Joseph Kony is not exactly a household name in the United States. Of course, few rebel leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are -- even ones like Kony, whom the International Criminal Court has branded a war criminal. But one American filmmaker is determined to raise Kony's profile, for the express purpose of bringing him to justice.
Documentarian Jason Russell is shining the spotlight on Kony, who is the leader of the vile Lord's Resistance Army, a notoriously bloodthirsty group in Uganda that sows fear in the Ugandan people -- through pillaging, rape, and murder -- in an effort to destabilize the Ugandan government. The LRA turns young Ugandan girls into sex slaves and young boys -- more than 30,000 of them -- into cold-blooded killers in his force.
When the U.S. Congress told Russell that Kony didn't present enough of a financial threat or a security issue to go after, Russell formed a nonprofit (Invisible Children), produced a film ("Kony 2012") and created a social-media campaign bent on toppling Kony. That strategy has showcased its power this week. The film was made its online world premiere Monday, and the hashtags #stopkony and the phrases "Uganda" and "Invisible Children" have each been a trending topic on Twitter in the last 24 hours -- sometimes two at the same time. At press time, the film had received nearly 250,000 Facebook likes.
Russell founded Invisible Children in 2006. The organization uses storytelling to inform and galvanize. It was this type of advocacy tool that pressured President Barack Obama to act, which he did by deploying 100 American military advisors to Uganda in October, according to Russell's film.
"We used to think that we could not do it and now that I see that we can do it," Jolly Okot, one of Invisible Children's executives, said then when Obama announced his decision. "I am overwhelmed."
Russell's mission continues to gain considerable traction.
Kony 2012 -- which details how Ugandan children live in fear of being abducted and are forced, among other horrific acts, to murder their parents -- has gone viral. And Invisible Children's online pledge to bring Kony to justice, which just went up online on Tuesday, has since already collected 105,000 signatures.
But the activist knows he can't get complacent.
In the film, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) tells Russell, "If we take the pressure off, if we're not successful, [Kony] is going to be growing his numbers. If interest wanes, it'll just go away. It's got to be 2012."
To fulfill his mission of advancing technology and increasing manpower on the ground to capture Kony in the Ugandan jungle this year, Russell continues to open the eyes and minds of advocates who can spread the word and pressure the government to work even harder.
Part of the campaign also hinges on encouraging 20 cultural tastemakers and 12 policy makers, including the likes of Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey, to take a stand.
"I'd like indicted war criminals to share the same celebrity as me," said George Clooney in the film. "That seems fair."
To get involved in the mission to make Kony a household name and a priority of the U.S. government to capture him, consider getting involved in the following ways:
Sign the pledge.
Get the advocacy kit.
Share the movie.
"If the government doesn't believe that people care," Russell said in his film, "the mission will be canceled."