Critics question aspects of Kony viral video


As 40 million viewers tune into the Kony video, some in Uganda criticise the campaign, writes ORLA TINSLEY

THE UGANDAN government sought yesterday to reassure the international community that it would capture Joseph Kony, a leader of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is based in northern Uganda and which stands accused of crimes against humanity.

Defence ministry spokesman Felix Kulayigye was responding to the extraordinary surge in global interest in Kony since the posting of an emotional video appeal on YouTube by a little-known group based in San Diego, California.

The LRA is notorious for violence including hacking off body parts and abducting young boys to fight and young girls for sex slaves.

Kony and his fighters were driven out of northern Uganda in 2005 after terrorising communities for nearly two decades. They now roam the dense forests of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The video calling for the arrest and handing over to the International Criminal Court has been viewed 40 million times. Since Tuesday “Uganda”, “Kony2012” and “Invisible Children” – the NGO that made the video – have been trending worldwide on Twitter, making Kony a household name.

“Can I tell you the bad guy’s name,” Jason Russel, co-founder of Invisible Children, asks his young son in the 30-minute video. He places a picture of Kony and one of Jacob, the child soldier and now friend of the family he met in Uganda in 2003, on the table and uses his son’s reaction as a starting point for the narrative.

The now viral video illustrates how social media is transforming political activism like in the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and Obama’s 2008 election.

Kony 2012 set out to “make Kony famous” and gained unprecidented celebrity endorsers such as Rihanna, Oprah and Justin Bieber tweeting support. On the group’s website supporters can buy an “activism kit” of stickers and T-shirts to further the campaign.

However, critics say this overall Hollywood narrative is too slick and simple, reducing the gravity and complexity of the conflict and promoting a narrative of Africa as a helpless place.

There has also been mass controversy over a photograph of the founding members holding guns alongside troops in South Sudan. “We were young and got caught up in the moment. It was never meant to reflect the organisation,” Mr Russel said in a statement yesterday. “We thought it would be funny to bring back our friends and family a joke photo,” he said.

Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagnire said one of the key issues is the idea Africa is helpless and has no tools for change. “Right now Joseph Kony is not in Uganda, the situation in the video was five or six years ago. The situation has tremendously improved in Uganda,” she said.

“People sleep at home, children are going to school . . . it’s about post-conflict recovery. The war is more than just one evil man killing children. It was much more in the beginning about resources and marginalising of people in northern Uganda,” she said.

Experts estimate that LRA membership is as low as 250.

Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesman for United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said attacks by the LRA this year are “the last gasp of a dying organisation”.

“They used to control villages and take hostages; right now it looks more like people trying to survive,” he said.

On Thursday the Obama administration praised the video saying: “We congratulate the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have responded to this unique crisis of conscience and I think the viral video is part of that response raising awareness about the particular activities of the LRA.”

Although said to be an overnight success, Invisible Children has been lobbying US Congress since 2009 which led to the LRA Disarmament and Northern Ugandan Recovery Act to support peace in northern Uganda and areas affected by the LRA. There are currently 100 US special forces in Uganda.