If Joseph Kony lived in relative anonymity beforethis week, he's an Internet star now.
A video about the atrocities carried out by Kony'sLord's Resistance Army has gone viral, racking upmillions more views seemingly by the hour.
The marketing campaign is an effort by theadvocacy group Invisible Children to vastlyincrease awareness about a jungle militia leaderwho is wanted for atrocities by the InternationalCriminal Court and is being hunted by 100 U.S.Special Forces advisers and local troops in fourCentral African countries.
The group's 30-minute video, which was releasedMonday, had more than 32 million views on YouTubeby Thursday. The movie is part of an effort calledKONY 2012 that targets Kony and the LRA.
"Kony is a monster. He deserves to be prosecutedand hanged," said Col. Felix Kulayigye, thespokesman for Uganda's military.
But Kulayigye said that Kony's forces - oncethousands strong -have been so degraded that he nolonger considers Kony a threat to the region.Because of the intensified hunt for Kony, hisforces split into smaller groups that can travelthe jungle more easily.
Experts estimate that the LRA now has only about250 fighters. Still, the militia abducts children,forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves,and even to kill their parents or each other tosurvive. The LRA now operates in Congo, theCentral African Republic and South Sudan.
Uganda, Invisible Children and (hash)stopkony wereamong the top 10 trending terms on Twitter amongboth the worldwide and U.S. audience on Wednesdaynight, ranking higher than New iPad or PeytonManning. Twitter's top trends more commonlyinclude celebrities than fugitive militants.
Jolly Okot was abducted in 1986 by the militiagroup that later became the LRA. The then-18-year-old could speak English so was valuable to themilitants. She was also forced to have sex.
Today, Okot is the Uganda country director forInvisible Children, in charge of 105 employees.She said the group is helping 800 people affectedby LRA violence to attend high school anduniversity. She said the program has given hope tokids who previously dropped out of the educationsystem.
"The most exciting thing about this film is thatI'm so grateful that the world has been able topay attention to an issue that has long beenneglected," Okot said. "I think it is an eye-opener and I think this will push for Joseph Konyto be apprehended, and I think justice will get tohim."
International Criminal Court Prosecutor LuisMoreno-Ocampo said it has been hard to raisepublic awareness about Kony since issuing hiswarrant in 2005.
"Kony is difficult, he is not killing people inParis or in New York. Kony is killing people inCentral African Republic, no one cares about him,"he said. "These young people from Californiamobilizing this effort is incredible, exactly whatwe need."
He praised the group that made the film.
"They are not fighting, they are just putting theright focus: stopping the crimes, arresting Kony,helping people," he said. "Perfect."Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's 28-year-old chiefexecutive officer, said the viral success showstheir message resonates and that viewers feelempowered to force change. It was released on thewebsite www.kony2012.com.
The burst of attention has also brought with itsome criticism on Internet sites of InvisibleChildren's work, including the ratio of thegroup's spending on direct aid, its rating by thesite Charity Navigator, and a 2008 photo of threeInvisible Children members holding guns alongsidetroops from the country now known as South Sudan.
Invisible Children posted rebuttals to thecriticism on its website, saying that it has spentabout 80 percent of its funds on programs thatfurther its mission, about 16 percent onadministration and management, and about 3 percenton fundraising. The group said its accountabilityand transparency score is currently low because ithas four independent voting members on its boardof directors and not five, but that it is seekingto add a fifth. The group said the three workersin the photo thought it would be a good "joke"photo for family and friends.
Kony's Ugandan rebel group is blamed for tens ofthousands of mutilations and killings over thelast 26 years.
Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, the top U.S. specialoperations commander for Africa, told reporterslast month that U.S. troops are now stationed inbases in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and CentralAfrican Republic as part of the anti-LRA fight.Losey said there's been a decrease in thelethality of LRA activities attributable to U.S.and partner nation efforts.
Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ugandan diplomat who led thecountry's failed peace negotiations with Kony in2006, said the work of organizations such asInvisible Children preserves the memory of aninsurgency whose brutal legacy should never beforgotten. The talks with Kony, mediated by SouthSudan, ended in 2008 after the rebel leaderrefused to sign the final peace agreement, sayinghe could not guarantee his security once he leftthe bush.
The last known images of Kony show him shakinghands, and sometimes smiling, with dignitariesvisiting his camp. Some images showed him wearinga suit and shiny black shoes.
"Kony gives you the impression that he isharmless, that he cannot catch a fly," Rugundasaid, recalling his conversations with Kony, whowas an altar boy before he became an elusive rebelleader.
Rugunda last saw Kony in a forested camp ineastern Congo before the rebel leader and his menfled to the Central African Republic, where theyhave retained the capacity to harass villagers forfood.
Rugunda said that capturing Kony alive would setin motion a "full accountability mechanism" inwhich the world would get to know how it came tobe that Kony committed the many crimes he isaccused of.