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The Struggle Against Joseph Kony Continues, Even In Silence

06/15/2017 09:32 EDT | Updated 06/15/2017 09:32 EDT

He is one of the world's most wanted criminals.

Twenty thousand children were abducted and one hundred thousand victims were slaughtered at the hands of his soldiers.

For decades, Joseph Kony was infamous in human rights circles. But he became a household name after the short film Kony 2012 called for an international effort to bring the Ugandan warlord to justice. Kony 2012 attracted over 100 million views within six days. When the film went viral, thousands of Americans lobbied Congress.

joseph kony

Passersby walk under a projection that is part of the non-profit organization Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" viral video campaign, in New York April 20, 2012. (Photo: Keith Bedford/Reuters)

The U.S. military was already partnered to support the Ugandan army in defeating Kony's militia. But the film brought broad public support for the mission. "This campaign was quite influential in the halls of power in Washington," confirms Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a recent BBC interview.

Five years later, the U.S. and Ugandan militaries are calling off the hunt. Kony remains at large. As U.S. troops board planes home and Ugandan troops return to their bases, Kony 2012 becomes a footnote in social media history, with some calling it a lesson in the limitations of Internet activism.

But while Kony may be free, his militia is broken and disorganized. Today it is a fractured band of about 100, although they still deploy brutal tactics as they struggle to survive.

"Back in 2006, the LRA was the biggest threat in the region. We've seen a massive drop-off," says Paul Ronan, senior policy advisor with Invisible Children, the group that produced Kony 2012.

What remains are the meaningful programs that have shown real impact in the communities that still suffer wounds inflicted by Kony and his group.

Invisible Children has been extremely effective reducing the LRA's numbers through its "come home" initiative, encouraging soldiers to defect, many of whom were abducted as children themselves. Radio programs feature recorded messages from soldiers' families, pleading with their loved ones to return. Pamphlets with family photos are airdropped along LRA travel routes. Eighty nine per cent of defectors from the LRA attribute their escape to these messages.


Unfortunately, as our global attention span wanes, some of the most vulnerable are abandoned.

"Many of the big NGOs have gone. Funding and attention has dried up," says Will Cragin, a public health expert with the World Health Organization who worked in Uganda and the Central African Republic, areas affected by the LRA.

Invisible Children is one of the few organizations still working with these communities. However, Ronan reports they also face increased difficulty securing funds to maintain programs like the radio broadcasts encouraging defection, as well as psychological support programs for LRA victims and survivors.

Meanwhile, Kony is still out there, and some worry the U.S. and Ugandan military departure may herald his comeback. The African Union is pleading for international help to continue fighting the LRA.

Public awareness helped squash an army. But it will take continued commitment to prevent history from repeating.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.  

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