For Years, Vermonters Work Quietly To Focus Attention On Joseph Kony

03/13/12 7:34AM By Jane Lindholm
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Champlain College/ Steve Mease
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy speaks to reporters at Champlain College about the Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony. Leahy says he's been working on the issue for 12 years.

(Host) The viral video sweeping the Internet right now isn't about cute cats or an unlikely British singing star, it's about a Ugandan guerrilla leader named Joseph Kony, who abducts African children and forces them to serve in his Lord's Resistance Army.

As VPR's Jane Lindholm reports, some Vermonters have been working behind the scenes for years to try to focus attention on this story.

(Video) "In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him."

(Lindholm) This is the video lighting up social-not to mention traditional-media.

(Video) "But in order for the American advisers to be there, the US Government has to deploy them. They've done that.  But if the government doesn't believe the people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be canceled. In order for people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony's name is everywhere."

(Lindholm) The advocacy group Invisible Children is well on its way towards the goal of making Kony a household name with this video, which reportedly has some 90 million hits already.

(video) "We are targeting 20 culture makers and 12 policy makers to use their power for good."

 

(Lindholm) One of those targeted lawmakers is Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy says in the last week his office has received hundreds of tweets, emails, and letters on the issue.

(Leahy) "I think I've had probably more in the last week or so than I've had in the 12 years I've been working on this."

(Lindholm) Leahy chairs the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. So he has some control over the purse strings when it comes to US funds that are doled out to foreign countries. Leahy spoke Monday at an event at Champlain College in Burlington about his efforts to help aid the capture of the guerilla leader Joseph Kony, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

(Leahy) "The numbers in some ways seem sterile, but put faces on these numbers. Thousands of people uprooted from their homes. Children have been kidnapped, even forced to kill and mutilate members of their own family. It is some of the most horrible things imaginable."

(Lindholm) Twelve years ago, Senator Leahy started supporting efforts to provide aid to the Lord's Resistance Army victims through the Leahy War Victims Fund.

(Leahy) "But the real breakthrough was in 2010. We were able to pass the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act."

(Lindholm) Last year, up to $10 million was appropriated to begin implementing the law, and President Obama deployed 100 US military advisers to South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and The Democratic Republic of Congo to find and apprehend Joseph Kony and disarm the Lord's Resistance Army.

Leahy's not the only Vermonter who has been working for years on this issue. At Champlain College, Vermonters Sadie Stone and Angie Cummings founded a chapter of Invisible Children, the group behind the viral video, and advocated for the Senator to speak there this week. Cummings says this is a Vermont issue.

(Cummings) "Where we live shouldn't determine whether we live. So this concerns me not because of where I live, but because I'm a person and had I been born in northern Uganda 26 years ago instead of here, my life would be drastically different. That's why this matters."

(Lindholm) For VPR News, I'm Jane Lindholm.

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