Notice #CovertheNight trending on Twitter last night? How about #StopKony and #Kony2012?
The hashtags are being used to describe a non-violent protest and social media campaign raising awareness about African warlord Joseph Kony. Philadelphia will hold its own “Cover the Night” as part of a worldwide day of solidarity on April 20.
“We’ll ‘cover the night’ with posters, flyers, stickers, etc. We’ll help make Kony famous in Philadelphia,” the event’s Facebook page reads. Over 3,500 users were listed as attending by Thursday morning and roughly the same number had RSVPed to a sister event with an earlier start time.
The campaign went viral worldwide after San Diego-based nonprofit Invisible Children released “Kony 2012,” a documentary short about the wanted warlord, on YouTube Monday. Celebrities including Jay-Z, Diddy, Rihanna and Taylor Swift helped spread the message by tweeting their support and the video reached nearly 27 million viewers.
Kony, a wanted war criminal, has been the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army for some 26 years. The rebel group is known to abduct children and women for use as soldiers and wives and has a reputation for rape, mutilation and murder.
They currently operate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Southern Sudan. According to Invisible Children’s site, U.S. military advisers are currently on a “time-limited mission” to take down the warlord that will end this year. They are urging the public to put pressure on elected officials to advocate for measures leading to his arrest.
But the nonprofit and its campaign have raised controversy, spawning critical sites like Visible Children. While “Kony 2012” focuses on a Ugandan child whose brother was slain by the LRA and Invisible Children is using donations to support Ugandan military intervention, the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006 and the Ugandan military itself has been charged with rape and looting, the site alleges.
There is also the question of Invisible Children’s use of finances: public records show that, out of the nearly $8.7 million spent by the organization last year, far less than half of the money went toward direct programs and services, while the lion’s share paid for salaries, travel and film production costs.
Nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator gave the organization two out of four stars for accountability and transparency due to a lack of audited financials prepared by an independent accountant.
Finally, there are those who decry a perceived “white savior” fantasy associated with the all-American-run group’s approach, charge them with oversimplification of the conflict and note the “trend” factor of the nonprofit’s campaign.
An example: a “Kony 2012 Action Kit” is available for purchase in Invisible Children’s online store. The $30 kit consists of an “official campaign” t-shirt, bracelet, action guide, stickers, buttons and posters. “People will think you’re an advocate of awesome,” the product description reads.
But the group is certainly raising awareness. “Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign aims to make Joseph Kony famous,
not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a
precedent for international justice. In this case, notoriety translates
to public support. If people know about the crimes that Kony has been
committing for 26 years, they will unite to stop him,” Philadelphia’s “Cover the Night” Facebook page reads.
The group will meet at LOVE Park between 8:30 and 10 p.m.