Joseph Kony is not exactly a household name in the United States. Of course, few rebel leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are -- even ones like Kony, whom the International Criminal Court branded a war criminal. But one American filmmaker is determined to raise Kony's profile, for the express purpose of bringing him to justice.
Documentarian Jason Russell is shining the spotlight on Kony, who is the leader of the vile Lord's Resistance Army, a notoriously bloodthirsty group in Uganda that, in an effort to destabilize the government, turns young Ugandan girls into sex slaves and young boys -- more than 30,000 of them -- into cold-blooded killers in his force.
When the U.S. Congress told Russell that Kony didn't present enough of a financial threat or a security issue to pursue, Russell decided to form a nonprofit (Invisible Children), produce a film ("Kony 2012") and create a social-media campaign bent on toppling Kony, he says in the documentary. That strategy showcased its power this week. The film made its online world premiere Monday, and the hashtags #stopkony and the phrases "Uganda" and "Invisible Children" have each been a trending topic on Twitter in the last 24 hours -- sometimes two at the same time. Since press time, the film has been viewed more than 32 million times.
Russell founded Invisible Children in 2006, to reveal the suffering of Ugandan children to the world.
He galvanized a community of supporters to share the film with as many people as possible and brought the children forced into Kony’s army to the U.S. to speak. Through fundraising efforts, Russell’s organization was able to build schools, create jobs and develop an early-warning radio network to protect villagers from imminent attacks.
And when he returned to Congress, President Barack Obama moved to act. In October, he deployed 100 American military advisors to Uganda to help capture Kony, according to Russell's film.
"We used to think that we could not do it and now that I see that we can do it," Jolly Okot, Invisible Children's country director, said in the film when Obama announced his decision. "I am overwhelmed."
Russell's mission continues to gain considerable traction.
"Kony 2012" -- which details how Ugandan children live in fear of being abducted and are forced, among other horrific acts, to murder their parents -- has gone viral. And Invisible Children's online pledge to bring Kony to justice, which just went up online on Tuesday, has since already collected 105,000 signatures.
But the activist knows he can't get complacent.
In the film, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) tells Russell, "If we take the pressure off, if we're not successful, [Kony] is going to be growing his numbers. If interest wanes, it'll just go away. It's got to be 2012."
To fulfill his mission to capture Kony in the Ugandan jungle this year, Russell continues to open the eyes and minds of advocates who can spread the word and pressure the government to work even harder.
Part of the campaign also hinges on encouraging 20 cultural tastemakers and 12 policy makers, including the likes of Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey, to take a stand, Russell says in "Kony 2012."
"I'd like indicted war criminals to share the same celebrity as me," said George Clooney in the film. "That seems fair."
To get involved in the mission to make Kony a household name and a priority of the U.S. government, consider getting involved in the following ways:
"If the government doesn't believe that people care," Russell said in his film, "the mission will be canceled."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Kony 2012 is seeking the help of 20 culture makers and 20 policy makers. The campaign is targeting 20 culture makers and 12 policy makers