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Joseph Kony 2012 Video Goes Viral, Invisible Children Highlights Lord's Resistance Army Atrocities

AP/The Huffington Post   First Posted: 03/ 8/2012 9:27 am Updated: 03/ 8/2012 9:58 am

SAN DIEGO (AP) — American filmmakers who reported on wartime atrocities in Africa for a 50-minute work called "Invisible Children" drew more attention than they imagined when their project was released in 2005. They soon founded a nonprofit organization to campaign against the brutality.

The group's new 29-minute video is gaining even more attention, thanks to social media. The work released Monday is part of an effort called KONY 2012 that targets the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony, a bush fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Uganda, Invisible Children and (hash)stopkony were among the top 10 trending terms on Twitter among both the worldwide and U.S. audience on Wednesday night, ranking higher than New iPad or Peyton Manning. Twitter's top trends more commonly include celebrities than fugitive militants.

Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's 28-year-old chief executive officer, said the viral success shows their message resonates and that viewers feel empowered to force change. It was released on the website,

"The core message is just to show that there are few times where problems are black and white. There's lots of complicated stuff in the world, but Joseph Kony and what he's doing is black and white," Keesey said Wednesday.

Kony's Ugandan rebel group is blamed for tens of thousands of mutilations and killings over the last 26 years. The militia abducts children, forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, and even to kill their parents or each other to survive.

However, according to The Guardian, the campaign's newfound attention has been accompanied by several criticisms of the NGO Invisible Children.

Musa Okwongo, a commentator for The Independent, took issue with the film's overly simplistic approach and failure to hold Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni accountable. He writes:

"Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration."

Foreign Affairs also points out US-based advocacy groups' exaggeration of Joseph Kony as a uniquely evil figure. "They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict," the magazine writes.

Despite these criticisms, the film successfully underscores the grisly killings, abductions, and rapes committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Kony's alleged crimes are undoubtedly horrific, and, as Ishaan Tharoor puts it in Time, "It’d be churlish to rebuke Invisible Children for wanting to help those afflicted overseas, while moving tens of thousands of previously apathetic Americans (at least to hit the re-tweet button) at home."

Read more about the organization Invisible Children from the Associated Press below:

Invisible Children occupies a small office tower in San Diego, where its three founders were raised. With a staff of about 40 and about 100 unpaid interns, the group trains people for six-week stints at its headquarters to spread the word of LRA atrocities.

Groups of five "roadies" fan out to college campuses and churches throughout the United States and Canada, sleeping at homes of strangers. One member of each group is from Africa and shares life experiences.

Tragedy struck in 2010 when an American member was among 74 people killed by explosions that tore through crowds watching the World Cup final in Uganda. Nate Henn was hit by shrapnel from one of the blasts.

Last year, the group began installing high frequency radios in Africa's remotest jungle to help track militia attacks in Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. People in areas without phones can report attacks on the radios to people who put them on a website called the LRA Crisis Tracker.

Keesey joined Invisible Children in 2005 after graduating from University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in applied mathematics, management and accounting.

"We thought it would be a short project, maybe a year or two, and now it's turned into eight or nine years," he said. "The purpose of this campaign is that 2012 is the year this crazy violence can stop."

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A Ugandan boy who goes by the name Ali Ali, sits in a hut and reveals the nearly-healed wounds inflicted as punishment for trying to escape from the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who had abducted him, at a center for victims of war in Gulu town, in Uganda's war-torn northern region, 285 miles north of the capital Kampala, Friday, March 20, 1998. Ali, who escaped from the rebels, had been one of the thousands of young Ugandans abducted and forced to fight alongside guerrillas of the LRA, a rebel group which operates from bases in neighboring Sudan. (AP)