Viewers of “Kony 2012” should look more deeply at the present needs of Uganda and other countries affected by the Lord's Resistance Army, according to Catholic Relief Services' regional representative.
“There are limits on what a quick video can do, in terms of relaying the message about the LRA and Joseph Kony,” said Art Kirby, Catholic Relief Services' regional representative for East and Southern Africa. “It's a complex issue that doesn't necessarily translate to a short video.”
He said the video “did a great job of raising awareness” about a group that has brought chaos and violence to several countries since its beginnings in Uganda during the 1980s. But he hopes viewers will take advantage of “other opportunities to learn about the conflict,” after their initial exposure.
Kirby coordinates the work of Catholic Relief Services and other groups in several regions affected by Joseph Kony's guerrilla army. He spoke to EWTN News March 14 about the strengths and weaknesses of an online campaign meant to publicize the warlord as a step toward stopping him.
His comments came amid a flurry of mixed responses to “Kony 2012,” a 30-minute video that has drawn more than 100 million viewers in under a month. It has been alternatively hailed as a groundbreaking use of new media, and criticized for its alleged omissions on key issues.
Critics say the video, produced by the U.S. organization Invisible Children, neglects to inform viewers that Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army are no longer in Uganda, and that Kony's forces – though notoriously brutal – now number in the hundreds, not the hundreds-of-thousands.
Officials at Catholic Relief Services have pointed out that the problem of the Lord's Resistance Army, known for kidnapping and brainwashing child soldiers, goes well beyond the actions of one man – and would not necessarily stop if he were captured or killed.
“Kony is obviously the face of the Lord's Resistance Army. He's also an indicted war criminal,” Kirby noted. “But there are arguments on either side – if Kony is captured or killed, whether that would mean the end of the LRA or not.”
“If you do get Kony, what happens to these other cells?” he wondered.
“It's not as if 300 to 600 people are moving together as one pack. These are smaller cells of combatants that are spread across a huge area of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.”
Catholic Relief Services has not taken a position on the U.S. military intervention advocated in “Kony 2012” – some of which began even before the video's release, when President Obama deployed 100 military advisers to central Africa starting in October 2011.
Instead, the Catholic humanitarian organization is working to promote defections from the Lord's Resistance Army. Church initiatives promote the forgiveness and reconciliation of former child soldiers, many of whom were once forced to kill their own family members and abduct other children.
Their return home “can often be an emotional and trying time. So CRS and the Church are concentrating on rehabilitating these children, reconciling them with their communities, and also making sure that they have the skills moving forward, to become successful citizens.”
Kirby suggested that the present needs of Uganda, and other countries to which the Lord's Resistance army has fled since 2006, cannot be summed up in the simple call to “Stop Kony.”
“If an organization is trying to raise awareness of an issue – and this is the issue Invisible Children focuses on – it's a natural starting point,” he said.
But he encouraged viewers to take a closer look at the issues, many of which are unlikely to be solved by U.S. military involvement.
“We're working with local churches to set up community-managed protection plans. It typically includes high-frequency radios or communications equipment that can serve as an early-warning system – not just for LRA attacks, but also for general protection concerns.”
“What we're focusing on in northern Uganda, is reconciliation and reconstruction efforts – to have former child soldiers returning to communities.”