Viral Kony 2012 campaign finds both supporters and detractors in Denmark

Campaign to make war criminal “famous” has spread like wildfire, but does it tackle the topic the right way?

If Joseph Kony enjoyed a relatively anonymous existence before this week, he’s an internet star now. A video about the atrocities carried out by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army has gone viral, receiving millions of views on YouTube and Vimeo.

The marketing campaign is an effort by the advocacy group Invisible Children to raise awareness about Kony, a wanted war criminal said to be responsible for the abduction of 60,000 children, in the hopes of bringing him to justice.

As of Friday March 9, the video had been viewed nearly 50 million times. The video ends with a call to action for people to “make Kony famous” by plastering his name all over social media, targeting cultural trend-setters and American politicians. It also sells an “action kit” with posters, stickers and bracelets, with the aim of making Kony – and his atrocities – so well-known that international pressure will lead to his capture.

As the Kony 2012 campaign has gained attention, it’s also encountered a wave of criticism. One of theses critics is the Danish Red Cross Youth (Ungdommens Røde Kors), which maintains “the effort is all too simplistic”.

“The Danish Red Cross Youth believes the solution lies somewhere else – by focusing on the many thousands of young people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict,” national chairman Mads Espersen wrote in a statement. “The problem in Uganda today is thankfully not outrageous assault, but the aftermath of many years with just that. An entire generation of children have grown up with violence and destruction that has put severe scars on the soul.”

In the video, you will meet Jacob, a young Uganda who fought as a child soldier for Kony. Jacob was taken from his family and saw his own brother be beheaded by Kony’s army. In the video, Jacob says he cannot see how he can have a future in a country where everyone knows what horrors he has helped to commit. This led the filmmaker, Jason Russell, to vow to Jacob that he would do whatever he could to stop Kony.

“Whilst the Kony campaign has as its main purpose to capture Joseph Kony, the Danish Red Cross Youth would rather help Jacob to get a meaningful existence,” Espersen said. “We do this through the Life Skills Project, in which we strengthen young people's skills and restore their faith in the future.”?

The Facebook event “Stop Kony 2012! Danmark!” encourages people to spread posters and stickers throughout the city and has become a board of discussion – with nearly 11,000 subscribers to the page.

“Of course I’m against Kony, but the Facebook hype isn’t doing much,” Oliver Figueiredo from Frederiksberg wrote. A Facebook user going by the name ‘Sales Stopping Kony’, who sells the Kony action kits in Denmark, replied: “The message is spread and the politicians focus on stopping Joseph Kony, because the people want it. It's not only Denmark who participates, it’s the whole world.”

But how has Russell's 30-minute video managed to turn so many into online activists?

“It has become fashionable to be politically engaged,” trend researcher Kirsten Poulsen told MetroXpress newspaper. “They’re not expecting to find him in Nørre Sunby, right? So why else would they hang up these posters?”

Other criticisms have focused on a more basic issue: Kony is no longer in Uganda.

“The film shows that Kony’s horrific acts still take place in Uganda, but they do not,” Holger Bernt Hansen, a professor of African studies at the University of Copenhagen, told MetroXpress. “Joseph Kony has not been in Uganda for five or six years.” According to Hansen, “the film and campaign make it look like everything will be resolved when you catch Kony.”

“I saw the video after one of my students made me aware of it”, Pernille Viese, a teacher from Aabybro, told The Copenhagen Post. “After I did some research on the topic, I asked my boss to let me take our students to Aarhus on April 20 for Cover The Night, where we will go around the city to hang up posters. Whether or not you agree with the way Jason Russell and his friends have made people aware of this, is not important to me. I'm just floored that is has become so big so fast. They must be doing something right in spreading the word.”

Read more about the Kony 2012 campaign here.

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