There’s a warlord in the news again. With 86 million views and counting, the “Kony 2012” web video and its recently released sequel brought unprecedented attention to Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The videos are part of a campaign orchestrated by the U.S.-based NGO Invisible Children to rally international support for Kony’s capture. The major news outlets responded in kind, with ABC, CNN and the New York Times casting Kony as a warlord.
The problem is, warlords don’t exist. At least not as Invisible Children and its growing audience think they do.
The existence of warlords may seem an established fact. Since the end of the Cold War, dozens of violent actors from disparate corners of the globe have been singled out as warlords in policy debates, media reports and activist campaigns. Drug kingpins from Colombia to Tajikistan have been cast as warlords. Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor were portrayed in such terms, even after being elected president of Serbia and Liberia respectively. A decade after the overthrow of the Taliban, the United States still maintains unsavory but expedient relationships with various Afghan leaders often labeled as warlords.