The Kony 2012 video that took the Internet by storm last week with its impassioned appeal to support the ongoing hunt of rebel leader Joseph Kony inspired everyone from Angelina Jolie to Soulja Boy to spread the word about the issue, but its recent screening in the northern Ugandan town of Lira elicited a much different response.
"People kept on getting upset," Victor Ochen of the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), the group that sponsored the screening, told the BBC. "They were wondering, 'If this is about northern Uganda, how come it's dominated by non-Ugandans? What is it about now? This is an insult.'”
Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, is accused of leading the rebel group in its campaign of kidnapping children to use as foot soldiers and forcing them to carry out mass atrocities. Many in Lira were directly affected by the LRA's abuse of the region.
AYINET decided to hold the public screening when they realized that millions of people around the world have been talking about the video, yet many Ugandans without Internet access had never heard of or seen the 30-minute appeal.
In an open letter published on AYINET's website, Ochen, who says he was raised in the midst of the LRA's reign of terror in Uganda, cautions against misguided calls for military action related to Kony's capture, given that many Ugandans still have loved ones captured by Kony who they would like to see returned safely. Ochen wrote, "... as someone whose brother and cousin were abducted and who are among the thousands of disappeared whose fate is unknown, I join with other Ugandans who hope our relatives are still in captivity and will come back home alive. Any advocacy aimed at military bombardment of the LRA rebels remains therefore very sensitive ... because thousands of children and adults have been abducted and have still not come home yet."
Although the viewers in Lira are not the first to criticize the film, they are part of a growing chorus of African voices who say the campaign is part of an overall trend by organizations of oversimplifying complex issues with passionate appeals and high-profile celebrity endorsements to drive up donations.
Cameroonian journalist Julie Owono writes, “The viral campaign portrays Ugandans — often referred to merely as "Africans" — needing to be saved by young Americans, whose overflowing humanity will carry the burden of a history they are not responsible for. It's understandable. Indeed, it seems easier to picture needy "Africans" than proactive ones — and surely sells more.”
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(Photo: James Akena/Reuters)