Gulu, Uganda

Posted on March 8, 2012

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Stop Kony 2012? Stop Trending and Educate Yourself…

If everyone else is going to talk about it so will I, and I think you should at least give me an ear because I am IN Gulu, Uganda, right now.  I have studied this war and have lived with Acholi people.

A good friend just asked me, “have you seen the movie that’s floating around everywhere? What do you think?” (http://www.invisiblechildren.com/videos)

I gave a short rant, “It is a ploy to raise money while exploiting the issues of a bygone age and ignoring the real challenges that are actually facing the people of northern Uganda today.” Hold your breath, I’ll explain.

Within a few minutes, the video is showing images from nearly ten years ago during the height of the war with the LRA (1999-2004). Doing so makes it seem to unknowing, yet sympathetic and good intentioned viewers in developed nations, that this is happening NOW, that there are really hundreds – thousands – of children sleeping on the streets of towns like Gulu, hiding from the atrocities of Joseph Kony.  The movie BARELY mentions that the LRA has in fact moved out of N. Uganda and has not been here since 2006. For those of you who aren’t so great at math, that’s six years ago. Yes, he left a nice path of destruction along the way, but since then his troops have dwindled to an estimated 200 rebels hiding deep in the bush between Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FACT is that Joseph Kony and the LRA are NOT in Uganda, and since 2006 this population has worked tirelessly to recover and move forward in peace. So why is this movie bringing back images of the past? Why is this documentary focusing on the horrors of life 10 years ago when there are REAL issues and challenges that these communities are facing today?

I asked the District Chairperson in December what he believed the biggest issue facing Gulu District and N. Uganda are today. He told me nodding disease. At that time, there were a few hundred children affected. Now, just 3 months later, the number has swelled to 4000. Children are dying from an unknown disease with similar symptoms to epilepsy. They have seizures and go unconscious which is triggered by eating.  There is no known cure. The government is doing little about it and the health system has nothing they can do for these children.

Two weeks ago I read an article in the local paper about child sex workers in Gulu. There are an estimated 200 sex workers around the ages of 15-19 in Gulu and Lira towns. The girl interviewed estimated she has slept with over 400 men. This is just coupled with the fact that Gulu has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence and Hepatitis infection in the country.

The education system needs improvement. Hundreds of students in one classroom with a teacher that cannot even begin to control them, much less teach a single lesson. And those are the ones lucky enough to go to school. because many others remain at home lacking school fees.

The health system needs improvement. Health centers in villages rarely can keep an adequate supply of drugs, much less trained personnel on the ground. General disease prevention and sanitation education is desperately needed to inform the largely ignorant population in rural areas. Infrastructure needs to be built so that health centers can have an adequate supply of electricity. For those nurses and doctors out there, can you imaging trying to put an IV in a dehydrated person with no proper light? Perhaps using the light on top of a cellphone as you stick them?

Inflation is through the roof in Uganda, especially in Gulu because of the influx of NGOs. People are paying two or three times what they used to for food and for transportation. And when a family already spends half of their income on food, you can only image what happens when the prices double.

I had at least 10 people in 3 days visit my office asking if I had ANY job for them, saying that they could do anything. These people want to work. They want to have a life.

These are the real issues facing Northern Uganda today. Yes, the LRA and Joseph Kony and the war were awful. Atrocities were committed that show the immense capability of human destruction and hate. Of suffering. And yes, Joseph Kony should be captured. But there are military personnel working on that. And it is not an easy task. Spend a day in the bush of DRC or CAR and you will realize that hunting down someone in that area is not just a walk in the park. So what do they want? Do they want us to put more pressure on our government to “do something?” We have already sent troops with better technology to help track the LRA. Are they worried about us pulling out those troops? There has been no talk about doing so. So do they want more pressure? Do they want us to spend more money? Send more troops? Drop bombs? Send drones? Kill civilian lives in the process? They dont give any tangible solutions.

My issue with this film is not that these things didn’t happen, because they did. But my issue is why are the filmmakers focusing on those things, and making it seem to viewers that they are happening now? Why are they exploiting the suffering of people and showing these vivid images that will affect and move anyone with a heart? Why is it that when people are talking about Africa, they can only document war, famine, poverty, and bloodshed? So what can people do? Invisible Children suggests 3 things – 1)Sign its pledge. 2) Get the 2012 Kony Action Kit and Bracelet (only $30!!!!) and 3) Sign up to donate.

I’ll ask you, what are they really trying to accomplish with this documentary? Has their funding dwindled off? Have people become less interested in them? Realistically speaking, Invisible Children is commonly known to have high administrative costs and spend more money making expensive documentaries than actually doing something for the people on the ground.

I am not saying that these people do not care. I’m not saying that the man in the video was not sincerely moved by Jacob’s story – by the things that have happened in N. Uganda. But why are they focusing on this issue when there are so many more actual struggles and challenges that these people are facing.

So go ahead. Buy a bracelet. Buy a t-shirt. Pat yourself on the back for “doing something.” Sleep well tonight because you “made a difference.”

Or save your money, get off facebook, buy a cup of coffee, and educate yourself on the real issues facing this region, country, and continent today.

Charity Watson currently lives in Gulu, Uganda, working for a non-profit that provides children refugees lodging and education in the city.  She serves as house coordinator.  She recently started with mandala house, an organization that uses yoga in places of trauma to help with the healing process.  Charity is a certified yoga instructor, with a degree in African Health Studies.  She has been living in Uganda on and off for a year.  Read more about her experiences at truthfromthemat.wordpress.com.

Posted in: Africa