Viral Video Prompts Trip Down Memory Lane

As the constant barrage of links on Facebook and news alerts keep reminding me, Northern Uganda is currently in the news in a big way as a result of the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children. Many people more experienced and learned than me have written responses to this video, mostly expressing the view that, while well-intentioned, the video is at best inaccurate and misleading, and at worst a reiteration of the bollocks misguided belief that the only thing standing between Northern Uganda and hell is a small group of well-heeled young social media acolytes from the States. Here are some links to some of those articles, as well as an interview with one of the children featured in the film.

I have my own issues with the film, chief among them the idea that Invisible Children advocates a military solution to the conflict despite the repeated proof that every time Kony is attacked abductees get killed and despite the repeated calls by both the LRA and Acholi elders (and a whole heap of other people) for peace talks. However, as the links above show, there are already a whole chorus of voices explaining why the video is misleading.
I am not a researcher, an academic or a very qualified journalist, but I’ve spent longer in Northern Uganda than many of the people reposting this video, so I thought I’d share some of my photos from the time I spent working there (I was working for the Northern Uganda Transition Initiative, a USAID programme which focused on rebuilding the north AFTER the war. After. As in, the war is over in Northern Uganda). So please look at the following images and see the contrast between the war days and the present, and when you’re done maybe share this with anybody who believes a $30 action pack will save Africa.

A recently-returned mother and child walk towards their new hut in Dzaipi sub-county, Adjumani District. The IDP camps clustered around the trading centres in Adjumani are emptying as families return to their villages.

The headmistress, a nun, strides between childrens desks at Redeemer Primary School, formerly Redeemer Childrens Home. The Redeemer Children's Home, an orphanage on the outskirts of Adjumani town, was attacked by rebels one night in June 2003. 16 orphans were kidnapped and two are still missing today.

Patrick Otti crosses a footpath while hunting Anyiri (giant bush rats) in the bush outside his village in Kitgum District. During the war he lived within an IDP camp, and hunting was impossible because of the risks, but now he and his family have returned to their village and are resuming normal life.

A supporter of Norbert Mao, the former LC5 of Gulu and a pivotal force in the peace efforts during the war, greets his convoy as he passes through villages north of Kitgum while campaigning to become President of Uganda.

Men work to make bricks in Kitgum. Brick stacks cover the northern countryside these days as people rush to reconstruct their towns and villages.

A teacher poses for a portrait inside her classroom near Masindi. This school became flooded with refugee children during the war, with some classes numbering 300 students, but as the register visible on the board behind her shows, the class size is now back down to around 60.

A church stands among the debris of a former IDP camp. Visible at left is a brick stack, one of the most potent signs of northern recovery.

A church on the road to Pakwach, just outside the boundaries of Murchison Falls National Park.

A woman at the Comboni Missionaries compound in Gulu poses for a portrait beside paper beads she has been making into necklaces. The Wawoto Kacel brand is produced by people who were formerly homeless, unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged.

A woman at the Comboni Missionaries compound in Gulu poses for a portrait at the end of a day of work making Wawoto Kacel jewellery.

An Acholi woman at work in the cane fields at Kinyara Sugar Works, Masindi District. She was displaced by the war, and has decided to stay in Masindi because it's easier to find work.

The traces left behind by a refugee camp. This image shows the site of the market in Madi Okollo camp, which was home to around 60,000 South Sudanese who were displaced by the civil war. There are now a handful remaining, while most have returned.

An abandoned classroom in Madi Okollo camp, which was home to around 60,000 South Sudanese who were displaced by the civil war.

Peter Amaza stands among the huts of Kiraba Village, Adjumani. He suffered horrific burns in a rebel attack in 2005, but now leads a relatively normal life farming sim-sim with his wife and three children.

Young Acholi men play basketball in the late afternoon in Kitgum town. The town was repeatedly attacked during the war, but life is beginning to return to normal.

I think awareness of the Northern Ugandan conflict is a good thing. However my experience of the region is that people need jobs and infrastructure, not pity and Facebook links. If you wish to donate, I would presonally suggest give to organisations who use over 37.14% (their figure, some put it at 31%) of donations on actual programs rather than salaries, travel and film production.


About Muzungu

I’m a Uganda-based freelance photographer (and occasional writer) working for a broad range of clients including NGOs, newspapers and magazines and development agencies. My work has taken me across East Africa, South America and Europe, and previous clients include USAID, the World Bank and the East African. I also work on personal documentary projects in my spare time. If you’d like to hire me or to know more, please feel free to get in touch.
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6 Responses to Viral Video Prompts Trip Down Memory Lane

  1. Thank you very much for all this information and your insight. I think at first they did some good work in raising awareness and setting up schools but IV seems to have been hijacked by the spread of Africom into the whole of Africa by military means.
    I have also heard there is a huge famine in the hills in central Sudan. Do you have any information on this?
    Thank you once again.

  2. Thanks so much, Will, for your insight and, as always, for the beautiful photos!

  3. Pingback: Weekend Recap « wamakeri

  4. Joyful says:

    Simply beautiful photos. I appreciate your firsthand information. I no longer give to NGOs. I give my money directly and work directly in communities to ensure that people with real needs get help. I do love groups that help those at the very grassroots level like the women you feature in the wheelchairs. I’m going to have a better look around your blog and see what I can learn.

  5. Joyful says:

    I came back because I realize I do still give to not for profit groups. I guess it would be more accurate to say, the majority of my giving is more direct. That way I know where it is helping and also I don’t need to wonder how much is spent on administration, etc. There are good not for profit groups all around Africa but if we can help people directly to help themselves, that is my preferred approach. I realize it is more difficult for most people to give more directly if they don’t travel to the places where they are giving but so far it is working for me. I hope to visit your blog and beautiful photos again.

  6. Pingback: KONY 2012 « Doing Life By His Side

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