by Malcolm Webb
Uganda has, in the last week, been propelled to the top of the international news agenda, for a brutal rebellion that has not operated in the country for the last five years.
On March 5, American charity Invisible Children posted a video on Youtube, entitled Kony 2012. The 30 minute film, narrated by one of the organisations founders, Jason Russell, campaigns for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the ICC-indicted Ugandan leader of the rebel Lords Resistance Army.
It went viral, and in nine days has attracted over 76 million views, along with a lot of support and also substantial criticism.
Critics argue that the film relies on footage nearly ten-years-old of children fleeing the LRA in northern Uganda, implying the situation remains the same to this day, and so failing to represent the real issues now facing post-conflict Northern Uganda.
The LRA now operates in the Central African Rrepublic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and is now thought to number no more than 300 fighters.
Invisible Children argue that they have the main facts correct, and that raising awareness is their primary goal, and a necessary step towards any further change.
While Youtube, Twitter and Facebook have gripped Uganda's middle class in recent years - and social networking sites have been key forums for the many Ugandan critics of the Kony 2012 video - most people in rural areas, including post-conflict northern Uganda, are still excluded from the internet revolution.
That means many of Joseph Kony's thousands of victims, most of whom live in rural villages, have never even heard of Kony 2012, Invisible Children or even Youtube.
Invisible Children's publicity machine is immense. Aside from the millions of internet users it has reached, and Kony 2012 already being described by some as the most effective viral campaign in history, it must also be the first ever Youtube video to be publicly screened in the northern Ugandan town of Lira.
A local charity, the African Youth Initiative Network, thought that the communities worst affected by the LRA, when it operated in Uganda, also deserved an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about, and so organized the event.
It was heavily publicized on local radio stations, and a crowd of thousands turned up at the Mayor’s Gardens in the centre of Lira for the sunset screening.
Having heard so many great things about the film, the crowd’s expectations were high.
Angry and offended
People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.
The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.
Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.
One woman I spoke to made the comparison of selling Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11 – likely to be highly offensive to many Americans, however well intentioned the campaign behind it.
The event ended with the angrier members of the audience throwing rocks and shouting abusive criticism, as the rest fled for safety, leaving an abandoned projector, with organisers and the press running for cover until the dust settled.
It seems that the while the film has a viral power never seen before in the online community, it did not go down nearly so well with the very people it claims it is meant to help.
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