. He promotes a demonic spirituality crafted from an eclectic mix of Christianity, Islam, and African witchcraft.
Any resemblance to these religions is superficial: While the army observes rituals such as praying the rosary and bowing toward Mecca, there is no prescribed theology in the conventional sense.