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(WNN) San Diego, CALIFORNIA: Amid harsh criticism stating that the makers of the viral video sensation about Joseph Kony and the child soldiers of Uganda, called ‘KONY 2012,’ is now considered the most viewed video ever. It has received attention from such diverse groups as NASDAQ, DailyKos, Al Jazeera TV, USA Today, Forbes and Doctors Without Borders.
But among those who praise and those who cry foul about the video, a pounding criticism remains: Why is the organization that created KONY 2012 using information that some say is “outdated” to raise monies? The answers to these questions are complex. “It’s been difficult to read some of the comments I’ve read about Invisible Children,” says CEO Ben Keesey in a recent video talk-back placed on YouTube.
After what must seem like an ocean of critical remarks, Invisible Children’s CEO Keesey is not having an easy time his video about violence in Uganda, but he is stepping up in the largest way possible to explain some things to the public.
“When we launched KONY 2012 our intention was to share the story of Joseph Kony with new people around the world, but in the process there’s been alot of questions about us and so we want to be as transparent as possible…,” said Keesey.
“I think I understand why alot of people are wondering, is this just some slick fly-by-night ‘slacktivist’ thing? When actually it’s not at all. It’s actually a really, it’s connected to, a really deep thoughtful very intentional and strategic campaign,” continued Keesey. “The cool thing is there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, and that’s that Josephy Kony should be stopped.”
After criticism that Invisible Children may have misdirected some of their funding, the group fired back by posting what they call is a public page “for transparency” on their website showing all their financials from 2006 to 2011. It’s unclear whether this will quell the voices that want to tear at the deepest part of this campaign.
Starting in 2003 with an innovative online presentation, Invisible Children garnered the attention of numerous American youth, many high school kids, who have been brought to activism through Invisible Children images and call-to-action pages – specifically to activism – to cover and act on issues surrounding child soldiers, especially kidnapped children in regions like Uganda, Africa. This call for youth activism can be seen as offering real help for teenage kids, especially in the west, who need the most to engage more in life as a positive advocate in the world.
Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) brought violence, slavery and suffering to many men, women and children, especially women who faced unspeakable rapes and children who were kidnapped and forced to be child soldiers; who during terrible times were sometimes forced to destroy and kill even their own parents. Girls too were also forced into being soldiers, but numerous girls were often considered primarily to be sex-slaves for leaders of the LRA’s paramilitary. The fear created by the roaming armies caused a widespread exodus of many people in northern Uganda during the conflict of the 1980s and 1990s.
Today Jospeh Kony is living outside Uganda in northern Sudan. He has been gone from Uganda for six years and is said to have little left in life but a sordid secret history of LRA atrocities left that are connected to his name. These facts have been acknowledged worldwide by those who have followed the activities of Kony, especially among global advocates, who know more about human rights and political history in the region.
But where is the story on Joseph Kony going today? What are the newest updates and reports by the International Criminal Court? Have the makers of KONY 2012 instead ‘missed the boat’ by getting out a more dated, yet urgent message? And if so, why didn’t they take the opportunity to educate the world on the most recent situation in Uganda? We must also ask a question here that is too seldom asked: how are Uganda’s women and girls doing now?
“The fact is that northern Uganda is no longer what it is portrayed as in the [KONY 2012] video. I know many people have said this, but this is a MASSIVE problem. The majority of people watching this film have never even been to Uganda and so they now have this extremely negative view of another African country,” says Nikita Bernardi, who shares she, has “lived in East Africa all my life” and who also posted her recent comments on the Guardian News.
“I have read the response that the film-makers posted on their site and they seem to think that it does not matter if Mr. Kony has left Uganda or not and that he is still a mad killer who recruits children to fight for him. Yes, he is mad, but he is nowhere near as strong as he was in the early to mid-2000s. He is no longer terrorising northern Uganda and the region is now relatively stable. If I lived in northern Uganda I would be furious that my region was being portrayed in such a negative and outdated way,” continued Bernardi.
Today many women, who experienced trauma during the conflict in Uganda, have turned toward empowerment, entrepreneurship, education and job training to push forward and to enable them to leave their pain behind.
According to the UNDP – United Nations Development Programme – education is up for women and girls in Uganda. In 2010, the UNDP helped to set up a new Master of Arts program through Makerere University (in Kampala) with a focus on economics and gender, the first of its kind in any African University. Women are also studying architecture and engineering at Makerere University.
“Uganda has made significant strides in reducing poverty. The population living below the poverty line reduced from 56% to 31% between 1992 and 2006. If this trend continues, prospects for achieving the income-poverty target of less than 10% by 2017 remain high,” says the most recent data from the UNDP.
The release of the KONY 2012 video has brought many global advocates out to comment on the current state of affairs in Uganda. Numerous opinions about the video are also coming from those who have lived or worked in Uganda in the past years. “I agree that Kony does need to be arrested and answer for the crimes he has committed, but this is something that Uganda and other countries have been trying to do for years… another interesting thing is that there is a lot of grievance in the North towards the government of Museveni,” said Chris Hobbs who also posted a comment to The Guardian News and who, interesting enough, lived and worked in Lira, Uganda for a small NGO (non-governmental organization) for one year in 2011.
Lira is a district in Uganda that was considered, along with the Tesa district, to be one of the hardest hit by the violence of the rebel soldiers under Joseph Koney and the LRA. It is a region where women who were once considered victims, strongly no longer want to be considered victims, but even with this recovery from old wounds, including psychological ones, can be hard to shed.
“There is still strong tribal ties in Uganda, and many in the North believe that Museveni could have done a lot more to stop the LRA at the height of the troubles,” continued Hobbs.
A recent screening in Lira of the KONY 2012 video before native Ugandans, many who were native Acholi that also included children of those who were the most impacted by the violence spawned by the Lord’s Resistance Army, has caused a great stir. The audience had a strongly negative reaction to the video. The reaction was so strong it ended up with stone throwing from the audience, and anger. But why?
The reason is simple. The new generation of Acholi people from northern Uganda appear, like so many other others across the country, to be wanting to move on now with their lives after living on the receiving end with what seems like a lifetime of stories with struggle and violence. Much of the suffering brought about by the LRA started back in the mid-1980s and hit with the most ferocity in the mid-1990s.
By 2008 many IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) were moving back from camps where conditions had deteriorated and back into regions they once called home. Uganda is now in the process of rebuilding, especially with new technologies, like mobile phone banking. The Women of Uganda Network (also known as WOUGNET) is actively involved in career training for women. One job available on their website right now is asking the fill a job for a front-end software engineer, preferably a woman software engineer.
“This is not about us, it does not reflect our lives,” said a group of Ugandan viewers after watching the KONY 2012 video.
In spite of local sentiments, the United Nations has reported new recent roaming attacks by the LRA, without the personal presence of Kony himself. These attacks have occurred inside Uganda in the regions of Watsa, Niangara, Dungu, Bondo, Ango (in Orientale) and Faradje. It’s without a doubt that these reports have been troubling.
In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued for Joseph Kony by the ICC – the International Criminal Court coming from The Hague in Geneva, Switzerland. In the warrant, Kony has been charged with 12 counts of crimes against humanity. He has also been charged with 21 counts of war crimes on the basis of his individual responsibility for LRA actions. Specific crimes including rape, murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and the forced enlistment of children are part of 3 specific comprehensive charges. To date criminal investigations at the ICC on Joseph Kony are ongoing.
Along with the warrant for Kony’s arrest, came similar warrants against his top leadership. Two of Kony’s top lieutenants have since died though. One, LRA Lieutenant Raska Lukwiya, was killed in 2006 during a battle with troops in northern Uganda, the other LRA Lieutenant, Vincent Otti, was executed in 2007 by Kony’s own forces. His murder has been thought to have occurred because of his open positions on peace in the region and also because Kony may have perceived his popularity among LRA forces as personal threat to his position.
“Anyone joining the Kony 2012 campaign should insist that efforts to arrest Joseph Kony must respect human rights,” said Amnesty International very recently in a formal statement. “It is also vital to make sure that any action ensures the protection of civilians in the surrounding areas… …efforts to arrest Joseph Kony should be led by the governments of the countries in the region where the LRA operates, not by the U.S. armed forces,” they added.
Perhaps the message now after the KONY 2012 video has been viewed over 77 million times is: the world may need to watch and follow the wishes of the people of Uganda in order to advance with them. This doesn’t mean that Joseph Kony should be let ‘off-the-hook,’ but facts and details seem to be important issues to those who have followed the tragedy along with the crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army for a long time.
Even with international and local movements toward advancement in Uganda, the shadow in the pain of atrocity still lingers.
As current situation in Uganda is coming under more international and government scrutiny the “United Nations and government officials from central Africa will meet in Uganda next week to finalize a comprehensive regional strategy on combating the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group that gained notoriety for its atrocities in Uganda, but which has in recent years extended its violence to neighboring countries,” said the UN News Service recently on March 13, 2012.
“The UN and the African Union, both of which are involved in the effort to arrest the LRA suspects, also have an essential role to play in supporting efforts to arrest the LRA leaders, in protecting affected communities and monitoring and reporting on the status of human rights protection,” added Amnesty.
After the cross border Juba Talks attempted to find peace in the region, but stopped in 2006, along with a series of cease-fires between Ugandan forces and LRA operatives, a level of country stabilization started to begin for Uganda, but the governments of surrounding regions, including Sudan, DR-Congo and the CAR (Central African Republic), then began finding themselves with their own version of roaming armies of men, many who have been connected at some time on some level to the Lord’s Resistance Army.
“The video fails to address the politics of the region which I believe is an important factor of why Kony has remained at large for so long,” outlined Hobbs.
“This also makes me question why it is that everyone in the western world seems to think that they can solve all of Africa’s problems in a western way,” added Bernardi.
“Here is the bottom line. KONY 2012 is wildly successful because it exploits the uninformed masses in the West especially millions of well intentioned young people eager to do good for Africa. What the film does not do in this case, however, is explain how the situation has changed on the ground in northern Uganda,” says journalist Oliya.
“I hardly doubt that the people of Northern, Eastern and West Nile regions in Uganda, the most affected by this war have any idea that a video talking about their plight has gone viral on the internet,” said Ugandan journalist Maureen Agena, who grew up in northern Uganda in the Lango sub region. “It’s 2012 and the people of northern and eastern Uganda are in the post conflict era and re-settling. Why doesn’t the video at least give a brief highlight of this current situation rather than threaten the entire globe with out-dated information?” Agena explained. “Does ‘Invisible Children’ have an idea what impression of Uganda has been portrayed to a world that still believes Idi Amin is alive and still terrorising us? What will happen to our tourism sector?”
With a push to move forward Journalist Maureen Agena was also a college student who was attending St. Mary’s College in Aboke, Uganda in 1989 when Joseph Kony’s rebel soldiers abducted 139 college girls.
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