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Internet activism: Can ‘Kony 2012' viral video help Uganda?

SHARE Internet activism: Can ‘Kony 2012' viral video help Uganda?
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2006 file photo, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland at Ri-Kwamba in southern Sudan. A video by the advocacy group Invisibl

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2006 file photo, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony answers journalists’ questions following a meeting with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland at Ri-Kwamba in southern Sudan. A video by the advocacy group Invisible Children about the atrocities carried out by jungle militia leader Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is rocketing into viral video territory and is racking up millions of page views seemingly by the hour.

Stuart Price, File, Pool, Associated Press

They set out to get the world talking about Joseph Kony, and, in less than a week, most agree the San Diego filmmakers behind a 30-minute video describing the African warlord's crimes have accomplished just that. Since the film, called "Kony 2012," hit the Web Monday, it has attracted more than 70 million views on YouTube, the attention of all the nation's major media outlets and the support of a slew of celebrities, including Oprah and Justin Bieber.

But while the video, produced by the nonprofit Invisible Children, has undoubtably lit Twitter and Facebook on fire, some question whether it will lead to positive change for Africa.

Set in Uganda, the video describes how Kony, as leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, has kidnapped as many as 30,000 children and forced them to fight his battles as child soldiers. In conclusion, it asks viewers to pressure the U.S. government to support Uganda in its quest to arrest Kony.

Critics point out, though, after years on the run, Kony's army now numbers in the hundreds. The LRA left Uganda several years ago, moving on to terrorize villages in Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

"It is the right message but it's 15 years too late, " Col. Felix Kulayige, a Ugandan military spokesman, told CNN. "If people cared 15 years ago, then thousands of lives would have been saved and thousands of children would have stayed at home and not been kidnapped."

Some argue the campaign is distracting from the current issues facing Uganda.

"Hardly anyone in Uganda is talking about him (Kony)," wrote international journalist Dayo Olopade in an op-ed piece for The New York Times. "I spent most of February in Kampala and environs, and there Kony was a whisper on nobody's lips. Even since the United States sent 100 Special Forces to Central Africa in the fall to assist in the chase, both he, and the LRA, remain far from a mainstream concern."

These days, Ugandans are terrorized by other concerns like oil, the economy and an unusual neurological disease that is killing hundreds of children, Olopade wrote. The kinds of problems facing Uganda now are "less sexy than the horror stories trailing behind Kony," she wrote. "But they are the nut worth cracking."

In Uganda, well-known social critic Timothy Kalyegira lamented the film's lack of "historical context." He said the video glosses over the fact that Kony originally set out to wage war against Uganda's army, which has also been condemned for a brutal human rights record. In pursuit of Kony, the United Nations has accused the Ugandan government of committing genocide.

Ugandan politician Ogenga Latigo said Invisible Children's approach to Uganda's troubles was too simplistic.

"Theirs is a narrow perspective," he told the Associated Press. "They just want the war to end so that children can go back home. That is all."

In an official statement, Invisible Children admitted the nuances of Uganda's 26-year conflict were lost in the half-hour film, but they argued it was necessary to simplify the situation in order to capture the public's attention.

"The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper in learning about the make-up of the LRA and the history of the conflict," the statement read.

While the organization condemned the Ugandan government's part in the war, it maintained "the only feasible way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments."

The campaign's success — especially with the under-25 crowd — has baffled human rights advocates who have been fighting to raise awareness about Africa for years. Many stand behind "Kony 2012."

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, where Kony is wanted for war crimes, said the "Kony 2012" campaign is "incredible, exactly what we need."

Invisible Children's ability to inspire the masses to engage on an issue that has historically been pushed to the periphery of American foreign policy priorities is impressive, wrote Sara Margon, associate director for sustainable security at American Progress.

"To be clear, factual ambiguity, exaggeration or oversimplification is an unacceptable practice," she wrote. "It doesn't help the cause and in some cases can actually cause harm to those we're trying to help as advocates are ill-informed and/or confused."

But, Margon pointed out, "The idea that Americans can only speak out if they have 20 years of experience on the ground is as silly as it is undemocratic. Citizens have every right to express concerns about a tragedy far from our shores while expecting that appropriate expertise will be brought to bear by their elected officials."