Ugandan bloggers speak out about Kony2012

Digital Content

The ‘Kony 2012’ YouTube video was a phenomenon previously unseen in new media. Attracting over one hundred million views, it has been described as the most viral online campaign in history.

It made Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony a household name, and pushed discussion about his Lord’s Resistance Army, who have been terrorising East and Central Africa for 26 years, to the top of the agenda.

It also attracted a lot of criticism from across the world, and in particular, from some of Uganda’s online community, many of whom said the film ignored Ugandan voices.

A group of Ugandan bloggers responded by launching an online project called UgandaSpeaks, they say to “..recapture the narrative about Joseph Kony and Northern Uganda from Invisible Children”.

The bloggers have now released their own Youtube video on Friday.The backlash to Kony 2012 from online critics in Uganda was in part due to its incredible viral success. Invisible Children itself said the video was meant for an American audience – not a Ugandan one – suggesting they had not initially expected it to be seen in Uganda.

And had the video been released, and gone viral, just a few years earlier it might have barely been noticed here.

When Invisible Children started working in Uganda in 2005, internet users had to rely on slow, expensive satellite connections. A personal, home internet connection was the exclusive luxury of a tiny elite, with most users going online at internet cafes.

East Africa was first connected to the global network of undersea broadband fibre cable in 2009, via the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Now, faster internet speeds, alongside an influx of affordable USB-modems sold by mobile phone companies, have opened up broadband internet access to everyone who can afford it – typically the urban, middle class.

It is still a minority of the population, but for hundreds of thousands it has become possible to watch a Youtube video or make a Skype call.

The number of Facebook and Twitter accounts has exploded, and Uganda’s middle class has become visible to the rest of the online world.

Putting the particular controversies of Kony 2012 aside, everyone from 19th-century European explorers, through to 21st-century charities and international news-media, have all taken advantage of Africa’s lack of means to tell its own stories – exaggerating and fictionalising, only too often telling tales of horrors worse than the realties on the ground, to raise money or just to sell drama, and with no voice to hold them to account back home.

But times are changing.

While the majority-rural population in Africa are still stuck in much the same place – not connected, many even illiterate – the online community is growing fast.

And the increasing connectivity means not only can people see what’s being said about them, but they can now also respond and be seen and heard by the rest of the world.

So maybe, finally, it is becoming a little harder for foreign storytellers who visit Africa – be they novelists, charities or journalists – to tell stories that are a far cry from perspectives on the ground.