For some, it was easy to dismiss the effect a viral video could have on the effort to stop crimes against humanity being committed in central Africa. After all, what possible influence could tens of millions of young people in the West have on a conflict half a world away?
When the African Union announced it was supporting and strengthening a force of 5,000 regional soldiers combatting the Lord’s Resistance Army just two weeks later — explicitly citing new global engagement on the issue — the world got its answer.
If nothing else, opening our children’s hearts and minds to a faraway humanitarian issue has been the great success of the “Kony 2012” movement, which this past weekend mobilized offline with grass-roots activities in communities around the world.
As parents, it’s remarkable to see our own children so passionate about the issue.
As Senators who have been deeply engaged in the challenges of central Africa for many years, we can say that the engagement of so many Americans, especially young Americans, supporting the U.S. mission to aid in the capture of LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants has never been stronger.
Letters and emails have poured into Washington from students from around the country, each bearing the same message our own children delivered to us: Kony and the LRA must be stopped and brought to justice.
Congress has received that message. The engagement of the past few weeks is helping to focus and strengthen the work of a broad bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill that is committed to finishing the job.
The facts are clear. Kony and his band of criminals have cut a path of destruction through central Africa for more than 25 years. The LRA has kidnapped tens of thousands of children, turning the boys into soldiers and the girls into sex slaves. The vicious nature of the LRA’s crimes and the youth of many of its victims have left scars that are tough to heal. Today, Kony and his top lieutenants are on the run and the United States is working closely with regional militaries to “remove them from the battlefield.”
Since 2010, it has been U.S. policy to work with governments in the region to stop the LRA and help central Africa recover from its destruction. With bipartisan Congressional support, President Barack Obama enhanced that commitment by sending 100 military advisers to provide training, technical support and strategic counsel to regional militaries attempting to kill or capture Kony and his commanders. The administration also increased efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected communities and early warning systems to vulnerable populations.
Congress’ strong bipartisan support for Kony’s capture and investment in Africa is nothing new, but it’s important to keep the pressure on. Last month, we introduced a Senate resolution with more than 40 co-sponsors — nearly half the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats — to support efforts by the United States to strengthen the capabilities of regional military forces to protect civilians and pursue what remains of the LRA.
The mission is championed by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Our challenge as Senators is now the same as our challenge as parents — sustaining this newfound level of engagement and interest. In today’s global economy, we want our kids to grow up as citizens of the world, equally concerned about injustices in Africa as they are in their own neighborhoods. We want to ensure that young people continue to feel empowered to speak out and make a difference, and we want them to know that their message about Kony and the LRA has been heard loudly and clearly.
There are moments in history, rare as they are, when millions of Americans galvanize around a crisis far from home and try to find a way to act.
This can be one of those once-in-a-generation moments.
From fighting in the border regions of Sudan to humanitarian crises and conflicts around the world, we will face many more global challenges in the years ahead. If America is to continue to be a moral force for good in the world, we will need the sustained engagement of citizens of all ages, as advocates and catalysts for change, just as they have been in response to “Kony 2012.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and a member of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.