In our Children and War class Thursday we watched the 2003 film Invisible Children about a group of young Americans who travel to Uganda and become shocked by the horrid conditions suffered by especially the children of northern Uganda. At that time Uganda had been enmeshed in a war for over 17 years as a pseudo-religious group called the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) fought the government.
The roots of the LRA started with a woman named Alice Lakwena, who was supposedly was possessed by a spirit that gave her messages. Uganda is a very spiritual society, and the idea of a person with a connection to the spirit world can be very powerful. From that group arose Joseph Kony who claimed to be related to her. In essence the uprising started as a revolt by the Acholi people against the government. Kony’s forces were beaten back and he shifted towards harsh tactics of using children to fight.
Children would be kidnapped, trained to become brutal killing machines (starting often under age 10) and used to terrorize anyone not supporting the LRA. Estimates vary on the number of children abducted, but it certainly has been over 30,000. Children were told that if they covered their bodies with oil they could not be harmed by bullets (if someone was shot, that person had obviously disobeyed the spirit) and that God was on their side.
The film Invisible Children follows a group of children who come into the city to sleep, walking miles each way from home because they fear being abducted at night. They’re also in danger en route, and conditions in the city are horrific – they sleep crammed together wherever they can find shelter. The film became a hit – the film makers founded the Invisible children campaign with a website to raise money to help these children.
The publicity seems to have worked. The US Senate unanimously approved condemnation of the LRA, and aid to help Uganda recover from the war. In 2011 President Obama sent American forces to Uganda to advise the Ugandan military in how to destroy the LRA completely and capture Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The Invisible Children organization now have a new film, focused on Kony, to try to get people to know what’s been going on and the importance of capturing a man who destroyed the lives (and psychological well being) of so many people, including tens of thousands of children.
It starts with the factoid that more people are now on Facebook than were on the planet 200 years ago. It’s an overt effort to create a social media phenomenon – to show how individuals sharing ideas can change the world. For them, the goal is to make it impossible for Joseph Kony to be able to avoid punishment, and to create global consensus about the evil of the LRA and Joseph Kony the man.
The message is zooming across Facebook, blogs and social media. Students are informed, asking questions, and planning events. The Youtube video has 43 million hits as of March 8th. The goal isn’t just to bring Joseph Kony to justice, but to demonstrate the power of new media to change the world. Thanks to social media and the information revolution it’s possible to get more people than ever to see African children as just as human and important as American children. This could start a kind of revolution wherein problems once ignored or deemed intractable get solved because people demand they get solved.
Posters are popping up everywhere, students are educating themselves about Uganda, African politics, and child soldiers. Young Americans who thought that too much homework was a human rights violation now confront the reality of how horrible conditions are for children living in places with war and conflict. Boys forced to kill parents, young girls turned into sex slaves, all base on his own ambitions. Because of his atrocities he was the first person indicted by the International Criminal Court.
Nobody can defend Kony…will, almost nobody. That’s right – Rush Limbaugh defends Joseph Kony. According to Limbaugh, President Obama is siding with the Muslim government in Uganda against Christians – Obama wants to target Christians, according to Limbaugh. Wow. Compared to this, the Fluke comment is small potatoes. Rush Limbaugh defends one of the most heinous criminals in recent history — far worse than Osama Bin Laden — and labels the LRA “Christian”? (Note: I got that from Huffington Post – apparently Rush defended Kony in 2010, I thought he was doing it now.)
Republicans have been quick to condemn Limbaugh on this latest gaffe, it’s so over the top it is indefensible. But if it wasn’t for the power of social media, people wouldn’t even be talking about this.
Where will it go? Will Kony get arrested in 2012? Will the youth discover the power of social media and use it not just to tweet about celebrities but to be able to create momentum to start social movements that will change the world?
The first test will be April 20th, when they want to “cover the world” with Kony posters and signs, getting his name out and noticed. It could well be that Kony 2012 will be remembered as a symbolic first step into a new world where news of atrocities and evils no longer stays hidden, pushed aside by celebrity gossip and media organizations that ignore anything in the third world. Maybe we’re seeing not just a ‘game change’ in the case of the LRA and Joseph Kony, but in the very form of global politics and activism. We live in interesting but also exciting times! Or as the video says:
“We have reached a crucial time in history, where what we do or don’t do right now will affect every generation to come. Arresting Joseph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules. That the technology that has brought our planet together is allowing us to respond to the problems of our friends…we are not just studying human history, we are shaping it.”