Kony2012 Flops in Uganda (UPDATE)

Video from Al Jazeera

My friend Victor Ochen, who is featured in the video, organized the screening through his NGO the African Youth Initiative Network. On his Facebook page, Victor relays the frustration felt by people in the audience:

” 30,000 people from accross northern Uganda turned up for the Screening of Kony 2012 Film. With more than 95% of the population went back frustrated and expressing their views about the film”.

“‘If [they] care about us, they will respect our views as victims and never celebrate Kony, never put on his t-shrits because he has caused us the worst suffering in life,’ said one of the victims”

People in the audience expected a video that conveyed their experience of the LRA conflict. Instead, it seems the prevailing attitude was that a foreign NGO is trying to raise money off of their suffering. Fair or not, that seems to be the main takeaway.

Check out tweets from journalist Rosebell Kagumire, who attended the screening and you’ll get a sense of disappointment and anger at the film. For a long, thoughtful response to the film, read Victor Ochen’s full thoughts on the film.

 UPDATE: Victor Ochen of AYINET says he has cancelled planned future screenings of Kony2o12 in Northern Uganda because the film “produced such outrage, anger and hurt” at its Northern Uganda debut yesterday.

Here is his email to me:

The first public screening of Invisible Children’s video Kony 2012 in northern Uganda took place in Lira Town on 13 March 2012. It was organized by AYINET (the African Youth Initiative Network) a Ugandan NGO that works in support of the victims of the LRA war.  The screening was attended by over 35,000 people from across northern Uganda; it was broadcast live on five local FM radio stations that reach approximately 2 million people in northern Uganda.

Because most victims have no access to internet, electricity, and television, AYINET had intended to screen the film KONY 2012 throughout remote locations of northern Uganda so that victims and their communities could see and comment on the film that so many people around the world are talking about.  However, at the Lira screening, the film produced such outrage, anger and hurt that AYINET has 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.

What follows is an overview of some of the dominant reactions by viewers during the Lira screening.  While people clearly voiced the opinion that Kony, the top LRA commanders and those most responsible for the harms people suffered should be brought to justice and that international support was needed, the film’s overall messages were very upsetting to many audience members.

In particular, viewers were outraged by the KONY 2012 campaign’s strategy to make Kony famous and their marketing of items with his image.  One victim was applauded upon saying, “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, the guy who is the world most wanted criminal.” 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. One young man who lost four brothers and one of his arms said afterwards: “How can anybody expect a person to wear a T-shirt with Kony’s name on it?” Many people were asking: “Why give such criminals celebrity status? Why not make the plight of the victims and the war-ravaged communities, people whose sufferings are real and visible, the focus of a campaign to help?”

There was 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.  Watching the film was upsetting for many audience members, and a group of viewers nodded their heads in affirmation when one viewer said, “This was very painful to watch, it brings back to me many bad memories and that is not good.”

Viewers also spoke about their hopes that their abducted and disappeared loved ones from the war will return to them.  They also called for the protection of their fellow Africans in those areas now being subjected to the kind of LRA atrocities and terror that was visited upon northern Uganda in the past.

The video has succeeded in triggering worldwide awareness of LRA brutality. Let us hope that that this heightened awareness can be built upon to find real solutions to the conflict and to address the suffering of the tens-of-thousands of victims affected by this war in the region.