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'Stop Kony' screening tour cancelled after Ugandans react with outrage

Screengrab from a video produced by a group called Invisible Children which seeks to end conflict in Uganda. The video tells the story of a former child soldier and encourages governments to track down and arrest LRA leader Joseph Kony

Screengrab/Invisible Children video

It was planned as a tour of Uganda's poorest towns and villages: the first chance for Joseph Kony's victims to see the viral video sensation that has excited so many millions of people in North America.

But after a furious reaction, the tour has been cancelled. Too many Ugandans were outraged by the "Stop Kony" video when they saw it. Some even threw stones and shouted abuse, forcing the organizers to flee.

The video by a California-based activist group had already been strongly criticized by many African writers and Western aid experts, who called it simplistic, patronizing and inaccurate. They are worried that the publicity will distract attention from more deserving African needs.

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But the video, calling for the arrest of the indicted war criminal who leads the Lord's Resistance Army militia, has been viewed by more than 100 million people worldwide since its release last week. And it has stirred up a huge amount of curiosity in northern Uganda, where the LRA was born in the late 1980s – even though the vast majority of people could not see the video because they lack electricity, television, and Internet access.

So a Ugandan group, the African Youth Initiative Network, decided to organize a community tour for the video, bringing it to towns across northern Uganda for the rest of this month, so that impoverished people could see the 30-minute video for the first time.

The first screening was held this week in the northern Uganda town of Lira, once an epicentre of the battles between the LRA and the Ugandan military. The video was projected onto a white sheet, held up by crude metal rods, in a dusty town park. An estimated 5,000 people flocked to the show.

Curiosity soon turned to bafflement, and then to anger. The screening was hastily abandoned when people jeered and threw stones, forcing the crowd to scatter.

Many Ugandans at the screening were upset that the video focused on the U.S. filmmaker, Jason Russell, and his young blond son. Some were offended by its call to "make Kony famous" by putting his image on T-shirts and posters, since they saw this as giving celebrity status to a killer. Some said the video was reviving their painful memories of a war that had ended in Uganda in 2006 when the LRA was chased out of the country.

"There was chaos, we had to run away," tweeted Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger who attended the screening this week.

Most people were peaceful, but many were disappointed and angry, she said. "They have had enough of money makers!"

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After the screening, Ugandans called local radio stations in Lira to demand that no T-shirts of Joseph Kony should be allowed into the region.

Victor Ochen, director of the youth network that organized the screening of the Kony video this week, says he is worried that the video will waste money that could be better spent on helping the victims of the LRA.

"Why spent millions on Kony alone while thousands of survivors are dying of repairable physical and psychosocial pain?" he asked in a message on his website.

Mr. Ochen is worried that the video will promote a military assault on the LRA, perhaps leading to the death of innocent children who were kidnapped by the LRA – including his own brother and cousin.

"Raising potentially false expectations such as arresting Kony in 2012 will not rebuild the lives of the people in northern Uganda," he said. "Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or killing him."

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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