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April 20, 2012

Kony 2012: what happens next?

More than 100m people have watched the Kony 2012 film making it one of the fastest viewed in history. Today the campaign to capture the brutal Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony goes offline with a major campaign to “Cover the Night” and turn the world’s cities red with Stop Kony posters. Will it work?

Powered by article titled “Kony 2012: what happens next?” was written by Polly Curtis and Tom McCarthy, for on Friday 20th April 2012 16.50 UTC

5.50pm BST/12.50pm ET: Some evidence on Twitter that the Kony2012 movement has lost some steam.



5.44pm BST/12.44pm ET: Tom McCarthy in New York here taking over for Polly Curtis with live blog coverage of the Kony2012 day of action.


I’m about to hand this blog over to our New York office, who will keep it going for a while, gauging the level of action over there. I’ve just been having another trawl through the #KONY2012 and #coverthenight hashtags on Twitter (sorry about the broken comments – fixed now). It’s still very mixed between people promoting the Cover the Night action and others asking whether it’s still happening and more still questioning Invisible Children.

Some interesting points on Twitter. From @foreignstudents:

@pollycurtis ‘Cover The Night’ sounds gr8 but the long delay since the zenith of their initial launch means too much momentum has been lost.


@pollycurtis Easy to get enthused, less easy to actually do anything. Click a button and the world gets better, don’t think, but feel better


@pollycurtis #KONY2012 was oversimplified, but generated intense discussion on human rights, child soldiers etc. A stunt, but a successful 1


Our datablog team have put together this very good graphic of Kony 2012 in numbers including the following awe-inspiring stats:

• 100m You Tube views in six days making it the fastest ever and beating the previous record held by Susan Boyle

• 5m Tweets in the week after the film was posted

• 58% of adults polled said they heard about the film in the days following its release

• 28,390 people displaced by the LRA as of December last year

• 100,000 killed in Uganda between 1986 and 2007


When the Invisible Children film first came out Simon Hattenstone, a Guardian feature writer, interviewed a group of London teenagers who had seen the film about it. This is the film:


Today I asked two of the young people in the film what they had heard of the campaign since and whether they would be taking part in Cover the Night.

Fergus 15

I’m not taking part in the protest tonight neither are anyone of the other people [in the film] as far as I know. I don’t know why. The guy who made the video, some pictures came out of him naked running around the streets. After that it simmered down and we’re not sure it’s serious any more. We weren’t 100% convinced. They haven’t caught Kony so you can’t say it’s achieved anything yet. Maybe this protest might spark something but nothing has happened since. I guess it’s good we’ve heard of it. The initial video was an achievement definitely but it’s hasn’t kicked on; nothing else has happened since.

Charlie 15

I wasn’t actually aware there was a protest tonight. When I first saw the film I was interested in the topic – I hadn’t heard about it before. But as we learnt more about the company and the man I had less of a strong feeling about it. It was mainly the fact that I found out that the company that organised and set this up they don’t spend all the money in Uganda – they keep it as wages for themselves. All I saw was the video and after that it’s popularity decreased so much. There’s been a lot less about it. I haven’t heard anything since. They needed an ongoing campaign and to reveal the whole truth about what’s going on. That would grab our attention more.

Fergus’s point about how the public breakdown of Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children and star of the first Kony 2012 film is pertinent. The google stats below show that the only thing that revived interest in Kony 2012 since the film first spiked in viewing figures was the very unfortunate film of what Russell’s family described as a stress-induced breakdown. If you want to see the footage click here.


Question: if you had a face to face meeting with Kony, what would you say to him?

Father Ernest Sugule:

This is a very good question, If I could have face to face meeting with Kony, I would tell him to stop his war and go back home. Because what really people want down here is peace. If he can stop it and go home so that we have peace we will really be happy. We want peace and nothing less than peace. That will be my message to him. He should be responsible for the killings, abductions, lootings, he has done. Telling him to go home does not mean that he will not respond to those accusations in front of the community he has made suffer.

Father Ernest Sugule is logging off now. Thanks for joining us.


Question: The voices we hear from the region are often men. Are women active in responding to the impact of the LRA? If so, what do you hear from them and what can their contribution be?

Father Ernest Sugule:

Women are more involved in looking for solutions, they are more concerned about their children who are in the forest. There is a women’s network organisation here in Dungu working with children and escaped women in trying to bring again laughter to their faces. Let me cite you this women network “ROFU” that is Network of Women’s organisations in Uélé in French “Reseau des Organisations des Femmes des Uélés”. Women are the most affected in this conflict, they are raped, their children are taken to the forest or bush, their husbands are killed. I know of one woman who has 7 kids, she is displaced and her husband was killed by LRA. So it is really difficult for her to feed these 7 children, go to the field alone and work to feed the 7 kids, and build a house for them. The challenge women are facing down here is really huge. Supporting the ROFU network will really help such kind of women.


Question: People are wary of the effectiveness of peace talks. There have been efforts in the past to get LRA to the bargaining table but to no avail. What will be different this time? How do you go about making a internationally legally binding peace agreement between a guerrilla armed group and governments? Why should politicians and peacebuilders talk to murderers?

Father Ernest Sugule:

This is one of the tough question. Most wars finishe in peace talks and peace talks are the best way to finish any war in the world. I know peace talks in Juba failed but that does not mean that all peace talks are doomed to fail. Let me give an example done here in Duru, which is 90 km from where I am. MONUSCO (Un MISSION IN CONGO) has come up with gathering point where LRA who wants to surrender can go and surrender. And also they have come up with areas to exchange information. So there are boards in the bush where it known LRA are, so on the board they wrote in Acholi (LRA local language, Kizandais etc) encouraging LRA to come out. So a group of LRA who wanted to come out also came and posted their own message to MONUSCO, so this board has become an area of dialogue with middle rank commanders and this has helped so far to get a good number of LRA to come out in Duru. This is one example. Let me give you another example. There was an attack last month 7 km from Dungu and they had sent military to kill a group of LRA which attacked the village but military succeeded in killing 2 LRA but 3 escaped and ran away. So DDR program is more effective in eliminating the LRA because it has succeeded in eliminating the whole group while the military operation just succeeded in killing 2 and 3 who have remained are now more dangerous for people than before. Yes they are murderers, but they are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles, etc. These children have been taken by force it is not their will and nobody really want to kill. They are trained to do so.


Question: You mention that one way to stop the LRA would be to starve them of funding and weapons. Who is supporting/supplying the LRA? You mention businessmen, politicians, individuals and governments. Who are they are, what are their motives?

Father Ernest Sugule:

I might not know their motives but I suppose this might include geo-political or economical motives. There should be a group of expert who should study this question and bring more understandable answers. Because, we really wonder how some one can survive 25 years in the bush or forest without getting support from outside? Where does he get guns and ammunition from? They don’t get that from people because I know some people will say they loot to survive but guns where do they get from? Means of communication where do they get them from? Where do they get them from? Because these things are not made in DRC neither in CAR

3.27pm: For new readers: our comments are down so you can’t leave a question for Father Ernest Sugule but you can email it to me at or Tweet @pollycurtis

3.22pm: Question: what can people who have learnt about the problems of the LRA through the Kony 2012 campaign actually do to help?

Father Ernest Sugule:

This is an action plan question, there are various things you can do depending on your position. This will start from doing more lobbying politicians to get involved and try to solve the problem. This is on diplomatic level. If you can push your government to push our respective government to take action, get involved and own the LRA problem. More than 2000 Congolese have been killed by the LRA but our president has never visited the affected community. The other thing which I am seeing as more important is to support local organisations in trying to find a definitive and durable solution to LRA problem in term of psychosocial support to ex-combatant, road network, building schools and hospitals burnt down by LRA, etc. This will depend on each one’s capacity.


A follow-up question on religion in development: one of the criticisms of Invisible Children was allegations that they had an evangelical Christian mission and a sense that their motive was about proselytising as well as awareness raising and humanitarian aid. Many people were concerned that there were under-currents of a colonial missionary approach, fuelled by religion. However, many, many NGOs have a religious background. In your experience, does humanitarian work ever cross the line into religious recruitment? Is there a problem with this? This is a question that has come up time and again in our comment threads on this subject.

Father Ernest Sugule:

This question is a quite difficult one because really I don’t know the motive of other NGOs and also I have not had the experience to work with many NGOs so that I give an answer which will really be correct. But what I can say is that money has power, so it can influence even some people’s believe even bringing them to change their religion. Really this will not be difficult in areas where there is huge poverty like DRC.


Question: What work do you think can be done to help ex-combatants reintegrate? How can the international community support that?

Father Ernest Sugule:

There are so many things we can do with ex-combatants for instance we can transform them to become an agent of development here in these areas. Let me give few example: This area is good for cultivation of coffee, cotton, rice, sugar cane, palm trees, etc. Why shouldn’t we make them produce these things and sell them to South Sudan, Uganda? We can grow peanuts as well. They can help in building hospitals, schools, rebuilding the roads, and so on.

2.43pm: We had hoped to have Father Ernest Sugule, national coordinator of the NGO SAIPD [Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies] in Dungu, DRC, below the line to discuss the LRA and Kony 2012’s legacy but unfortunately we’ve had to close down the comments across the site for urgent technical work. Instead he’s been answer some questions via email.

Question: what was the reaction where you live and work to the Kony 2012 film?

Father Ernest Sugule:

First of all not even 10 of the people here in Dungu have had the opportunity to watch KONY 2012 but the few who have succeeded in watching are very critical on the film. First, because it does not portray the reality on the ground. Second, it is not their voices and thirdly they do agree that Kony should be stopped from what he is doing but ‘how’ is the biggest question because military operation without civilian protection will do more damage than good.

Question: you are warning of the risks of military intervention. What are those risks are what are the alternatives?

Father Ernest Sugule:

LRA are known for retaliation attacks on civilians when they are under attack and also military intervention does not discriminate between those innocent children and women held as captives in LRA gang. What are the alternatives? The first thing to do is to promote Demobilization, Desarment and Reintegration – that is DDR program – to allow those innocent children and women to escape. The second thing to do is to cut all supporting networks whether it is financial or guns that LRA are benefiting from. That means looking at individuals, governments, politicians, businessmen etc who are benefiting from LRA activities then try to arrest them so that we isolate LRA and weaken them. Thirdly, we need to promote dialogue between the government of Uganda and the government of Sudan. Fourthly the governments of countries affected should get involved in this, make them responsible, their armies should be professional. Fifthly, promote development in all this region affected by LRA, road network. Sixthly, involve the civil society in all this process, etc. So there so many things we can do and weaken LRA.

Question: what do you think the role of religion in development work/humanitarian assistance should be?

Father Ernest Sugule:

Development is a work of human so we should put more accent in development of human capacity that is why we are saying any durable development should include civilian. So the work of religion and humanitarian assistance should focus more on building the capacity of local civilian to build on what they have.


Animomu’s story



Aimee’s story


2.23pm: In June last year Oxfam gave small video cameras to a community in north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Lords Resistance Army continues to attack villages and abduct people. The agency wanted to give the people it works with the chance to tell their own stories. One is Michel, who fled with his wife as the LRA destroyed their home:

Michel’s story



1.51pm: Father Ernest Sugule, national coordinator of the NGO SAIPD [Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies] in the Democratic Republic of Congo will shortly be below the line to answer any questions you have about life in the DRC where he lives and works. His is one of the charities that signed the call against military action announced today and works with people displaced by the LRA. Leave a question below the line or email me at

1.47pm: Jaz Cummins from the Guardian’s global development site, writes:

We’ve launched this podcast today on the Global development site discussing what the right solutions are for the region. The panel looked at what needs to happen in the short term to stop the LRA, and in the long term to address the group’s legacy and support affected communities.

But we also asked them if anything good can come of Kony 2012, their responses below (from 26 minutes):

Mahmood Mamdani, executive director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala

“Of course something good can come out of it, if people realise what’s the real motive is of groups like these. This is more an advertising, fundraising campaign, than it is anything else. We saw that with the Congo, with all the inflated estimates of NGOs in Congo of the number of people dead, which hyped up the amount of money they were able to raise. People have to understand that the agencies who raise these questions have their own interests, and if Kony 2012 is going to educate the population in Uganda and outside to tell apart the interests of these agencies and the issues they’re pointing to, that’s great. Secondly if Kpny 2012 is going to get us to discuss the Kony question in greater depth so that we can actually arrive at some kind of a solution – not the solution Invisible Children is pointing to, that’s also great.”

Amanda Weisbaum, programme director of NGO War Child:

“Firstly I think that the phenomenon that was Kony 2012, media PhDs are going to be held on this. How did it go viral, why etc. Whatever happens with these videos, a percentage of these people will look at what the deeper causes are. And because we’ve had 100 million hits on that particular video, the percentage in terms of numbers will be higher, and I agree with the Professor that that is a positive thing. Is it right that Kony goes to the ICC, I think we’ve discussed that and the answer is yes. But it’s a long term solution, it’s not necessarily about Kony it’s abouut the children and young people and the communities that they come from. And we’ve got a long way to go. But the debate has started and I think that’s a really positive thing.”

Andy Carl, director of NGO Conciliation Resources

“I am sure that it has done much more good than harm, in terms of stirring up so much interest in this conflict. When the film first went out on YouTube, at the breakfast table I was talking to my 16 year old daughter who had seen it before I had, and wasn’t really aware I’d been working on this issue since the late 90s. I think that what’s really good is that we’re going to see interest more from politicians. not jut leaving it in the hands of armies to deal with the problem. That the AU and EU special envoys will be mandated to take an interest to look for a political solution”

1.27pm: I’ve been monitoring the hashtags on Twitter #KONY2012 and #coverthenight and there’s a fair amount of activity – and quite a few sceptical comments as well. Was interested to notice the official Invisible Children account @invisible tweeting about their trailer, which will be showing every half-hour on the MTV screen in Times square today. At least we know where some of the funds raised from the $30 packs they’ve been selling is going. Below the line there is a comment about 200 uncollected Kony 2012 packs in a UK post office in Rugby. Anyone know any more about this?

Also below the line, @RhombusBoy makes an interesting point about how the internet both can both make and break this kind of campaign with an extraordinary backlash against the film.

Yesterday I spoke to Charlie Beckett, a media communications expert at the LSE – who has a special interest in American and African politics. He told me that the Kony 2012 campaign inevitably had a shelf life. He’s been writing a paper on the campaign for the journal of the International Broadcasting Trust, which works on behalf of NGOs to get more coverage of their issues. He told me:

The reason Invisible Children was successful initially was because the whole point of the video was to get you to network. It mentions Uganda and the money but it’s to get you to network. It says ‘you’re in this crowd, click to these celebrities and policy makers, you can help’. It’s like chain-mail. What they haven’t got the capacity for is to take that beyond another action. What are they going to do with all this energy and interest? It’s going to dissipate.

That encourages the idea that this is a stunt – that’s a bit of an unfair word. The word clicktivism has an unfair press. The best clicktivism says do this then come to the meeting. The worst kind says buy the bracelet then get on with it. I think this will crash and die, I don’t think they will catch Kony. People will say they bought the bracelet and stuck posters on lamppost but that could have negative effects when it doesn’t actually lead anywhere. When the next person comes along and asks for their support they will say ‘I’ve forgotten what the last one was about’. This was a similar problem to Make Poverty History. That was far more serious but eventually it dissolved and left people stranded. That’s irresponsible.

We’ll never know quite why this one was so big. It seems to have hit a sweet spot in America. It was the Hollywood hit. The stunning thing is that it’s half an hour long. The optimum time for a online video is about 3 seconds. It wasn’t an unusual film. Most people only watched a few minutes. But that’s enough to say I’m part of it. More impressive from my perspective is the counter campaign – the student in Nova Scotia who set up the anti campaign and got 1m clicks.

NGOs say at least it’s raised the profile of this and I can’t fault that. I don’t think what people are doing is evil. I think it is hugely misguided and may have negative consequences but it represents the way young people are getting information now, and that’s a lessons for NGOs but it’s not necessary a model. We can’t all do it. They themselves will struggle to replicate that.

I don’t even think this was truly viral. To me viral appears out of nowhere and goes ping. Susan Boyle was kind of viral even though it had the support of BGT. As it says in the video they had already been campaigning in churches and campuses. When you look at the data it was already these people. It started among young church-going students. They are internet evangelicals – I don’t mean fundamental Christians – but they are very used to networking. It was a clever way of kickstarting this thing. It wasn’t just random people clicking on this around the world. The video, yes it talks about Kony, but most of the video tells you to network. It keeps saying in an evangelical way convert someone else, we can do this together, one time in history, it’s an impressive community but it’s not purely online.

12.10pm: On Twitter @LukeStanton92 has pointed me towards the Google stats below, showing how interest in Kony 2012 has waned since the initial burst last month. The second much smaller spike is when the video emerged of Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children, was arrested in the street wearing only his underwear in what his family later described as a stress-related breakdown.


12.00pm: The Kony 2012 campaign film devised by the American charity Invisible Children has left communication experts and other NGOs awe-struck. More than 100m people have watched the film, 3.5m have pledged support and the US senate and House of Representatives have both signed resolutions to continue US involvement in the efforts to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords Resistance Army. Over the past 25 years, the LRA has killed more than 100,000, abducted 70,000 and forced more than two million people from their homes and villages across four countries. Many of the abducted were children forced to become soldiers in the army.


But the film has also been the target of a furious backlash with claims that they misrepresented the war and it is becoming increasingly clear that that backlash has put a dampener on the campaign’s reputation and the turnout for tonight’s Cover the Night protest, the charities first big offline event since the video came out.

Today we’ll be blogging the debate the lead-up to the protests. If you have any ideas or evidence to contribute, do get in touch below the line, tweet @pollycurtis or email

First, some background. You can read the background to this story in this blog, Kony 2012: what’s the real story? published when the scale of the interest in the initial support for the campaign became clear. Earlier this week we asked: Has Kony 2012 changed anything?

On Thursday we published this curtain-raiser and explanation of what the campaign has achieved so far. It concluded broadly that despite the huge attention the campaign has garnered, not much has changed on the ground – the military action now under way was planned prior to the campaign and there are also strong concerns from the UN and charities about that action with warnings that it could do more harm than good.

Ryan Devereaux in our New York office filed this last night looking at what could happen tonight in the States:

On Friday night US supporters of the Kony 2012 campaign have actions planned in at least six US cities including: New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, Austin and San Diego.

A press release from Invisible Children, the organisation behind the campaign, says the actions will include high profile “visual elements”. Projection art will be used on a corner in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo, Meanwhile in Austin, people will rely on “wheat paste” posters to spread their message. In LA, San Diego and Chicago activists will use murals to draw attention to the crimes of Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army leader accused of kidnapping tens of thousands of children over several decades and forcing them into his personal army and sexual slavery.

Invisible Children also plans to have speakers from the organization present at each of the major actions and is encouraging participants to take part in a variety of “service projects” such as park clean-ups for at least three hours. Supporters are encouraged to wear shirts bearing Kony’s image, which can be purchased through Invisible Children’s website. The crux of the action, according to the video that launched the campaign into the international spotlight, is to canvas cities around the world in posters of Kony’s face in an effort to “make him famous” so that American policy makers that will continue to work with US-backed Ugandan military forces to remove him from the battlefield.

The extent to which the action will garner support remains to be seen. The campaign has sustained extensive criticism, including from a number of prominent Ugandan activists, journalists and humanitarian groups working in the region. The campaign sustained a further blow when founder Jason Russel suffered a public breakdown, in which he took to Southern California street, naked, and began beating the pavement while shouting about Satan. Invisible Children expects “thousands” to turn out, despite the organization’s bruised reputation. Facebook events pages related to the actions send mixed messages. While thousands have indeed marked that they are attending, numerous commenters have denounced the day of action.

This morning my colleague Peter Walker filed this story, looking at how the support for Kony 2012 in the UK appears to have ebbed away with the controversy around the film. He wrote:

A PR agency working for Invisible Children said that in the UK alone, 10 million people had watched the film, with 300,000 signing up to support the Kony campaign. While the UK Facebook pages lists almost 10,000 stated participants, many of the attached comments are sceptical. “Wasn’t this shown to be a sham?” asks one recent contribution. In a further sign of the split in public opinion, a rival page, Kony 2012 – UK, which specifically opposes military action against the LRA, has picked up more than 8,000 “likes”, the means by which Facebook users express support.

One former UK campaigner told me earlier this week:

London and Edinburgh are still going ahead. Loughborough was cancelled as the organisers were told they could have charges brought against them. Others were called off for ecological reasons or that people had done what they set out to achieve or a multitude of other reasons relating to Invisible Children etc.

I wouldn’t be suprised should we all wake up on Saturday mornign and find Kony posters scattered around, but it’ll be a lot less than it would have been should they have set the date as a few days after the film went viral. In general people seem to be a lot more sceptical of it now than they were when there was all that hype. Personally I’m just glad that after watching that film over 8k people wanted to help but not put our troops on the ground.

Of course we can’t know right now the scale of the protests expected tonight, but we would be really interested in hearing from any readers who are taking part in Cover the Night or who had planned to but will now no longer. What affected your decision? We’d love to hear from you. Later today we’ll have a podcast from our colleagues on the Global Development, looking at what should happen now in the regions affected by the Lords Resistance Army, some films of what life is like there now and I’ve been speaking with some media experts about what worked well – and what went wrong – with the Kony 2012 campaign.

At 2pm we will have Father Ernest Sugule, national coordinator of the NGO SAIPD [Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies] below the line to answer any questions you have about life in the DRC where he lives and works. He’s one of the charities who signed the call against military action announced today and works with people displaced by the LRA. This is a report he wrote last year on their activities in the area. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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