Loudest US voices demanding action to stop African warlord belong to children

Donna Cassata, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The voices demanding that Congress stop the brutality of African warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army belong to America's children.

Just ask their parents.

"All three of my kids, in different context and different times, said, 'So what are you doing about Joseph Kony and the LRA?'" Sen. Chris Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African affairs subcommittee, said in a recent interview.

"Mom, you have to watch this video," the 14-year-old daughter of Sen. Mary Landrieu insisted during a break from school. "It's about Joseph Kony."

Coons and Landrieu know all too well about Kony. They have travelled to Africa and have heard firsthand about the killings and child abductions of tens of thousands in central Africa, the young boys forced to fight as soldiers, the girls turned into sex slaves.

Today, the lawmakers' children, and millions of others in the United States and around the world, are almost as well-versed about Kony's 26-year reign of terror. A 30-minute video by the advocacy group Invisible Children to raise public awareness about the guerrilla group exploded on the Internet after its March release. The Kony2012 video has been viewed by some 100 million on YouTube and shared on Facebook and Twitter.

"There's 100 million people who know the name of a war criminal now that didn't necessarily before, and that's a good thing," actor and activist George Clooney, who is part of a video on the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, said in a recent interview.

The confluence of a compelling film focused on the fate of children, the power of social media and an unprecedented global connection has turned Kony into a household name. High school and middle school students — some as young as 10, the same age as some of the LRA's victims — are outraged that children are suffering.

Last week, Sen. Johnny Isakson conducted a Skype interview with a young class from Georgia. The first question Isakson got from the 30 students was "Are you doing anything about Joseph Kony?"

"It's a tragedy," Isakson, the top Republican on the African affairs subcommittee, said of the atrocities. He told the students that President Barack Obama dispatched 100 U.S. troops — mostly Army Special Forces — to central Africa in October to advise regional forces in their hunt for Kony, a military move that received strong bipartisan support.

"My students were very adamant that they want to do more about it," said Dustin Davis, who teaches the class.

In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of 40 senators led by Coons and Sen. Jim Inhofe has backed a resolution condemning Kony. The measure also endorses the effort by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan to stop him and the LRA.

Lawmakers also are crafting legislation that would offer a monetary reward for information leading to Kony's arrest, with a bill to be introduced this month. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for attacks in multiple countries. Pushing to raise awareness, several lawmakers also will appear in a video.

Coons posted a video along with facts and figures about Kony and a map of Africa on his website.

"The most positive thing is to have a moment when literally millions of Americans are asking for more engagement in Africa," he said. "That happens once a generation."

Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children, said Kony's brutality has a different impact on children.

"Young kids put themselves in the shoes of having to live in fear of being abducted, and that's just a paralyzing thought," he said.

Landrieu introduced a resolution last week commending the African Union for committing up to 5,000 troops in the hunt for Kony.

"The children are getting us to respond," Landrieu said in an interview.

The Kony2012 campaign is pressing on despite several setbacks for Invisible Children, including the recent hospitalization and diagnosis of brief psychosis for Jason Russell, the director and co-founder of the group.

A follow-up video may be released.

"It's a testament to the fact that when young people are given an opportunity to do good, they will respond," Keesey said.