How Kony2012 gets it wrong

A Ugandan journalist reviews the documentary that's gone viral

By Jackee Batanda

The Kony2012 advocacy campaign by Invisible Children has gone viral. It’s successfully changed the scope of humanitarian marketing. It’s also a film rife with half-truths.

Kony2012 falsely insinuates that Uganda is still at war. That night commuters are still in Uganda. That Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army are the only sources of atrocity in the region. That white people, especially Americans, are going to solve the problem.

A 2006 photo of Joseph Kony, head of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. (Reuters/Adam Pletts)

Kony2012 has its roots in 2003, when Jason Russell, a naïve youth hungry for an African filming adventure, found it in the form of the murderous Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony and his LRA were wreaking havoc in Northern Uganda and South Sudan. He had abducted a number of children into his rebel ranks. Children trekked for miles each evening  — the night commuters — from their villages to Gulu town for the relative safety the town offered.  At the time, a large number of people lived in refugee camps.

Fast forward to 2012. Jason Russell is now involved with his own NGO, Invisible Children, and is fighting to save Uganda’s children. Only Kony and the LRA were driven out of Uganda six years ago. Northern Uganda is in a state of post-conflict reconstruction. The LRA is greatly weakened. Many of its child soldiers have escaped.

Yes, Kony is still around and still abducting children. He now operates in the Central African Republic (CAR) and part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), both semi-failed states lacking the ability to control their borders.

Stopping Kony matters to regional stability. So why did Russell feature Jacob, a Ugandan, instead of a child in Central African Republic? That is where the LRA is and the focus should be.

Why did he make Americans out to be heroes? Uganda’s Army is the one that drove him from Uganda. Yes, the U.S. gave $40 million to the Ugandan army to help hunt him down, but he remains free after 26 years. There was no ‘miracle’ wrought by the 100 US special advisers sent to the region last October.

How, in a 29-minute film, does Russell fail to put LRA in context? The LRA was supported by the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, then rebels, now a pillar of the government of South Sudan, also perpetrated atrocities.  Even the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, the same Ugandan Army now being paid to hunt down the LRA, committed atrocities, which are coming to light thanks to survivors in Northern Uganda.

The most pertinent question is how Russell missed the silent party in this conflict – the arms dealers. The military artillery used by the LRA did not fall down like manna from heaven. Arms dealers have been making money for 26 years and counting. Jason Russell pledged to his son that he is going to stop the bad guys. He needs to start with the arms dealers.

Russell and Invisible Children deserve some praise. The LRA Crisis Tracker is a great innovation, and has probably saved lives in the Central African Republic. It’s done good work in improving educational opportunities for the region’s children.

What Ugandans are rightly upset about is the failure to provide a true picture of what is going on. Insinuating that nothing was done before the American “saviors” came along follows a tired and misleading narrative. Invisible Children should upload a new, edited documentary to replace this one that alters truths and misinforms the whole world.

Editor’s note: The Ugandan government has just issued a statement saying in part that “It must be clarified that at present the LRA is not active in any part of Uganda.”

Watch the full statement: