Almost every digitally connected individual in the world has heard about Joseph Kony, the big bad man in Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa a quarter the size of Ontario with roughly the same population as Canada.
Kony 2012, a video that went viral within days, calls attention to Kony. The video was filmed and released by Invisible Children, an American non-profit charity organization whose work focuses on social development in Northern Uganda. Invisible Children aims to help those struggling from a war started by Kony’s rebel group, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), 26 years ago—and the children who have been affected.
The LRA operates in east and central Africa, including in Uganda, southern Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their infamy comes from their treatment of children. They are known for turning young boys into killing machines and girls into sex slaves.
Kony 2012, at half an hour long, highlights the atrocities carried out by the LRA. The video was posted with an expiration date and a call for celebrities and plain folk alike to “make Kony famous”— a strategy devised by Invisible Children to end the bush war in northern Uganda.
The film itself has received plenty of criticism with regards to its accuracy and its point of view of a war that has raged for over two decades. Some claim the video has oversimplified and glossed over the complexities of a war filled with messy contradictions and other key individuals and bodies involved. The video gives no context or allusion to other contributing causes, instead leading viewers to assume that once Kony is caught and brought to justice, or even killed, Uganda’s troubles will end. The video’s expiry date reinforces this notion and gives us all a date to mark on our calendars as the day that we stopped an African warlord.
According to the Ugandan army spokesman, Lt. Cl. Felix Kulayigye, “Uganda welcomes all campaigns which seek to raise awareness and make known the struggles of those affected by the LRA.” He adds, “Any campaign should fully take into consideration the current realities of the situation.”
The video should have been posted with a disclaimer stating that that is what used to happen and is not the reality in Northern Uganda today. Ugandan newspapers report on Kony as much as The Toronto Star reports on little Sally stealing Billy’s sandwich. Kony has been relatively under the radar for almost half a decade and northern Uganda no longer suffers from the looming fear of having their children abducted and abused. It is a region striving to rebuild itself. The government and other charitable organizations have worked hard to stabilize the region and Invisible Children is one that has played a key role in the rehabilitation of the region.
The video’s critics include the people that have been and continue to remain invisible: the victims. A public screening was set up a week after the video’s release in the town of Lira. A riot broke out before the end of it. Among the viewers were some victims of the LRA who found the film to be distasteful and insulting. The concept of glamourizing Kony struck a chord with a lot of them and came across as an exploitation of their struggle as a means of mobilizing funds. Others didn’t like the fact that no Ugandan voices were represented.
Aid from the West might only succeed in throwing an already weak community into chaos. And when the government and the infrastructure break down, the region has a tendency of generational dependence and people living hand to mouth.
I am a Ugandan and I’m writing this article in the hope of setting a few things straight. My family lives in Uganda and I go back there at least twice a year, so I’m quite familiar with current Ugandan affairs. This isn’t a scholarly article, and I don’t intend to change any minds or offer revelations. I just want encourage readers to focus on the issue from the point of view of an actual Ugandan.
And no, we don’t live in trees.