NGO Invisible Children has launched an internet campaign against Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels. The LRA is infamous for committing extreme atrocities against civilians, including murder, mutilation and rape.
Not all Ugandans agree with Invisible Children's approach. Or, to be more precise, many Ugandans who use Twitter, Facebook and Google disagree - that's a small minority of all Ugandans. As local journalist Maureen Agena tweeted: "I doubt that the people in North, East and Westnile Uganda where #kony dominated have an idea that this #stopkony discussion is on."
For one, today's edition of national newspaper the Daily Monitor didn't devote any words to 'Kony 2012', as the Invisible Children's video on the web is called.
What socially networking Ugandans criticise most is how their country and the LRA conflict are being represented in a simplistic, if not just plain wrong, manner. "If you are in #Uganda, pls advise [Twitter users that] Kony is hiding in Central Africa Rep nt Uganda," tweeted Guide2Uganda. The LRA has not been active in Uganda for over five years, a fact critics say Invisible Children does acknowledge in its video, which focuses on victims in northern Uganda.
"Invisible Children paints a false picture of the current situation on the ground in northern Uganda," says Rosebell Kagumire. The Ugandan journalist has publicised her criticism of 'Kony 2012' via Twitter, where she has over 3,000 followers, both Ugandan and international. "Northern Uganda is not about war or catching Kony anymore, it is about rebuilding. Invisible Children neglects that. They campaign for the Ugandan children from 2005, not the current ones suffering in Congo."
But does Invisible Children not at least create the kind of awareness that prompted President Obama's dispatch of 100 American special forces to assist in the search for Mr Kony last October? Obama's decision might precipitate the downfall of the LRA.
"Awareness, yes," Kagumire says, "but the wrong sort of awareness. The Kony campaign suggests that political and military will in the West is all that is needed to end the conflict. Remember that in 2008, the Ugandan Army, already with US assistance, launched an operation against the LRA that led to the revenge killing of more than 300 Congolese. This could happen again. Invisible Children doesn't acknowledge the complexity on the ground or local agency."
"Being strictly neutral is difficult"
In a reaction to the criticism, Invisible Children says it does not claim to have a magic solution. The NGO reiterated its aim of raising awareness and pressuring politicians to find a solution. As to the accusation that Invisible Children favours the Ugandan Army (which, like the LRA, is accused of committing crimes), director of public and media relations Jedediah Jenkins emphasized that remaining strictly neutral is difficult when trying to end a conflict.
"There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa," Jenkins said. "If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn't partner with anyone."
Kagumire also faces censure. Opponents label her part of the small, privileged group of Ugandans with access to information and the internet, a world away from the millions who live in areas where the LRA has been active. "Louise of #StopKony says 'Ugandans who patronise #KONY2012 have not been affected directly by Kony's atrocities'," Javie Ssozi quoted from @BBCAFricaHYS.
According to Kagumire: "I never claimed to represent the whole of Uganda. I do know many people in the affected regions, though, as well as their opinions. I covered the LRA for over ten years as a journalist. Last year I worked for an NGO in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and Congo."
- Article edited to correct misquote in second-last paragraph.