Since Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video went viral many Ugandans have been infuriated by what they refer to as a gross misrepresentation of their country. Let’s give credit where it’s due. The Kony 2012 video has been hailed worldwide as a success for advocacy. The effect this video has had in terms spreading a message is almost unprecedented. It has also refocused the world’s attention to the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, and re-energized a global will to capture him once and for all. What hasn’t been heard by as many people however is the voice of the Ugandan people.
A couple of contradictions have emerged. The video purports to represent thousands of people who are still going through unimaginable hell under Joseph Kony’s torturous anarchy in Northern Uganda and that Kony is backed by 30 000 child soldiers. The video also places Uganda in Central Africa. The reality however, cannot be further from the truth. According to a statement released by the Ugandan government, the last time Joseph Kony was in Uganda was in 2006. A combination of Ugandan, Congolese and US forces continue to hunt for him in the densely thick forests of Congo to date. The number of Kony’s supporters are also nowhere near the 30,000 child soldiers that Invisible Children claim in their ‘Kony 2012′ video. In fact, his supporters number no more than 300 today.
It’s also ironical that while Ugandans and other Africans in general viewed the video as parochial, judging from the more than 70 million hits the video has received, most of the rest of the world thought it was great! Other than the contradictions, there has also been a collective amnesia about the policy solution proposed by Invisible Children. The proposal to get American forces to come and solve an African problem has not gone down very well here.
Overall, it seems like there are some things that the majority of citizens from the north and south agree on, and some on which they don’t. Agreed: Joseph Kony, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity needs to be apprehended and brought to justice quickly. Agreed: Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video was an extremely successful communications and marketing tool, harnessing and portraying the power of social media. Not sure: Who does this video truly represent? Not sure: What were the true intentions or motives of releasing the video. Disagree: That the video is a true representation of the people of Northern Uganda today, and their challenges in 2012.
The two questions posed above are in debate in Africa today. Local NGO’s in Northern Uganda have pointed out that communities in Northern Uganda have been on an upward trajectory since 2006, rebuilding their lives, and moving on from the scars left behind by the LRA massacres. Their kids are beginning to go school, they’re busy making great strides towards a path of healing and restoration. According to them, the true story is this, today, against all odds, baby step by baby step, Northern Uganda, is rising.
On Wednesday night 40,000 Ugandans from a Northern town called Lira gathered for a public viewing of the Kony 2012 video for the first time. There is very little Internet connectivity in the area so local NGO’s brought the documentary to town. The people of Lira are among those in Northern Uganda who witnessed first-hand Joseph Kony and his henchmen maim or kill their children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers before 2006.
Media reports say that the communities of Lira gathered to watch the famous movie they had heard about, expecting to see the story of their past tribulations including the countless atrocities from Kony and his rebels. This is not what they saw and they were outraged. Stones were thrown as the people vented their anger. What seemed to exasperate them even further is Invisible Children’s sale of Kony 2012 merchandise in the name of raising funds for charity and exposing Joseph Kony further. They wondered why anyone would want to promote a murderer right in front of the eyes of the real victims of Kony’s merciless carnage. The people of Lira viewed this as totally insensitive.
What one really wonders though, is whether Northern Uganda’s people’s true story is being told. What if their real challenges, such as nodding disease were expressed. Would the world listen? Would there be a rising up for a people reshaping their future, would the world respond with equal force? Equal measure? What can be done to have the same viral effect when telling stories of an Africa that is rising, so that Africa is not always stereotyped as a continent full of chaos and hopeless decay? Granted, Africa has it challenges, and these cannot be ignored. BUT, there’s more to Africa than meets the eye.
Wangui is the Head of Communications in Africa at ONE, a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Follow her on Twitter @WanguiMuchiri