LOS ANGELES, Mar 9 – A viral campaign to bring accused Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony to justice has sparked a growing storm, with millions viewing an online video whose makers deny it oversimplifies the facts.
The hashtag “#stopkony,” about the fugitive head of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, has surged on Twitter and a 30-minute video has been viewed by over 40 million people in barely three days.
The White House has praised the campaign, while a string of celebrities have weighed in by tweeting links to the emotional video, “Kony2012,” and promoting the initiative by California-based non-profit group Invisible Children.
“Here’s the biggest problem. Do you wanna know what it is? Nobody knows who he is. He’s not famous. He is invisible,” said the documentary’s maker Jason Russell. “Here is how we are going to make him visible.”
The film has triggered a growing wave of support from the rich, famous and influential. “Good to see such strong interest in #stopkony – a key step to helping those most vulnerable,” tweeted Microsoft boss Bill Gates.
“Dear Joseph Kony, I’m Gonna help Make you FAMOUS!!!! We will stop YOU #StopKONY ! All 6,OOO,OOO of my followers RT NOW!!! Pls!” hip-hop icon and fashion mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs said on his Twitter feed @iamdiddy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney recalled that President Barack Obama announced in October he was sending some 100 military advisors to help Uganda and neighboring countries hunt down Kony, as part of a wider response.
“And I think that this viral video .. is part of that response — raising awareness about the horrific activities of the LRA,” Carney added.
But the Stop Kony campaign has not been without controversy.
The group has been criticized for using funds raised — some 70% or more by some accounts — for salaries, travel expenses and filmmaking. Watchdog Charity Navigator gave it a low two-star rating for lack of financial accountability.
Others question the timing of the campaign — coming six years after Kony and a diminished army of several hundred fighters left Uganda — a fact mentioned in passing halfway through the 30-minute film.
“Why now? What does it profit to market the infamy of a man already famous for his crimes and whose capture is already on the agenda?” Ugandan writer Angelo Izama wrote on his blog.
“To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement,” he added.
“While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era.”
Responding to the criticism, Invisible Children put a statement on its website saying it had been “publicly denouncing (the) atrocities” of the LRA since they left Uganda in 2006.
And it denied oversimplifying the facts, saying: “In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format.”
To this end the campaign has focused “on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights,” the group’s latest online statement said.
As for its finances, the group, founded in 2003, explained that its Accountability and Transparency score is currently two stars because it does not have independent voting members on its board of directors.
“We currently have four. We are in the process of interviewing potential board members,” it said.
Invisible Children also published details of its accounts online, showing that of the 9 million dollars in income last year, mostly from donations, 37 percent went directly into social programs in central Africa.
For the tens of thousands of people who have expressed support after viewing the video, the questions don’t appear to be a problem.
“Either way, I support the movement,” said a Twitter user with the handle @MDeGuuzzY.