In 2012, Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony was made infamous by a short online film intending to raise awareness and lead to his arrest. Three years later, why is he still at large, and will he be captured?
Jason Russell’s Kony 2012 video redefined the meaning of going viral. Within 5 days, it had 120 million views. People took to the streets, millions of posters were printed, and Joseph Kony’s name became known world-wide. He would have to be captured by the end of that year.
2012 came and went. The campaign’s ambitious goal of capturing the warlord fell flat. The world did not end. Joseph Kony’s name is no longer trending.
It has been over three years since the world was briefly captivated by Joseph Kony. Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group operating in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The group’s crimes include sex slavery, mass murder, and the abduction of thousands of children—children who were made child soldiers. The short film Kony 2012, made by an NGO called Invisible Children, exposed Kony’s war crimes and galvanised support. Over $32 million was raised in the effort to track down and arrest Kony. This money ramped up on-the-ground efforts in Uganda and increased Invisible Children’s staffing to 300. Obama committed money and troops to the cause. And yet, he has not been found.
So what happened to all the sensationalism surrounding Kony? And where is he?
The bad news is that Kony is still on the loose. Kony has now been waging brutal guerrilla warfare against Uganda for almost a quarter of a century. The LRA is still launching attacks across the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kony and the LRA have dropped off a media which is now dominated by news of IS and Syrian refugees. Abou Moussa, the head of the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa, cautions that Kony regularly moves around the forested region that straddles the borders of Sudan, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, and that most of the Army’s activity is now in the Central African Republic. He obviously hasn’t been arrested, remarks Michael Hayworth from Amnesty International. Kony has been evading warrants for his arrest since 1994.
There have, however, been significant improvements since the Kony 2012 campaign. According to Invisible Children, the number of LRA attacks in the Congo fell dramatically—by about 44 per cent—in 2013. Mass child abductions have also decreased. Key LRA commanders, bodyguards, and a deputy leader have been killed or have defected, splintering the group’s power and support. Over a hundred women and children have been rescued from captivity. Some now estimate the LRA’s strength at less than 200. In 2014, Kony purportedly sent a letter to a Ugandan newspaper seeking forgiveness for his actions.
The future of the Lord’s Resistance Army is bleak. Moussa thinks that Kony’s capture is coming “pretty soon.” Although the sensationalism of Kony 2012 has long been forgotten by the media and by the world, the progress that was made towards the end of the LRA is notable. Kony’s forces are now a shadow of their former selves. However, there is still much to be done to fully eradicate the last strongholds of the rebel group. The next steps involve capturing and controlling LRA safe-houses and cutting off the sources that fund their arms and supplies by cracking down on ivory trafficking and sales of lucrative elephant bush meat.
The filmmaker of Kony 2012, Jason Russell, is still involved with Invisible Children. Last year, the organisation flier-bombed areas occupied by the LRA providing recruits with instructions on how to peacefully surrender. Despite waning international pressure and interest, momentum to dispel the threat of the rebels has only built. This must continue. Counter-LRA efforts are proving effective in part due to global awareness which the Kony 2012 video raised.
The limelight cast upon the devastation wrought by Kony’s army over the last few decades has faded, and so has the power of the LRA. Although it may be three years later than expected, Kony’s capture seems inevitable. The downfall of this organisation signals the end of Kony’s terrorising grip over these unstable regions. Although the ambitious goal of capturing Kony in 2012 went unfulfilled, the massive, global mobilisation spurred by social media has been critical to transforming Kony into an infamous afterthought three years later.