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Linda Thomas

Making Joseph Kony a household name

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Who is Joseph Kony? A filmmaker wants the world to know that name, and the crimes he's accused of, with the hope of bringing the Ugandan warlord down by the end of this year.

In 2003, Jason Russell traveled to Africa to document the genocide in Darfur but instead uncovered a conflict that he said shocked him. He learned of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group fighting the Ugandan government for decades.

JosephKonyJoseph Kony leads the LRA. The international community says he's guilty of brutal war crimes and kidnapping 30,000 children and using them as soldiers, forced laborers and sex slaves.

On the first of many trips to Africa, Russell met Jacob. The boy told him, "It is better when you kill us."

He did not want to stay on earth because there was "no one taking care of us." He said he witnessed his brother's death as a member of the LRA slashed his throat. Through Jacob's sobbing, Russell tried to tell him he would "be okay."

"Everything in my heart told me to do something, and so I made him a promise," says Russell. "We are going to do everything that we can to stop them."

Russell came back to the United States and thought members of Congress and the President would be able to do something about the deaths of the children of Uganda.

"Everyone in Washington we talked to said there's no way the United States will ever get involved in a conflict where international security or financial interests aren't at stake," he says in a 30 minute video that has now had more than 26 million views online.

The video includes a picture of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany concentration camps, with this narration from Russell:

It's hard to look back on some parts of human history, because when we heard injustice we cared, but we didn't know what to do. Too often, we did nothing. But if we're going to change that we have to start somewhere. So we're starting here with Joseph Kony. Because now we know what to do. Here it is, ready? In order for Kony to be arrested this year the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in. (President Obama sent 100 U.S. military troops to Uganda in October of 2011). But if the government doesn't believe the people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be cancelled.

Russell's son is featured throughout the video as he explains what is going on in Uganda. Toward the end of the video, Russell explains the "biggest problem" to his son.

"Nobody knows who he is," says Russell.

"But I know who he is," says the little boy, "because I see him on this picture right now."

"He's not famous," Russell responds. "He's invisible."

That launches the multi-media effort to make Kony visible. Russell, and his organization Invisible Children, want to make Kony a "celebrity." Not to celebrate him, but to bring his crimes to the light. He says Kony is aware of the efforts to capture him. He continues his strategy of killing, mutilating, and abducting civilians in other areas of Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

Although Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, his whereabouts are unknown.

Along with sharing the video around the world, Russell's team plans to cover cities - including Seattle - on April 20th with posters of Joseph Kony, a name and likeness "99 percent of the world doesn't know," he says.

The hashtag #StopKony was trending in the number one spot on Twitter as celebrities, including Justin Bieber, posted links to the film and encouraged others to get involved.

Some are not on board with the campaign. The Council on Foreign Relations has concerns with the charity and the new campaign. It says Invisible Children has "manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful."

The video doesn't refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fuelling fueling the conflict."

It says there's no doubt Kony is "evil" and awareness of the situation is good, but says, "these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren't of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow."

By Linda Thomas

Stuart Price/AP photo of the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, in 2006.

About Linda
Linda is the morning news anchor and features reporter for KIRO Radio. This is her local news blog, with an emphasis on social media, technology, Northwest companies, education, parenting, and anything else that grabs her attention.

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