WASHINGTON — Ten years ago, I was in the same boat as the directors of the viral video "Kony 2012."
I was shocked to hear about tens of thousands of kids in far-off northern Uganda being abducted by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army who forced the children at gunpoint to kill their mothers, their brothers, and their friends.
I asked: Why were children, as young as eight years old, dying and getting their lips cut off? And for what? The rebel leader, Joseph Kony, seemed to have no popular support.
Like the makers of "Kony 2012" I decided I could not stand idly by. I became committed to helping end one of the deadliest wars in Africa by helping children brutalized by Kony and the LRA.
The directors of "Kony 2012" have succeeded in using video and the internet to create a revolutionary way to raise awareness.
More from GlobalPost: How to end the LRA
A week ago, tens of millions of people around the world had no idea where Uganda or the Central African Republic were, but because of the viral video "Kony 2012," they now know about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and about the destruction they have caused on the ground.
But that is not enough. Today we have a chance to move beyond awareness and help move policy. Only policymakers here and in Africa can really end these human tragedies.
If you saw "Kony 2012" and want to do more, you can.
The video gives a compelling narrative and basic outline of Kony’s story, but here are four suggestions that can help us take "Kony 2012" a step further to actually end the war:
1) Voice your opposition to Kony and the LRA
Our voices influence the policymakers in Washington and Central Africa who can resolve the LRA war. Our voices have a big impact on the LRA. I have just returned from Uganda where I interviewed some of Kony’s former fighters. They told me the LRA has now dwindled to one-fifth its former size. They said international pressure is the number one reason why the LRA left northern Uganda.
If it weren’t for people writing in to the US Congress and protesting in their communities and campuses, this pressure never would have been felt by the LRA commanders on the ground. I sat in Capitol Hill offices two years ago hearing about how no one thought the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Bill would pass. But thanks to dedicated people who told their Members of Congress that it mattered, the bill became law and paved the way for the US military advisors to be sent to Uganda. Today there is a greater chance than ever to end the LRA.
2) Press for greater involvement of US and African forces
US President Barack Obama took a big step last year, but an added small investment now will go a long way to finish the LRA. The 100 military advisors that the president sent last fall are lending eyes and ears on the ground to help find Kony. But there are still two huge obstacles to finding him: the main troops trying to find Kony, the Ugandan army, have had their numbers cut in half, and they are currently banned from operating where most of Kony’s troops are located — in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If we don’t change this equation, we have very little likelihood of arresting Kony.
Obama needs to call on African presidents to provide more troops to help locate Kony and his top commanders. He also needs to ask the Pentagon to provide helicopter transport and intelligence support to buttress the advisors and ask European countries to do the same.
3) Encourage more LRA soldiers to defect
Guns alone won’t finish the job. Almost all of Kony’s soldiers are held against their will. But if they are to run away and deplete the LRA of its troops, they need to know that they can come out safely. This requires more radio towers to get the message to them in rural Central Africa. Aid to local communities is needed to help make sure they have safe places to run out to.
The U.S. government, the United Nations, and non-profit organizations can help and can also assist in the protection of civilians, if we draw their attention to the problem. The international community must also make a long-term commitment to rebuild communities affected by LRA violence. The LRA exists and is able to survive because of the governance deficits in the affected countries. After the LRA is ended, the countries need support and advice to increase political and economic participation and improve governance.
Kony is a master at survival and could re-group if left alone. The LRA has survived on almost nothing for the past 25 years: They don’t earn money from minerals, like some rebel groups do. If there is no additional civilian and security push or if the advisors are withdrawn prematurely, there is a major risk that the LRA could go on a spree of abduction again.
4) Write to Congress and to the White House
The more that Obama and Congress hear from us about how much having Kony arrested this year matters, the more they will do to make that happen. But if we let the foot off the gas pedal and say, “this video is too simplistic and stupid,” and do nothing, the war will be left up to the same people who could do nothing to end it for 25 years. The choice is ours.
Sign up here to schedule a meeting with your Member of Congress when he/she visits your community.
Write to President Obama and tell him to take the next steps to end the war.
Sasha Lezhnev is Policy Consultant at the Enough Project and co-founder of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a charity that helps former LRA child soldiers in northern Uganda.
The Enough Project, along with the advocacy group Resolve, is supporting the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign.
More from GlobalPost: Stopping the LRA is not all about Kony