Dear Ugandans at heart,
I wrote some thoughts on Kony2012, which Sunday Monitor published as ‘Kony2012: Who is Benefiting? ”. Whereas I am thankful, First, it has been seriously cut to the extent of changing the focal point.
Second, and perhaps more important, what I wanted to say has been changed into another perspective such that the article reflects a viewpoint quite different from what I wanted to state. That is, highlighting the question of “benefit,” which is an inescapable inevitability in the large picture anyway. To me, the question of a range of information and the usefulness of being aware broadly about this long standing problem is more important.
To be fair i wrote back to the editor who got back to me just as soon. Now, bear with me but here is my take in its original form from title to content. Here is hoping UAH will publish it on its forum.
Kony2012 is a viral American inspired issue, but echoing Mahmood Mamdani, Joseph Kony is a Ugandan problem. If so, what is to be done in the face of a hard to ignore duel of sorts between an American young man and a Ugandan man fought along the fault lines of a misbegotten Ugandan political history for an audience of global proportions?
Bottom line, Children, be they adults now, have paid an almost irreparable price in this two and a half decade case. Ultimately, it is up to every one behind the 70,000,000 million plus hits to decide where they stand with such a reality.
Personally, I doubt the Jason Russell stance that simply remove Kony and the rest will fall in line. I am uneasy about Invisible Children or even Kony 2012 given the “you are because we are” packaging of the problem. I prefer Kony taken alive rather than dead, lest we succeed in dancing on his grave but fail to learn anything useful. I believe in humanity and I believe in Uganda. I believe too that more than Kony the problem is the recurrence of warfare, and it is fair to say it is a going concern. I also believe point of view matters profoundly when it comes to questions of presentation and representation.
Even then, Kony 2012 bears pros and cons. Yet a question lingers: what is Jason Russell’s goal?
The claim by Samuel Olara that, “Kony is Invisible Children’s means of attaining Hollywood recognition” is believable (Daily Monitor, March 12, 2012). To add, I too bumped into the original version of Invisible Children, “Rough Cut” far away from home, in Providence, RI. The title plus the image of a black child with a big gun compelled me to go to the show. A lot of what I saw did not sit well with me. But two things stood out: Jason Russell, Booby Bailey and Laren Poole rather than the “Invisible Children” became the focal point and as we are learning, the main beneficiaries. After the show, the student representative in charge of the event announced with fervor that the video was going to be turned into a big Hollywood blockbuster in a matter of two months.
Evidently, it took longer but Yahoo news reports that Jason Russell (Bailey and Poole have been silent and invisible) has hit his mark anyway, “The company owned by powerful producer Harvey Weinstein has contacted Russell to buy the film.” Reportedly, “Celebrities including George Clooney, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Oprah Winfrey have announced their support for the cause.” Add to the list Angelina Jolie, who appears in a couple of YouTube clips regarding the phenomenon.
Here is hoping Jason Russell, participating and intending celebrities, and interested filmmakers will bother to become reasonably informed about the nature not of only the beast, but also the crisis.
Accordingly, I want to recommend the following sources: Adam Branch starting with Neither Peace nor Justice: Political Violence and the Peasantry in Northern Uganda, 1986-1998, Laura Edmondson, Marketing Trauma and the Theatre of War in Northern Uganda, Heike Behrend, Alice Lakwena & the Holy Spirits, Phares Mutibwa, Uganda Since Independence, Mahmood Mamdani, Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda. Outside of scholarly context, consider Robin Soans’ Royal Court Theater play, Talking To Terrorists; Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire’s response to Kony 2012 on YouTube, and the excellent Canadian documentary by Pete McCormack and Jesse James Miller, Uganda Rising.
I hold that what matters more than who tells our story is where the individual agents stand with issues concerning our existence. But like other African people I am sensitive to narratives about us. For instance, I once told one of my brothers that I had just read an utterly impressive play with a fine take on Idi Amin, Blue/Orange, by Joe Penhall, a British playwright. “Read, not wrote,” he derided, “You ought to be the one writing that stuff.”
Things do not always work one way, but his challenge is considerable. So too are some viewpoints of certain Uganda journalists on the matter of right over narrative. Kalungi Kabuye has declared that we do our own stuff instead of ripping into Invisible Children; Charles Onyango Obbo has intimated that Ugandans do not have a copyright to Kony’s excess; Daniel Kalinaki has argued that we are the Invisible generation of Ugandans who do little to tell our stories or hold to account those who wrong us. Right: the crisis is not down to only Kony.
I hasten to add, Kony is impossible to defend, as my professor and friend John Emigh opines. I wont try. But to ignore the other political actors in the crisis is to behave like the legendry Ostrich, in the face of trouble. That is, bury the head in the sand to avoid seeing the problem. The example is widely known, yet it is faulty. The ostrich does not bury its head in the sand.
Joseph Kony or Kony 2012 cannot be seen in isolation of other political actors, or remotely, without recourse to due information. That would be a folly, for after an Amin came a Kony.
Charles Mulekwa is a UAH forumist based in Kampala and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org