Calgary teens are joining a global internet movement to find one of the world's most wanted criminal.
Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army is accused of kidnapping more than 66,000 children — many who ended up as sex slaves or child soldiers — and displacing over two million people in Uganda and neighbouring African countries.
Kony and other LRA leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and horrific war crimes.
He is featured in a viral YouTube video called Kony 2012, posted by a U.S.-based charity called Invisible Children earlier this week. The video has received roughly 27 million views since it went online.
“Its only purpose is to stop the rebel group the LRA and their leader Joseph Kony and I'm about to tell you exactly how we're going to do it,” states the video.
A lot of Calgary high school students are paying attention, especially on Facebook and Twitter.
“This morning on the bus we were talking about it," said Calgary teen Amrin Alam. "I think he should be stopped and more people should hear about the story."
The plan is to make Kony famous — not to celebrate him "but to bring his crimes to light." The Invisible Children campaign plans to target celebrities, athletes, billionaires, politicians and policy makers to help instigate change.
The charity also created action kits, stickers, posters and other features, like geotags.
Social media plays a big role
The Twitter hashtags #stopkony, #makekonyfamous and #kony2012 have been typed into thousands of tweets in an attempt to educate millions of people about Uganda and what is happening to children there.
Everyone participating in the campaign is urged to hang a poster of Kony in their community on April 20 in the hopes that all of that attention will pressure international governments to keep up the search for the warlord. So far, no Calgary group has been formed to organize the April 20 movement here.
Mark Wolfe, who teaches social media at Mount Royal University, said focusing on a single day and having a specific plan motivates people to take action.
“They've given themselves until 2012 to make this happen,” he said. “Plus they've picked a culmination day of April 20 for the awareness to sort of peak and that's what's a little different, that's what we didn't see in Occupy.”
But Wolfe says they're risking a lot of disappointment if Kony isn't found.
“It's all well and good to have a ground zero date where this is going to culminate and the world is going to wake up and see this everywhere, but then what,” he said.
But Calgary teen Ashley Howard has faith in the internet.
“If there's enough people that support it then there's an obligation to do something about it,” she said.
But with the video’s instant online fame, there are also critics questioning the charity's funding, the targeting of U.S. leaders instead of African leaders to spark change and accusations that it is failing to criticize the Ugandan government, which has a poor human rights record.
Bloggers at Innovate Africa, for instance, acknowledges the group's good intentions but question their tone and strategy. They call for more context and nuance, point out how much privilege and capital must have gone in to such a production, and call on the filmmakers to acknowledge all the Africans who have been organizing against the problem for years. These children were not invisible to everyone, they said.
There are also questions of exactly where Kony is, as the LRA reportedly operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic as well.