By Jeremy Herb
Senators who have tracked African warlord Joseph Kony for years are now hoping to capitalize on the massive interest surrounding the "Kony 2012" film with a viral video of their own.
A group of senators released a YouTube video Thursday that talks about their efforts to stop Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army and get people involved in the campaign.
While clips of senators speaking don't exactly make for compelling viewing like the 30-minute film produced by California-based nonprofit Invisible Children, the senators say the video is one more step that can help bring an end to Kony's reign of terror.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who chairs the African Affairs Foreign Relations subcommittee, spearheaded the video, which includes appearances from a half-dozen senators.
"What we are releasing today is explicitly in response to the once in a generation engagement by millions and millions of particularly young Americans," Coons said at a press conference Thursday. "I hoped we'd come across with a response in the same medium as the initial something that could be "liked' and tweeted and forwarded."
The video from Coons is the latest effort in Congress to seek out Kony and the LRA in the wake of the Invisible Children video, which has more than 87 million views on YouTube. The "Kony 2012" video details the crimes against children that Kony and the LRA have committed in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa since the 1980s.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Coons have introduced a resolution with 43 co-sponsors in the Senate that calls for increased assistance to the Ugandan military to capture Kony. Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) have a resolution in the House with more than 60 co-sponsors expressing a similar sentiment.
On Thursday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would expand the State Department's reward program for information that leads to the capture of people like Kony who are accused of committing mass atrocities.
"He's been an all too familiar nightmare for too many people for too long," Kerry said at an African Affairs subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The Obama administration sent 100 Army special-operations forces to Uganda in October 2011 to help the Ugandans and others capture Kony.
That decision was made before much of the public had ever heard of the Ugandan warlord. Inhofe noted at Wednesday's hearing that while Kony has had the attention of Congress and the U.S. government for many years, the viral video has helped draw important new interest in the cause.
"Now it's become a household word, and I'm very thankful for that," said Inhofe, who has made numerous trips to Africa.
Some people have been critical of Invisible Children and the way the video simplifies some issues with the LRA, such as not making clear that Kony fled Uganda in 2008.
But "Kony 2012" has particularly resonated among young people as its viewership spiked. A Pew survey last month found 58 percent of young adults had heard about the video, compared with 20 percent between the ages of 30 and 40, and even fewer among those older than 40.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Thursday it was her children who first alerted her to the film.
"I was very much re-engaged just recently over spring break when my 14-year-old showed me the "Kony 2012' video and said, "Mom, what are you doing to help?' " Landrieu said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) returned from a trip to Africa this week, where he was briefed about the U.S. effort to help capture Kony. "We're closer to coming to Joseph Kony than we probably have ever been, although we don't have him yet," Isakson said Wednesday.
Coons said his subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on the LRA and Kony next week, in which officials from the Pentagon and the State Department will testify.
He said Thursday that it wasn't just the modest resources that the United States has pledged to Kony's capture that's made the effort difficult, citing the terrain in Uganda and surrounding countries and the small number of 200 LRA fighters who remain.
Coons said Pentagon officials are "cautiously optimistic" they can catch Kony, although they are not asking for more than the $35 million that was appropriated last year. "They feel they have the resources now to get the job done," Coons said.