Who Is Joseph Kony -- And Why Does It Matter?

by , Mar 8, 2012, 7:56 AM
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“Do you know who Joseph Kony is?”

The question was posed to me this week by my 16-year-old daughter, Lauren. Immediately I knew something was up. Lauren delivers everything with a half smirk, which is generally followed by some sarcastic comment. But this time, she was disarmingly serious in her question.

I curbed my knee-jerk reaction, which was to respond with an equally sarcastic comeback (genetic testing not required to prove paternity in this particular case) and simply said, “No.”

“I want you to go check out this site -- kony2012.com,” she said.

I did, and ran into one of the most compelling uses of digital communication I’ve ever seen. So I wanted to use this column to do two things. First, to urge you to take the time to visit the site. It’s a crash course in effective online communication that any digital marketer could learn from. But secondly -- and more importantly -- I want to tell you who Joseph Kony is. Learning this might be the most important thing you do today.

Let me give you a brief introduction to Mr. Kony. The International  Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, compiled a list of the most wanted criminals in the world. Among better-known names like Muammar Khadafy, Joseph Kony had the unfortunate distinction of topping the list.

How do you get to the top of such a list? You form a guerilla army (The Lord’s Resistance Army) in Uganda and kidnap children to act as your foot soldiers. Not just a few children. Tens of thousands of children. You rip boys as young as eight and nine away from their homes and parents and force them to kill, torture, maim, rape and pillage, literally at gunpoint. Often, their first order is to kill their family and friends. You turn their lives into an unimaginable hell where the only avenue of escape seems to be their own death.

And it’s not just boys. Girls are kidnapped as well, forced to become sex slaves. Kony’s army has no cause, no goal, no reason for being. Despite its name, it’s unclear what Kony is actually resisting. The mission of the LRA has apparently gone directly from the mouth of God to the ear of Joseph Kony, but he has neglected to pass it along. The army exists, and the practice of kidnapping children continues solely because the world has allowed it to. In most cases, it’s because the world, like me, has never heard this story. It doesn’t know who Joseph Kony is.

This is where www.kony2012.com comes in. Started by filmmaker Jason Russell, who has been working to expose Kony for the last nine years, Kony2012 has a very clear goal: to make Kony famous by the end of this year, shining a blindingly bright light on his activities.  Russell believes that evil can’t be sustained when the world is watching you.  The Arab Spring indicates that Jason Russell is probably right.

The site has a heart-breaking 29-minute video, but that alone doesn’t really differentiate it. What is amazing is the way it uses digital communication and social media to help light the fires of fame around Joseph Kony. On the site, there are direct links to the Twitter accounts of 20 celebrities, including Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg and George Clooney, as well as social media links to 12 policy makers and political influencers including Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and John Kerry. Kony 2012 knows that the world of social influence is spanned by only a few degrees of separation and that these influencers, if activated, can bring unwelcome awareness to Kony with brutal efficiency. The degree of digital savviness shown by this site and the movement in general is humbling and inspiring. Of course, it helps to have a compelling story to tell, and the story of Joseph Kony certainly qualifies.

I made my daughter a promise. I would learn who Joseph Kony was. And I would do what I could so others would know him as well. I would try to make Joseph Kony famous.

There are many less important ways to spend 29 minutes of your life.

8 comments on "Who Is Joseph Kony -- And Why Does It Matter?".

  1. Jamie Wood from Conversation
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
    Thank you for this article. My teen sons just watched the video last night and shared it with me. They are very inspired to help however they can. I am going to take them out on April 20 to cover the night, with posters, etc. to give Kony the recognition and eventual downfall that he deserves.
  2. Donna Declemente from DDC Marketing Group
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 11:51 a.m.
    Hello Gord, This is second time today I've learned about Joseph Kony so it must be working. First thing this morning I watched one of my favorite subscribed videos, a very funny women who's channel is called Jenna Marbles. She posts a video every Wed. and at the end of it this week she mentions the Kony2012 video with a link to it. So I start to watch it and end up in tears. I finally compose myself and get to the office, and then I read your post. Will definitely help spread the word. Thanks for creating more awareness of this. Donna BTW - I really enjoy your posts.
  3. marc wheeler from strategic options
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.
    The campaign is working. My 16 year old son sent me the link last night as well. A compelling story and unique approach to getting the message out. M- Colorado
  4. Laura Dantona from MAD HOUSE INC
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 1:15 p.m.
    Thank you for this article. My own daughter made me aware of InvisibleChildren.com years ago. Sadly, since then I have only seen more books written about the situation, but the reality is still the same. It is encouraging to see that our industry ---based upon messaging and communication, can be used for more than just monetary gain ---- to bring a broader awareness to the horrific reality in Uganda --- now if we can find a way to bring about a change.
  5. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 2:33 p.m.
    Pretty amazing - it is all over the media.
  6. Phyllis Cannon from E! Entertainment
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 3:04 p.m.
    I recommend using some critical intelligence here. I would not be so quick to accept the documentary at face value or recommend it to others. Without disputing Kony's crimes, a check of Google search shows: (1) Kony hasn't been active since 2006 and isn't in Uganda (2) Invisible Children, the organization behind the video supports direct military intervention, and their funding supports the Ugandan government and other military forces. The Ugandan army has been accused of rape and looting, but they are still defended by Invisible Children. (3) Invisible Children did not provide requested material to the Better Business Bureau; therefore, the BBB cannot determine if IC meets their standards. Likewise Charity Navigator finds serious deficiencies in Invisible Children's transparency. For starters, look at these: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/invisible-children-founders-posing-with-guns-an-interview-with-the-photographer/2012/03/08/gIQASX68yR_blog.html http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/get-kony-goes-viral-questions-raised-about-charitys-social-media-blitz-20120308-1ulnk.html
  7. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 4:02 p.m.
    Phyllis, I think Ishaan Tharoor from Time says it best, "It’d be churlish to rebuke Invisible Children for wanting to help those afflicted overseas, while moving tens of thousands of previously apathetic Americans (at least to hit the re-tweet button) at home." I acknowledge that Invisible Children may have some transparency issues, but I'm not asking you to donate to them. I'm just asking you to educate yourself about Joseph Kony. By all means use critical Intelligence, but don't discount the importance of the message.
  8. Carly Keenan from 435 Digital
    commented on: March 8, 2012 at 6:14 p.m.
    Great article Gord. I have been following the news on Kony on and off for a while and have known about IC and their efforts.. which tend to create a bit of a stir online these days. I know there are a lot of mixed reviews on their actions (especially since the video went viral). The bottom line is, they are doing a great job of educating the young, passionate Americans who are most likely to MAKE SURE their parents and friends are in-the-know. (Sounds like you and some of your other readers found out about Kony from your children or young adults in your lives). They wanted to remind the World about what has been going on over there & in the past two days alone the World took note.. big time. It's inspiring.

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