This picture, made available 24 May 2006 by the Monitor media group in Kampala, Uganda, shows one of the world's most wanted rebel chiefs, Joseph Kony of the Lord Resistance Movement.
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By Noah Rayman
December 15, 2014

The non-profit that helped mobilize the international community against a brutal African warlord–or misrepresented and oversimplified a complex issue, depending on your point of view–says it’s packing up.

Invisible Children, founded in 2004 to raise awareness about Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, announced on Monday that it is winding down its U.S. operations and will cut most of its 21-person staff.

In a statement posted to its website, Invisible Children cited a drop in Kony’s influence–though he still leads several hundred fighters–but also indicated it was having trouble fundraising.

“Despite making incredible progress toward our mission, it’s been difficult to fund the breadth of our work, especially over the last two years,” the group said.

In 2012, Invisible Children released an emotional film about Kony that catapulted the organization onto the international stage thanks to the film’s viral effectiveness–and the subsequent criticism of its portrayal of the conflict and the resulting “hashtag activism.”

The film, Kony 2012, was viewed more than 100 million times in less than a week and was called at the time the most viral video in history. It was credited with helping to prompt the U.S. to back an African Union military force charged with hunting down Kony.

But it also faced widespread criticism for its simplistic tone and for exaggerating the threat posed by the LRA, at the expense of other health and social issues. While the LRA had forced thousands of children to become child soldiers over the previous two decades, by the the time the film was released, Kony had been expelled from Uganda and led only a few hundred followers.

The film’s backlash appeared to have hurt the NGO’s fundraising efforts: while Invisible Children raised $26.5 million in 2012, nearly as much as it had raised in the previous three years combined, it collected $4.9 million in 2013, according to its financial reports.

Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com.

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