IT HAS been seen by more than 36 million people worldwide in just four days, making war criminal Joseph Kony an unwilling YouTube hit but the internet video portraying the Ugandan guerrilla has come under fire from an unlikely quarter.
The Kampala government has condemned Kony2012 as an “irresponsible” presentation of one of Africa’s longest running conflicts. The video is part of a campaign by a US human rights organisation to speed up efforts to arrest Kony, one of the world’s most wanted men and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
He and his troops, mostly kidnapped child soldiers, are said to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. The film, produced by advocacy group Invisible Children, calls for its supporters to put up posters, lobby local politicians and call on celebrities to boost the international hunt for Kony.
The US-based marketing campaign, spread in the UK through Facebook and Twitter, is an effort by Invisible Children to increase awareness about a jungle militia leader who is wanted for atrocities by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is being hunted by 100 US special forces advisers and local troops in four Central African countries.
It has been backed by members of the ICC and victims of the fighting in Uganda.
Jolly Okot, abducted in 1986 by the militia group that later became the LRA, is now the Uganda director for Invisible Children. She said: “I think it is an eye-opener. this will push for Joseph Kony to be apprehended, and justice will get to him.”
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said it has been hard to raise awareness about Kony since issuing his warrant in 2005.
“Kony is not killing people in Paris or in New York. Kony is killing people in Central Africa, no-one cares about him,” he said. “These young people inCalifornia mobilising this effort is incredible, exactly what we need.”
But it has caused concern in Uganda, where the LRA started its terror campaign 27 years ago.
It was pushed out to neighbouring countries by military action after peace talks failed in 2006, but the film gives the impression the LRA is still in Uganda. “It is totally misleading to suggest that the war is still here,” said Fred Opolot, for the Ugandan government. “I suspect that if that’s the impression they are making, they are doing it only to garner finances for their own agenda.”
Invisible Children has faced criticism before. Of more than £6 million it spent in 2001, less than £2.3m was for activities helping people on the ground. The rest went on “awareness programmes and products”, management, media and others.
Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist, said: “This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible. We’ve seen that 60 per cent of this organisation’s budget is not spent on the ground, and it raises the questions of whether film-making or humanitarian action is really their work.”