KAMPALA, Uganda — If Joseph Kony lived in relative anonymity 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, racking up millions more views seemingly by the hour.
The marketing campaign is an effort by the advocacy group Invisible Children to vastly increase awareness about a jungle militia leader who is wanted for atrocities by the International Criminal Court and is being hunted by 100 U.S. Special Forces advisers and local troops in four Central African countries.
The group's 30-minute video, which was released Monday, had more than 32 million views on YouTube by Thursday. The movie is part of an effort called KONY 2012 that targets Kony and the LRA.
"Kony is a monster. He deserves to be prosecuted and hanged," said Col. Felix Kulayigye, the spokesman for Uganda's military.
But Kulayigye said that Kony's forces — once thousands strong — have been so degraded that he no longer considers Kony a threat to the region. Because of the intensified hunt for Kony, his forces split into smaller groups that can travel the jungle more easily.
Experts estimate that the LRA now has only about 250 fighters. Still, the militia abducts children, forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, and even to kill their parents or each other to survive. The LRA now operates in Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Uganda, Invisible Children and (hash)stopkony were among the top 10 trending terms on Twitter among both the worldwide and U.S. audience on Wednesday night, ranking higher than New iPad or Peyton Manning. Twitter's top trends more commonly include celebrities than fugitive militants.
Jolly Okot was abducted in 1986 by the militia group that later became the LRA. The then-18-year-old could speak English so was valuable to the militants. She was also forced to have sex.
Today, Okot is the Uganda country director for Invisible Children, in charge of 105 employees. She said the group is helping 800 people affected by LRA violence to attend high school and university. She said the program has given hope to kids who previously dropped out of the education system.
"The most exciting thing about this film is that I'm so grateful that the world has been able to pay attention to an issue that has long been neglected," Okot said. "I think it is an eye-opener and I think this will push for Joseph Kony to be apprehended, and I think justice will get to him."
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said it has been hard to raise public awareness about Kony since issuing his warrant in 2005.
"Kony is difficult, he is not killing people in Paris or in New York. Kony is killing people in Central African Republic, no one cares about him," he said. "These young people from California mobilizing this effort is incredible, exactly what we need."
He praised the group that made the film.
"They are not fighting, they are just putting the right focus: stopping the crimes, arresting Kony, helping people," he said. "Perfect."
Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's 28-year-old chief executive officer, said the viral success shows their message resonates and that viewers feel empowered to force change. It was released on the website www.kony2012.com.
The burst of attention has also brought with it some criticism on Internet sites of Invisible Children's work, including the ratio of the group's spending on direct aid, its rating by the site Charity Navigator, and a 2008 photo of three Invisible Children members holding guns alongside troops from the country now known as South Sudan.
- Elder Ballard visits refugee camps in Germany...
- Bigotry? Hatred? Christians say they’re...
- Officer charged with murder in teen's death;...
- Group raised suspicions before 5 were shot at...
- First trailer for 'Captain America: Civil...
- Turkey downs Russian jet it says violated its...
- The integration of art into STEM sounds like...
- Is the pressure to excel too much for teens...
- Bigotry? Hatred? Christians say... 77
- Trump says he saw people celebrating... 38
- Carson tops new poll of Utah voters 30
- Donald Trump says he'd bring back... 26
- Kerry: US trying to speed up efforts to... 23
- Obama pledges solidarity with France,... 18
- Elder Ballard visits refugee camps in... 18
- Turkey downs Russian jet it says... 15