Sunday, March 11, 2012


*I published this late last night unaware that it was the incomplete version.  I have since edited and re-posted and remain hopeful that our internet provider enables me to watch the movie before the week is out*

Before I lived in Uganda I had never heard of Joseph Kony and I wasn't aware of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).  Once we settled here we read and spoke with people who educated us about an army that had been rampaging in northern Uganda for over 17 years.  The LRA started out trying to achieve autonomy for the Acholi tribal region, but over the course of time ended up victimising, enslaving and murdering the very people they were trying to help.  Their ideology was loosely based on an interpretation of the 10 Commandments which came to twist violently from 'thou shalt not fornicate' to, 'thou shalt abduct, rape and sexually enslave school girls at whim.'

This week the KONY2012 documentary exploded across the internet via Facebook and Twitter and has been watched by over 60 million people and still the number of hits is rising.  The film made by Invisible Children has brought huge focus on to Uganda with international celebrities and President Obama placing their support behind the viral campaign.  This is a campaign that in the word's of its makers aims to make Joseph Kony (leader of the LRA) 'famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.'

I haven't been able to watch the 30 minute documentary beyond the first 3 minutes due to our dreadful internet connection.  I tried downloading it (something that takes about 2 hrs) so I could replay it later in the day but so far it hasn't worked.  Instead I've updated myself by reading Blogger's posts, viewer's comments, articles from the BBC website and followed links from one web page to another.  All have differed greatly and significantly in opinion.  There are those who support the campaign to bring Kony down and those who feel that Invisible Children have oversimplified a complicated geopolitical struggle.

A dvd sits on our bookcase called 'Discover The Unseen'.  It was given to us some years ago by our friend Maddy who crossed paths with the three American guys from Invisible Children in 2003. She was working in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda that at night became a refuge for children escaping the terror being unleashed on their communities by the LRA.  These children were known as the Night Commuters and at night thousands of them would leave their homes in the bush and walk for miles to the nearest town.  Verandas, shop doorways, side streets, school classrooms and taxi parks became a temporary refuge as they fled the abduction, sexual abuse and physical attacks on their villages by the rebels.

Maddy worked with groups of Night Commuters during 2002-03 and used art and compassion to help bring many of these broken children back from the brink.  She assisted the directors from Invisible Children with footage for 'Discover The Unseen' giving them access to areas that would have been otherwise impossible for them to film and enabled stark interviews with several young children.  What was supposed to be a one night pit stop in Gulu ended up being the creative back bone behind Invisible Children's film making.  A charity was born and with it a story about Uganda's northern children was told.

The film was powerful and  emotionally charged.  It slammed home the atrocities of a violent war that was happening in a corner of the African Continent that many people in the West knew very little about.  However the ending was a visual that didn't sit comfortably.  A colourful map symbolised a pretty and happy village, a safe community that would grow out of the funds donated by you when you hosted your student party and got friends to dig deep.  They anticipated raising $US800,000 in 5 months, but it was vague, too vague and didn't explain how such vast sums of money would be used and to what affect.

Fast forward to 2012.  Since 2006 most LRA groups have moved out of Uganda and relocated to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic where they continue to kill, rape and abduct.  Peace talks with the LRA to end the violence have failed, most notably in Juba in 2008 when Kony refused to sign the Juba peace accords.  So where does that leave Uganda's Kony victims now?  Post conflict the people of the north are recovering.  Children are going to school, people have moved out of the IDP camps, are tending their crops and communities are healing.  The work by local organisations and charities on the ground to rehabilitate families and children is significant and proves that Uganda and her people are really able to help themselves without the interference of the West.

Earlier today I spoke on the phone with Maddy about KONY2012.  She also hasn't seen it (she too lives in Uganda with poor internet) but has discussed with friends to gauge an opinion.  Maddy is one of the most passionate and opinionated women I know and to disagree with her is to poke a stick into a hornet's nest.  She spoke of 'Discover The Unseen' and how we still know very little about where the money donated by the charity was ever spent and of course what will the millions of dollars from this recent campaign go towards?  We discussed how Lonely Planet voted Uganda the # 1 tourist destination of 2012 and now?  Plus instead of focusing on Uganda she wanted to know why the hell these guys weren't taking their cameras deep into the jungles of DRC to film the horrific atrocities being carried out by the LRA there?

In the very recent words of Victor Ochen, director of African Youth Initiative Network, 'Campaigning on killing one man and that’s the end is not enough. To me even a bullet isn’t good enough for Kony, killing him alone will not be enough. There are many people who are caught up in this war. Every war has its own victims. We should be looking at ways to support victims not just in Uganda but all other countries affected. As far as I know Invisible Children are invisible on the ground and in communities. They have good access to international media but they have no connection with the community they claim to represent.' 

I may be sliding off the KONY2012 scale because I'm still to watch the documentary (and I will when the internet allows) but I've witnessed in touching distance a woman and child in Kampala with their lips and ears hacked off and I'm living here in Uganda in the eye of a media storm surrounded by people with a voice.  Often in the West we interfere above and beyond what is wanted by the people on the ground, but there are always two sides to any international debate.  For example look at how the West interfered with Afghanistan and Iraq and as Syria screams for outside help to stop the mindless killings the West sits on the sidelines. 

So what is right, what is wrong?  It's a complex question, but I agree that Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice and made accountable for the horrendous atrocities that he and his army have committed over the years.  But does Uganda or indeed Africa need the help of a negative social media campaign created by a Western charity to do that?  No, I don't think so.  As before, the people of the north have already shown that with courage and stability they can independently rebuild their own lives plus that of their communities. 

What you need to know right now is that peace currently reigns in Uganda and long may it continue.


Meghan said...

I don't think I ever told you, but I met these guys in Kampala at a hostel/hotel that Chris had us stop at on our way back from Queen Elizabeth. I struck up a conversation, we exchanged contact info. I got back to the states and the lead guy, Jason, reached out to me about being a program director and working at their offices in San Diego. I flew out, got to know the bowels of their organization. Underwhelmed. Naive. Not gracious. Into flash and glitz.

I can't even watch the video after being on the inside, even just for a short week. No real pulse on reality, in my opinion. In it for the glitz. (yikes I am being mean!)

Your thoughts were interesting. Funny how my meeting with them occurred---Chris wanted to stop to see some guy at a hotel and we just hung out and I saw these guys in the corner and recognized them. Crazy what they have become.

Anyhow, had to share.


Ggirl said...

Meg, great to read your comment and no, I never knew. I still haven't managed to watch KONY2012 and based on what I've read during the last week I'm not sure I want to, it's now more out of curiosity. As you know I think living here amongst people who are working for NGO's up country gives a very different perspective to those watching from overseas through fresh eyes. It's crucial IC maintain the momentum of their campaign (for which I'm also sceptical) for them to have any hope of achieving a fraction of what they've set out to do. Hope to see you before too long Xx