An online campaign to defeat one of Central Africa's most notorious and elusive rebel groups has gone viral. Twitter users around the world have inundated the micro-messaging site with calls to stop the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony.
Messages tagged #StopKony2012 and #MakeKonyFamous lit up Twitter for the better part of the morning Wednesday, and were listed among the top trending topics worldwide.
The U.S.-based group Invisible Children, which is solely focused on bringing an end to the Lord's Resistance Army, started the online campaign to bring attention to a new film on the subject called "Kony 2012."
The Lord's Resistance Army started in northern Uganda in the late 1980s as a rebellion against the country's armed forces. Under the leadership of Joseph Kony, the group evolved into a militant cult that has forcibly recruited thousands of children into its ranks, mutilated or killed tens of thousands of people across Central Africa and displaced many more.
The topic, which is unusual for the pop-culture-obsessed Twitter, gained momentum with the help of some celebrity heavyweights, including American singers Taylor Swift and Rihanna, who have both endorsed the Invisible Children campaign on the site.
To give an idea of just how much sway these celebrities have on Twitter, keep in mind that Rihanna has more than 14-million followers, which makes her more popular than U.S. President Barack Obama, who has less than 13 million followers.
London School of Economics Professor Tim Allen has studied the LRA for years. He says he is a bit of a “dinosaur” when it comes to Twitter, but he is impressed by the response to the campaign.
“I think it has been fantastic how Invisible Children has been able to access that kind of younger population of potential activists, people who perhaps do not think about what's going on in Central Africa very much,” said Allen.
But, like all topics on Twitter, which limits users to messages of 140 characters or fewer, the hype of the anti-Kony campaign tends to oversimplify the issue.
Allen says it is important to consider the Lord's Resistance Army within the wider political context of the region.
“Even if Kony is removed tomorrow the problems are not going to go away," he said. "There is a chronic wide-spread failure of governance in parts of Central Africa. This is a part of the world in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have been killed since the late 1990s in ongoing wars, and the Lord's Resistance Army and Joseph Kony himself is responsible for very, very few of those deaths.”
The Lord's Resistance Army, once thought to number in the thousands, is now believed to consist of only a couple hundred fighters.
But even in small numbers, the group has continued to attack villages in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The United States sent 100 special-forces troops to the region last year to work alongside local forces, and to finish off the LRA once and for all.