KONY 2012 criticism continues as Ugandan women rise above the past

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Ugandan woman stands in doorway
A Ugandan woman of limited financial means stands proudly in the doorway to her home. Image: Jennifer Wilmore/Bread for Life

(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video, a pounding criticism remains: Why is the organization that created KONY 2012 using information that some say is “outdated” to raise monies?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.

“I’m not happy at all because they ruined me. I had to cut short my studies. I have no hope that I will one day be somebody. I gave birth to two children and was not prepared. I have two children and no means of survival. I worry about what will happen next.”

– Former girl child soldier, Christine A., who was abducted as a 13-year-old child in 1996 and later interviewed at the age of 20 in 2003 while living at VOHU – Village of Hope, Uganda.

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?

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