By DeWayne Wickham
Filmmaker Jason Russell says the goal of his searing video about Joseph Kony, which got more than 70 million YouTube hits within a week, is to make the guerrilla leader famous. By that, I think he really means he wants to use the 30-minute documentary to make Kony infamous in cyberspace.
Kony has long been a pretty notorious guy. Over the past two decades he’s kidnapped tens of thousands of children. The boys are forced to fight in his army. The girls become sex slaves. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony. Last year, the African Union labeled his group a terrorist organization.
Shortly before leaving office, President George W. Bush sent 17 counterterrorism advisers to help capture Kony, who was hiding in a Congo national park. He got away.
In October, the Obama administration ordered 100 U.S. military advisers into central Africa to train the military forces trying to track down Kony. But so far he remains elusive.
Russell hopes his documentary, Kony 2012, will help bring the international fugitive to justice. “Its only purpose is to stop the rebel group, LRA, and their leader, Joseph Kony,” Russell says in the video’s opening sequence.
His plan to do this is simplistic, if not naive. Russell encouraged the video’s millions of Internet viewers to send messages via Twitter to 20 “culturemakers” and 12 “policymakers” — people he believes can pressure the Obama administration to keep the U.S. military advisers in central Africa until Kony is apprehended.
His list of policymakers includes two people who need no introduction — former presidents Bush and Bill Clinton — and at least two others — Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R-Fla. — who are far from household names and pack little clout with the Democrat in the Oval Office. Among the “culturemakers” Russell wants people to inundate with tweets calling for no end to U.S. military support of the search for Kony until he is captured is Oprah Winfrey, Bill O’Reilly, Taylor Swift and Rush Limbaugh.
That’s right, Limbaugh.
Back in October, the conservative talk show host berated President Obama for sending the military advisers to central Africa. The “Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians,” Limbaugh said at the time. “They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to…kill them.”
Alright, so maybe Russell’s plan is even more naive than simplistic. Even so, that’s not likely to stop large numbers of people from taking up his cause. Sure the world will be a far better place without Kony trolling about central Africa unleashing his violence on defenseless people. But the commitment from this country to bring him to justice, despite the message of the video, is both longstanding and surprisingly bipartisan. So there’s no need to cajole the president and congressional leaders.
“The documentary is guilty of promoting the sins of the old media,” Charles Stith, a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania said. His point is that like mainstream media organizations, it focuses too much on what is wrong with Africa and not enough on the changes taking place in Africa that have helped make Kony a pariah.
“Ten years ago there were only 11 democratically elected leaders of African countries,” said Sthti, who now heads the African Presidential Archives & Research Center at Boston University. “Today there are 33.”
It’s this change that is “tightening the noose around Kony’s neck,” he said. And it is the good news story of Africa that continues to be largely ignored.