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KONY 2012: A Global Trend

The YouTube video labeled “KONY 2012” has gained over eighty-five million views since its posting fewer than four weeks ago on March 4th. The video is a global phenomenon— according to YouTube demographics, “KONY” has been viewed in every country on Earth. The number of people watching this single film has been growing exponentially, and more awareness has been spread about the video’s cause than ever.

Shot by filmmaker Jason Russell, the video tells the story of Joseph Kony, the leader of a so-called Christian rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony claims to be led and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and considers himself a spiritual medium through which thirteen spirits and eight angels speak. He leads a campaign of terror in Uganda, and is dedicated to his goals of overthrowing President Yoweri Museveni and imposing a theocratic method of rule over the country, using the Ten Commandments (or his warped interpretation of them, anyway) as a single code of law.
Referred to as both the Messiah and the Devil, Kony and his army have killed, both directly and indirectly, an estimated one hundred thousand people. In his lifetime, Joseph Kony has captured anywhere between thirty and sixty thousand children to use as sex slaves and soldiers in his army. He has displaced over two million people through his and his army’s actions, and thousands of villages have been burned or otherwise destroyed at his hands. The statistic is sickening, and the actual situation is even worse.

Life is centered on fear and superstition in the Lord’s Resistance Army. One of Kony’s most used tactics for intimidation is through religion. “He’s something like a prophet,” says Grace Akallo, now sixteen, who was once a child soldier in Joseph Kony’s army. "When you enter, they smear you with shea nut oil,” she says. “They say that is protection. Then there is a ritual. They tell you, 'You do something, you dead. You think of escape, you dead . . . We already know your thoughts.'… It’s hard to hope.”

Generally, children targeted by Kony as future soldiers come from villages, kidnapped during the night. During the “reapings”, Kony and his soldiers often murder entire families so that soldiers will no longer have a home to go back to. Occasionally, captured children are forced to kill their own parents in an “initiation.” Abducted children are almost immediately separated from adult captives, and are quickly forced into an appalling system in which they are fed a steady diet of brutal violence, terror, and indoctrination. Children who survive are forced to kill adults or other children, most especially those who fail to conform to the LRA’s harsh system. The killings are near ceremonial in nature, and involve beating the victims with clubs until they die. Boys, upon being declared sufficiently “trained”, are most commonly used as fighters in the war, while girls are used as concubines and “wives” for the higher-ups of the LRA (Kony himself is rumored to have an estimated eighty-eight wives). Very often, children are used as pack-mules to carry supplies from one base to another until they collapse and are left to die. When officials feel the children need to be punished, they beat, rape, and kill them.

“KONY 2012” has been both harshly criticized and praised. While some refer to it as “superficial” and “irresponsible”, others are inspired. A movement known as “Cover the Night”, a plan to meet at sundown and blanket cities and towns with posters advertizing the movement against Joseph Kony, is scheduled to take place on April 20th, 2012, and some are even more suspicious for it (4/20 is a reference to marijuana smoking). To make it worse, the film’s director, Jason Russell, was arrested recently in San Diego for lewd behavior, including public nudity and vandalism, which does nothing but egg on detractors. The organization Invisible Children has been under fire as well. Fault-finders criticize the institution for using the majority of donations received on travel costs. However, the main goal of Invisible Children is education (rather than restoration) through the use of “film, creativity, and social action (Invisible Children).” Two-thirds of donations go toward the creation of films to educate the masses, while one-third is used in direct programs in affected areas. The method is both effective and deliberate.

“KONY 2012” has stirred up large amounts of conflict, most especially in Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army was originally formed (since then, the LRA has spread to four other African countries). On March 17th, Amama Mbabzi, the Prime Minister of Uganda, released a press statement addressing the newfound popularity of the YouTube sensation. In his video, Prime Minister Mbabzi openly declares that the entire “KONY” movement is, to put it shortly, both overblown and over-exaggerated. He states that the likes of issues seen in the film “KONY 2012” no longer exist in Africa, saying the following:

The Government of Uganda is acutely aware of the grievous damage [that] has been caused to our people by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. We do not need a slick video on YouTube for us to take notice. It is a tragedy that we have been dealing with for many years, and whose scars of which Uganda will bear for many years to come.

Joseph Kony has been an internationally wanted man since 2005, when the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, indicted him for war crimes against humanity, which include torture, rape, arbitrary detention, and unlawful killings. He has, however, evaded capture, and is believed to be hiding in the bush terrain between the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.




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