x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

To many Ugandans, Kony is old news

KONY 2012, aims to raise awareness about indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). But for Ugandans such as Mr Katumba, Mr Kony is old news.

KAMPALA // After seeing a clip of an online video that has had 76 million views on YouTube, Amos Katumba, who works at an internet cafe in Kampala, didn't rush to download the documentary.

Produced by American NGO Invisible Children, the 30-minute video, KONY 2012, aims to raise awareness about indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). His brutal tactics in Uganda include abducting children and using them as child soldiers and sex slaves.

But for Ugandans such as Mr Katumba, Mr Kony is old news. The leader of the LRA has not been active in the country in more than six years.

"At the moment, (for) we as Ugandans, there are other issues that we are concerned about. The power is always off. The price of sugar is high... That is the reason why people pay less attention to things like Kony," said Mr Katumba.

The film features an interview with a former child soldier and tells the story of Invisible Children's campaign to get the American government to intervene against the LRA. Although the video has gone viral around the world, critics in Uganda say it misrepresents the situation in the country.

"The video is completely misleading of the situation in Uganda. There is utterly no conflict at all in any part of Uganda," said Fred Opolot, the director of the Uganda Media Center, the government press office.

The LRA was expelled from Uganda in 2006 and pushed into central Africa. According to the Ugandan government, the group has been reduced to about 300 fighters.

The Ugandan army, supported by 100 American military advisers, is pursuing the remaining LRA forces, which are now active in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"Even a small LRA is dangerous," Abou Moussa, head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, said yesterday during a news conference in Libreville, Gabon.

After watching the film "the person who doesn't know the events in Uganda would certainly believe that Kony is still operating in Uganda," said Mr Opolot.

Invisible Children has posted a statement on its website that briefly mentions that the LRA left the country.

"Since the LRA left Uganda in 2006, Invisible Children has been publicly denouncing their atrocities in DR Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR), while continuing to work with the now-peaceful communities in post-conflict northern Uganda," the statement said.

However, like many in Uganda, Mr Opolot, the government press office director, is suspicious of Invisible Children's motives in downplaying the fact that the LRA is no longer in the country.

"I can only suspect that they wanted to raise money for their charity. Unfortunately they have used a wrong approach because what they are doing is misrepresenting a country that has just emerged from a conflict".

The film exhorts viewers to purchase a US$30 (Dh110) bracelet to show their support for the campaign and donate towards Invisible Children's programs in Uganda.

"I'm looking at the video and questioning the motives. Where is the link between donating money and capturing Kony?" asked Ugandan blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire.

"(The film) concentrates so much on Uganda yet the current crimes are being committed in the Congo. If somebody is really campaigning on Kony in 2012, he must have his focus on DRC," she added.

The film, which features a strong focus on the Invisible Children's American founder Jason Russell and his advocacy in the United States, has also been criticised as neo-colonialist.

"(It's) furthering the stereotype... that for us to be heard a white person must speak for us," said Mr Kagumire.

Others speculated that stereotypes about Africa helped explain why the video had achieved such phenomenal popularity in such a short time.

"That storyline, of barbarity in Africa, cruelty and all this, is the biggest selling storyline because it feeds into all the prejudices, stereotypes, and biases of the white world," journalist Andrew Mwenda said last Friday on a radio talk show in Kampala.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae