As a video campaign against Joseph Kony goes viral, Aaron Lewis revisits his search for 'Africa's most wanted' and looks at the Kony 2012 internet sensation.
Anyone who didn't know Joseph Kony before this week certainly does now. The 'Kony 2012' video has drawn almost 100 million hits since it was released last week, and the fascination continues. But the sleek production is not without controversy. Critics say it's inaccurate in parts, and it simplifies what's really happening in the hunt for Africa's most wanted man. The video paints Joseph Kony as a crazed killer, controlling thousands of child soldiers in Uganda.
VOICEOVER: For 26 years, Kony has been kidnapped children into his rebel group, the LRA. And he forces them to kill their own parent.
For many, the internet sensation was the first they'd heard of Kony, who has been on the move in Central Africa for more than 20 years. But what the video doesn't show was that Kony left Uganda years ago, and now operates between the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Souths Sudan - moving with a weakened and diminished army.
Well, Dateline has been tracking Kony in that part of the world for years. In 2010, Aaron Lewis joined the man-hunt - the first Western journalist allowed to travel with the Ugandan army as they pursued Kony through the jungle. Here's Aaron with a review of his story, and a look at the internet sensation that's got everyone talking.
REPORTER: Aaron Lewis
I joined the hunt for Kony here in the jungles of central Africa, tracking him with a team of soldiers from the Ugandan People's Defence Force, or the UPDF. In village after village, I found evidence of the atrocities committed by Kony's child soldiers. This woman's lips were cut off by children in Kony's army - punishment for her son passing information about the LRA's attacks. It was just one of many examples I would see of the cruelty inflicted by one of Africa's most wanted men.
COLONEL PETER ELWELU U.P.D.F: He has some experience on how to elude forces, how to disappear, disparse, hide - he knows all these tactics. It's not easy to get him.
I was the first journalist to be allowed to join this long and gruelling man-hunt, in this vast stretch of bush. Kony had just attacked a village not far away, and the trackers were quick to pick up his trail.
REPORTER: How many people passed this way?
SOLDIER: Here, it is about 80.
The soldiers tracking Kony march in silence from dawn till dusk - rarely drinking any water, resting only a few minutes every few hours - for months, or even years on end. Squad leader Captain Mohammed rarely leaves the bush or sees his family.
REPORTER (Translation): Captain, how long have you been after Joseph Kony?
CAPTAIN MOHAMMED (Translation): I have always been after him, since 1986, when Kony's offensive began.
The work of these soldiers, and the devastation caused by the men they are hunting, is only now causing worldwide attention.
KONY VIDEO: We are going to make Joseph Kony a household name. Not to celebrate him, but to bring his crimes to the light.
100 million people have now watched this half-hour video clip - an internet sensation that may have ushered in a whole new genre of activism. Slick, celebrity-endorsed video, and built to go viral.
KONY VIDEO: This is the guy, Joseph Kony.
He's the bad guy?
Everything in my heart told me to do something. And so I made him a promise.
"œWe are also going to do everything that we can to stop them. Do you hear my words? You know what I mean?
But while many have been moved by the video, and few can doubt the importance of stopping Joseph Kony, questions have emerged over the accuracy of the piece. And some have even questioned the motives of the group that produced it.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS: And the critics are weighing in heavily on Facebook too, raising questions about the faith-based group behind the movie, and whether the money they're raising is going directly to the children of Uganda.
How much of the money raised will really be used to help arrest Kony, and does the message here present a paternalistic and oversimplifyed take on a decades-long and complex problem for Central and East Africa?
JASON RUSSELL, DIRECTOR,"KONY 2012": We made it oversimplifyed on purpose, you know? Steve Jobs, you know, said "Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication." It's really hard to make something simple and we worked really hard to make it simple. So we're proud that it's simple.
Simple, but indisputably effective.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We "Congratulation the hundreds of thousands of American whose have mobilised to respond to this unique crisis of conscience."
There are more people who have responded in one week to this crisis of conscience than live in the entire nations of Uganda and the Central African Republic combined. But all that attention means little in the bush itself. The campaign is a world away. For the soldiers on the ground, there's just a sense that they're always one step behind the LRA. We could feel that here, when we found a camp where Kony had slept just two nights earlier.
MAJOR PATRICK: When you see them preparing a dish like this, chicken, that means they have a commander. This is for commander, and the commander slept around here.
Joseph Kony's reputation here is not just for his jungle tactics - he's known throughout East Africa as a powerful witch doctor. The soldiers tell me that Kony is able to hear conversations 500km away. Many still believe he can make his men invulnerable to bullets by smearing oil on a soldier's chest. Most of his lieutenants take it as gospel that he can control nature itself. But not all the soldiers are under Kony's spell.
LT MWESIGYE (Translation): Joseph Kony doesn't have any powers. The only power he has left is the ability to escape. On many occasions we've received information concerning groups that he's moving in but he's always the first one to escape.
The LRA have chosen this terrain to hide out in for a reason - it's gruelling. It's vast. And when it rains, footprints get washed away, and visibility decreases. The soldiers are on edge, and whenever night falls, the threat of ambush grows. Near the end of my time with the UPDF, we hear that another tracking unit has rescued two young girls abandoned by the LRA when they could no longer keep up the march.
Joseph Kony seems to know whenever the men tracking him are gaining ground. He goes to great lengths to confuse his trail. The LRA will weave unpredictably, crossing the same river back and forth and splintering into smaller groups to throw the UPDF off the trail.
REPORTER: Have you lost the track?
MAJOR PATRICK: No, no, we didn't. As they were crossing the river, they scattered, but ahead they have communicated they have now got it united all together.
REPORTER: So we keep tracking?
MAJOR PATRICK: So we keep tracking.
We came across clear signs that it was indeed Kony himself up ahead - the tattered clothes of one of his abducted girls, and a notebook.
TRACKER: This is a speech by Kony and one of those who attended the speech, managed to copy it or write it down. And in the document he is trying to encourage his fighters to be courageous. That the period for them dying in the battle has already ended.
This notebook is a glimpse into Kony's mind, and it had a visible impact on the trackers. They felt closer than ever, and they wanted to keep moving. But I had seen enough to understand how this cat-and-mouse game continues. Kony's real magic is the ability to keep his men believing that they will win a war without clear battle lines or objectives, and the Ugandan soldiers believing that Kony is just over the horizon, and that they will soon be home. The men who rescued the two girls had moved through the night to join our force.
CAPTAIN GAGA (Translation): Their condition was very bad. They couldn't walk as they had cuts on their legs and were lying down.
Mary and Tereza Aba were abducted by Kony's men when their village was attacked a week before. They were sexually assaulted, and then forced to begin their long march.
MARY ABA (Translation): We wanted to rest but they said "œNo rest. Keep walking." We were leaving. They said "œDon't leave! If you want to die now, leave, and you'll be killed." I said "œLet's go anyway. We could fall in the water and die today anyway."
The girls had had a lucky escape. The soldiers wanted to make sure that Kony wasn't as lucky.
TRANSLATOR (Translation): The soldiers ahead of you think they're one day behind Kony.
CAPTAIN MOHAMMED (Translation): Yes. We're leaving here to team up with them to defeat Kony.
REPORTER: Good luck, captain.
CAPTAIN MOHAMMED: Thank you. See you.
This was my last view of the soldiers as they took up the trail again. As we took off, the last of my confusion about why Kony has not been captured disappeared. The jungle seemed even more vast than when I first flew over it. It's easy to see how Kony can disappear under any tree, into any river, under any rock, leaving his men and the jungle to cover his escape while he lives to fight another day. I wonder now whether any of this will change, now that the world's attention has been so suddenly galvanised, or whether the internet sensation that has everyone talking about Kony will come and go, while the gruelling hunt in Africa's jungle grinds on.
REPORTER: Yalda Hakim:
YALDA HAKIM: Aaron Lewis on the trail of the extremely elusive Joseph Kony. Aaron joins me now from New York. The Kony video has been an online sensation. What's been the response from the US government?
AARON LEWIS: I think the US government has said "Thank you for showing up." They have sent 100 troops in already, and they've said that they have no desire to withdraw those troops at the moment.. So they're going to carry on with business as usual.
YALDA HAKIM: How have the Ugandans reacted?
AARON LEWIS: It's interesting - I was speaking to a number of the people I know in Uganda yesterday. Especially in Ghulu, there is great concern, because the video glosses over the different locations that Joseph Kony has moved through, and there are many, many people who got the impression that he's still operating in Ghulu in northern Uganda, which he has not been for years. Ghulu is a thriving place at the moment, a place that has been rehabilitated quickly and better-rehabilitated than most people would have imagined possible. People in Ghulu are not thrilled about what they see as bad publicity.
YALDA HAKIM: As we've just seen in the video, Aaron, you travelled with the Ugandan people hunting Kony. Why can't he be tracked down?
AARON LEWIS: Kony is one of the most wanted men in the world, for a very good reason. He's probably second only to Ho Chi Minh as the greatest jungle tactician of the 20th century. He's operating in terrain so vast, it makes Tora Bora look like a bunker. He's a difficult man to find in an extremely difficult place. If you think about the fact that Osama bin Laden was hiding out in an estate for a good long period of time, it gives you some perspective how hard it is to find the most wanted man in the world.
YALDA HAKIM: Well, the film-makers have received a caning from some critics - they say it's not a fair representation of a very complex situation. What's your take on that?
AARON LEWIS: I do believe the film-makers, when they say they endeavoured to make it simple, that they wanted to get the message out clearly. I think that this video is not a piece of journalism - it is not a documentary - even though a lot of people have called it that. It's agit - prop. It's a piece of media designed to agitate and propagate an idea and I think that it certainly did gloss over a lot of very important questions and issues. Probably the most important of which being how difficult it is to catch Kony in the first place. The video seems to imply that, with enough political will, he will be possible to catch in a short order. I'm not entirely sure that's the case.
YALDA HAKIM: Are we seeing a new brand of activism?
AARON LEWIS: Well I do. I think that's the thing that the organisation, Invisible Children, needs to be congratulated on the most. I think that they have created a fascinating piece of media that has drawn in social media, documentary content, old footage, and celebrity gossip, and sort of put it into this fascinating mix that has just galvanised the world's attention. I think this is a model that people are going to pay very close attention to for some time to come. In fact, I think that the model that they've created for galvanising support might last a lot longer than the attention put on all Mr Kony himself.
YALDA HAKIM: Aaron's original report from 2010 is available in full on our website. You'll also find another story from the Dateline archives about children rescued from Kony's army. And there are links to the Kony 2012 campaign at our website.
Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN
13th March 2012