Targeting a Despot: Putting a Warlord in the Cross Hairs

Digitaria Helps Create a Tracking System to Stop a Criminal

By Published on .

There is a murderous madman on the loose. He's killing men, raping women and kidnapping children. You aren't worth a bullet to him, but your children are of great value. He would hack you to pieces or bash in your head before stealing your kids from their beds. Your sons would be brainwashed into becoming his devoted soldiers. Your daughters would either be added to his harem or they would become sex slaves for his henchmen.

Abducting, looting, raping and killing are what he does. His name is Joseph Kony, and he leads a group of child-soldiers called the Lord's Resistance Army. Fortunately, there are many miles between the war criminal Kony and your children. Kony currently terrorizes the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. You can breathe easy. But you can also help stop him.

Kony's been terrorizing Africa for more than a decade. Most horrifically, on Dec. 14, 2009, 20 of Kony's LRA fighters entered a village in the Makombo region of the Congo. It was hell on earth. Over the course of four days, those 20 thugs gruesomely hacked and bludgeoned to death 345 civilians with machetes and clubs. They abducted another 250 people. But not a single word of this massacre was discovered or reported anywhere in the media until March 2010 -- three months later!

The Arab Spring showed the world that nonviolent resistance to despot regimes was effective via the use of social networks. Most of the awareness raised was accomplished by civilians tapping out tweets on their mobile phones. The secrets that these regimes wanted to remain hidden were brought to light. Awareness affected change. Some regimes fell.

But for the people affected by the LRA terrorists, there are no cell towers, mobile phones or land lines that would allow them to cry for help. Until now.

Earlier this year, the advocacy group Invisible Children started erecting solar-powered, high-frequency radio "towers" (the towers are actually tree branches) in remote villages to create an Early Warning Radio Network. Each day, villages send reports to a central hub in the nation's capitol, one of the few places in the Congo with reliable Internet access. A radio operator transcribes the report into a customized SalesForce-powered interface, where each report is verified.

Invisible Children partnered with advocacy group Resolve and my digital marketing and technology agency, Digitaria, to build a platform for disseminating the early warning reports. This information became the centerpiece of a new kind of narrative-driven crisis mapping platform: the LRA Crisis Tracker.

The LRA Crisis Tracker chronicles the activities and attacks of the LRA through a variety of sources: the Early Warning Radio Network, UN agencies and local nongovernmental organizations. These reports are validated and stripped of sensitive information that could put civilians at risk, then mapped to a time and a place, categorized by incident type (civilian death, abduction, looting, etc.), and supplemented with videos and photos.

The end result is a real-time, interactive crisis mapping platform that reliably records the barbarity of the LRA and the afflictions of innocent civilians. Followers of the Crisis Tracker can share word of attacks on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, literally telling Kony and his army, "The whole world is watching."

What was once an obscure war is now exposed at a very granular level, using the LRA Crisis Tracker website and mobile application. Communities in the Congo that were previously unable to report a massacre of hundreds can now warn each other and the world about every one of the LRA's activities. In a few short months, the project has increased the number of publicly reported LRA attacks by more than 600%, according to Resolve.

By providing an unprecedented level of transparency to the atrocities of the Lord's Resistance Army, the hope is that the world will act. You can get involved by going to the LRA Crisis Tracker site and by getting updates on Twitter -- and passing them on. Individuals can also donate their time and means to those organizations, raising awareness, and governments will devote resources to fighting the LRA.

And it looks like that has come to pass. On Oct. 14, President Obama committed 100 troops to hunting down Joseph Kony and ending his reign of terror.

The world is now connected to the remote villages of the Democratic Republic of Congo via the LRA Crisis Tracker and the Early Warning Radio Network. Technology has brought the ability to get critical information in something close to real time, to understand the suffering that 's taking place there to a greater degree and to act to effect change on their behalf. Digital platforms such as the LRA Crisis tracker facilitate awareness.

Awareness enables social change. The rest is up to you.

Chuck Phillips, San Diego's 2011 IT Executive of the Year, is chief technology officer at Digitaria, a digital unit of JWT.
Most Popular