While Kony 2012 was being released, I was working with Invisible Children staff and community leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on civilian protection initiatives. I was astonished to see the view count climb into the millions. None of us expected that a 29-minute film about Joseph Kony would go viral -- or that the backlash would include criticisms that Invisible Children was unaware of the current location of his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), when, in fact, our work has extended into currently affected regions of central Africa over the last two years.
What was perhaps most surprising to see in the wake of Kony 2012 was the misperception that the LRA are still in Uganda. Kony 2012 does portray the LRA's movement away from Uganda into the DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan (minute 15:01), and a quick look at the LRA Crisis Tracker leaves no doubt about the LRA's current area of operation. Yet somehow the message in the film fell short of getting the point across. Perhaps it was due to the focus on a young Ugandan who was affected by the conflict, or perhaps it is driven by the unfortunate fact that only 20 percent of viewers actually watched the entire film, and the rest may have missed a few crucial details.
There has been much discussion about the video's impact in the days since Kony 2012 launched, but unfortunately almost none of the opinions have come from the three countries currently affected by the LRA. The insight of local leaders in the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan has been largely excluded from the broader conversation, as has their viewpoint on the apprehension of LRA leadership in 2012, and it is clear that the discussion needs to expand.
Kony 2012 is undoubtedly simplified. It is, after all, a short film geared toward high school and college students. It was also designed for the Internet, where attention spans are notoriously short. But the backlash criticizing the film for being oversimplified misses the point -- Kony and his top commanders are still committing atrocities today in central Africa with impunity, and international efforts to stop him have not succeeded.
Delving deeper into the issue quickly reveals its complexity. The LRA have become masters of evasion and survival, eluding regional forces by weaving between country borders and veiling their tracks among those of nomadic herders. They are much smaller in number than they were a decade ago, and yet the atrocities they commit against the civilian population remain devastating. Since 2008, the LRA has abducted more than 3,400 civilians, killed more than 2,400 others, and displaced more than 400,000 people from their homes. The history of the conflict is complex, and the solutions require a multifaceted response from an array of humanitarian and security actors. A 29-minute Internet video will inevitably fall short of addressing these nuances.
What is not complex, and what the film appropriately simplifies, is the morality of the issue. For 26 years, Kony has perpetrated some of the most egregious human rights abuses on the planet, with total impunity. This idea justly demands the world's attention, and in the simplicity of Kony 2012, the film has garnered just that. The film is a gateway to learning more about the conflict, its background, and involvement in broader social issues around the world.
In their rush to point out Invisible Children's oversimplification of the LRA, the critics made an error -- an oversimplification of Invisible Children itself.