How KONY 2012 is playing in Northern Uganda

In my critique of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012, I said if we want to help vulnerable populations like those featured in the video, we should tell their story on their terms, not ours. We shouldn’t portray them as voiceless or hopeless. Our job is to stand alongside the poor, to regard them as equals. It’s not to “come to their rescue.”

Yesterday, CNN covered a screening of KONY 2012 in Lira, a city of 100,000 in Northern Uganda. This is the region where Kony used to wreak havoc — raiding villages, kidnapping children, and committing unspeakable acts of violence. This was ground zero for the LRA war.

The screening was hosted by AYINET (African Youth Initiative Network), a Ugandan NGO working to support those affected by the war. Several thousand people showed up.

Many of the children, women, and men in attendance lived through Kony’s reign of terror.

So what did they think of how Invisible Children presented their story to the world?

Today, AYINET issued a press release announcing that they’re suspending further screenings of KONY 2012, because:

At the Lira screening, the film produced such outrage, anger and hurt that AYINET decided that in order not to further harm victims or provoke any violent response that it is better to halt any further screenings for now.

According to AYINET, those in attendance share Invisible Children’s desire to see Kony and other LRA commanders brought to justice. But viewers were deeply disturbed by the main goal of KONY 2012: to make Joseph Kony famous.

It was very hurtful for victims and their families to see posters, bracelets and t-shirts, all looking like a slick marketing campaign, promoting the person most responsible for their shattered lives.

After the screening, one viewer was applauded when he stood up and said:

If you care for us the victims, you will respect our feelings and acknowledge how hurting it is for us to see you mobilizing the world to make Kony famous.

According to AYINET:

There was also a strong sense from the audience that the video was insensitive to African and Ugandan audiences, and that it did not accurately portray the conflict or the victims.

It’s time we started listening to those we claim to serve. If KONY 2012 is really about making a difference and not just making us feel better about ourselves, then we should listen long and hard to how the people of Northern Uganda feel about how their story has been told.

They’re the ones who bore the brunt of Kony’s evil. They should be the ones to decide how best to recover and rebuild. And it seems to me they’re saying that KONY 2012 isn’t the way to go.

For more on reaction to KONY 2012 in Northern Uganda, see:

>> KONY 2012 screening met with anger in northern Uganda (The Guardian)

>> KONY 2012: Ugandans speak (ONE)

Also well worth reading is this statement from AYINET director Victor Ochen, whose brother and cousin were abducted by the LRA:

>> A war victim’s opinion on Invisible Children’s KONY 2012

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