Viral video shines a spotlight on an African rebel group

STUTTGART, Germany- The goal was to make him famous, and in less than a week a group of activists have done just that.

Joseph Kony, the mysterious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army—a rebel group that has spent more than 20 years wreaking havoc in central Africa—is on the brink of becoming a household name.

On Monday, the activist group Invisible Children released a 30-minute video that has now gone viral with the help of numerous celebrity endorsements on social media. With everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kim Kardashian tweeting encouragement, views of the video have soared. Currently, there have been more than 50 million views on Youtube and Vimeo, bringing unprecedented awareness to a relatively obscure African rebel group.

The video, KONY 2012, tells the story of the LRA and its long history of violence in the jungles of Africa, where Kony’s forces are notorious for abducting children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. The video aims to raise awareness as part of an attempt to keep pressure on U.S. policymakers, who in recent years have taken a number of steps in trying to target the LRA and its leadership.

Without such pressure, there is a chance that the U.S., which recently deployed 100 combat-equipped military advisers to the region, could lose interest, the video suggests. Last month, Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, commander of Special Operations Command Africa, said while the military mission has had some early success, the deployment of U.S. troops to four separate central African countries isn’t intended to last forever. “We do not have a specific timeline with this mission, nor is it open-ended,” said Losey.

However, advocates hope to see that timeline extended for as long as possible.

In a March 7 letter to President Barack Obama, Invisible Children made its intentions clear: “First, we encourage you to sustain the deployment of U.S. advisors until the LRA no longer poses a serious threat to civilians,” the letter stated. “Though no serious gains have been made in reducing the LRA’s threat to civilians in the months since the advisors were deployed, reports from LRA defectors – and data showing a marked decrease in LRA attacks in the second half of 2011 – indicate that heightened U.S. and international interest may nonetheless be deterring the group from committing large-scale attacks. Premature withdrawal of the advisors would jeopardize these gains and likely trigger drawdowns in the efforts of other governments as well.”

Whether the video is just a short-lived Web phenomenon or the start of a larger campaign to do more in central Africa remains to be seen. But on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited the effort to “shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA.”

“As you know, hundreds of people – hundreds and thousands of people around the world, especially young people, have been mobilized to express concern for the communities in central Africa that have been placed under siege by the LRA,” Nuland told reporters. “So the degree to which this YouTube video helps to increase awareness and increase support for the work that governments are doing, including our own government, that can only help all of us.”




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