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‘Make Kony Famous’ Video Scam

The ultimate independent filmmaker survival kit –

how Invisible Children Inc.  fool us all and make money out of Africa’s pain.


Kerry Negara with former LRA rebel and community leader at LRA massacre site Uganda 2011

The Kony 2012 online video campaign presented by the charity Invisible ChildrenMake Kony Famous 2012 & Catch Kony 2012 – aimed to have Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony caught and arrested by December 2012. The half hour you tube video had over 100 million hits, 31million of those views was in a single day, two days after the video’s release.

Yet as the promotion deadline drew near and then passed, it is no surprise that Joseph Kony remains at large.

To say the video caught the public imagination is an under statement. The misleading content & misplaced emotional fervour presented by the charity Invisible Children did little to dampen sales for its Kony merchandise. #Kony 2012 is a perfect example of virtual viral insanity – complete with the naked, overwhelmed filmmaker having a very public psychotic meltdown, later detained for indecency and then hospitalized.

What I found during my recent experience while researching and producing a documentary in Uganda is that catching Kony’, or in reality not catching Kony, is an industry involving many players.

The majority analysis in the Australian media is that the millions of hits have at least brought the subject of the evil Joseph Kony to world attention. After my experience in Uganda this is misguided optimism. Disappointingly our media do not appear to have insights on issues like this coming out of Africa.

The Kony 2012 video is part of an extremely successful digital business operated by Invisible Children Inc. which thrives on ‘awareness raising educational videos’ toured through US schools.  It is sham digital activism. Invisible Children have had no impact on apprehending Joseph Kony who remains at large despite years of their ‘awareness raising’.

If a mere 1% of the Kony 2012 video’s on line audience bought the $30 Kony 2012 action Kit and $10 Kony Bracelet, then conservatively the campaign has already raised in excess of $34million. Recent audits by Considene Considene Certified Public Accountants show Invisible Children’s executives spend 70 % of their turnover on film production, awareness raising, lobbyists, a smart office, salaries and international travel. Much of the money raised is spent in the US.

Consider this; nothing that the hundreds of millions of UN, British and US dollars of military aid to Uganda over 24 years, has done anything  to protect the people of northern Uganda, or achieved the goal of catching Kony.  Nor has the much lobbied ‘anti LRA bill’ passed by the US Congress  in May  2010, or the ‘awareness  raising’ of Invisible Children Inc. or the gamut of charities and NGO’s present in Uganda.

Why is this the case? Is it possibly because catching Kony is not in the interests of the Ugandan government?

The politics are not complex. The politics are ruthlessly simple infected by greed and opportunism. The Government of Uganda used the excuse of LRA attacks to force the northern Ugandans into displaced people’s camps where rather than being protected, the people continued to suffer repeated attacks not only from the LRA but from the Ugandan army itself. In short the people of Northern Uganda were being ferociously punished by the autocratic President Museveni for being an integral part of the former regime that his rebel army overthrew – and for Acholi woman, Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement’s brief insurgency against the government in 1988. This was tribal politics in action at its worst.

Gerald LeMelle, head of Africa Action says, “What is going on in Uganda is far more complicated than good guys versus bad guys,” “There’s a lot of history between the Acholi people and Museveni that needs to be addressed. And we’re worried about the temptation to resort to simple military solutions for more complicated problems.”

UK Writer, Jane Bussman descibes the situation well “The official line is that this obvious conman (Kony) outsmarted the 40,000 strong Ugandan army, 2 million fellow Northern Ugandans, President Yoweri Museveni, the UK, the US, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Norway, the entire world’s charities and the Pope for 24 years. There is a contrary argument. He didn’t.”  

Rather, Clement Ochan, a South Sudanese Senior Research Associate at Tufts University and the Feinstein International Centre diplomatically concludes in his 2009 paper “Assessing Uganda’s Cross Border Pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army” –

 “Many suspect that it is not in the interests of the UPDF (Uganda’s army; Uganda People’s Defense Force) to secure a clear cut military victory against the LRA for this would lead to cessation of generous military aid,’ and ‘critics have suggested that it has not been in the interests of the Government of Uganda to ensure that the LRA is defeated. The Government of Uganda has presented its war with the LRA as part of the global war on terror and received financial and military support from the USA and other Western donors…in order to continue this flow, it was necessary for the UPDF to spin out the campaign.”

Particularly disappointing then was SBS Dateline’s report (originally aired by Dateline in October 2010 & re hashed in March 2012 ) which reinforced the Ugandan army line that Kony is uncatchable, being protected by a virtually impenetrable jungle. Other media outlets then perpetuated this line as directly sourced from SBS’s flagship program.

Embedded with the Ugandan army Dateline’s Aaron Lewis produced a video report that plays out more as a ‘boys own annual’ adventure than well researched journalism. He ignores numerous documented accounts from locals who report that Ugandan soldiers purposely fail to combat the LRA. Ugandan soldiers themselves have complained that when overlooking Kony’s camp, they did not attack but were ordered to retreat. [1]

In fact rather than concentrating on catching Kony, at the height of LRA activity Ugandan army colonels were using army helicopters and resources to run illegal gold and diamond smuggling operations in the Congo.

ABC’s Four Corners report more recently in September 2012 touched on the issue of Ugandan army corruption, but it did not scrutinize the politics that allow massive military funding to Uganda ‘to catch’ Joseph Kony.

Why then has the US government continued to fund the Ugandan army’s campaign against the LRA despite its abysmal lack of success?  The US has economic and strategic interests in Uganda.  Some answers may be found around the discovery of large oil reserves in west Uganda over the past decade.

In 2010 I was invited to Uganda by Australian lawyer James Bean who was working with the United Nations funded International Organization for Migration (I.O.M) and again in 2011 by the Prime Minister of Acholiland in northern Uganda. I was asked to document on video the story of two former commanders from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who had been kidnapped as children and were now attempting to atone for their crimes through a process of traditional justice.

Arriving in Gulu in northern Uganda I found resilient communities recovering from an impoverished stretch of life in government imposed people’s displacement camps, amidst a burgeoning economy.

It was surreal. An overabundance of fundamentalist Christian groups were operating with feverish gusto out of tin sheds and shacks. There was a wall to wall charity fest of aid workers, yet the ‘war’ had ended in northern Uganda 5 years earlier.  In our hotel grounds western aid workers were playing warm fuzzy party games with young Ugandan leaders.  The type that 8 year olds play at birthday parties. Western psychologists were teaching the Ugandans their version of how to treat psychological disorders in the after math of war.

In contrast with this I had a chat with an elderly man in one of the villages where we were filming. I told him I had read that villages in his area had received millions of dollars in aid over the last few years. He gave me a wry look, and asking me to look around his compound, replied “I have not seen one Ugandan Shilling.”  I am not qualified to report where the aid infrastructure is spent, but I do know it was not directly in that village.

The Acholi have their own reconciliation and guidance system. Arguably the young Ugandan leaders who were being trained as counselors, would better serve their communities as trained business professionals. Young men and women suffering in these communities told me what they really wanted quite simply, was meaningful paid employment.

The best authenticity test for the Kony 2012 video was at a recent makeshift outdoor screening where Kony’s victims threw stones at the screen in anger. They found the film and the ‘Make Kony Famous’ T shirt and bracelet merchandising extremely offensive and not sympathetic to their suffering. Former LRA abductee Victor Ochen said “Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or even killing him.”

To my mind, the most significant impact of the Kony 2012 Video viral madness will be the exposure of rampant charitable graft and serious misunderstanding of issues coming out of Africa.

Kerry Negara – Writer/Director/Producer

Kerry Negara’s documentary ‘Bitter Root’ (Mato Oput) continues to screen online at Aljazeera English –

Bitter Root (Mato Oput) Documentary

The documentary is being shown across northern communities by the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University, Kampala as part of discussions on traditional Ugandan processes of justice and healing.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the organisations I worked with in Uganda.

Thanks to James Bean, Programme Coordinator, International Organization for Migration Uganda, Kenneth Oketta, Prime Minister Acholiland for the introduction to communities and issues in Acholiland.


[1] Assessing Uganda’s Cross Border Pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army by Clement Ochan Feb2009

LRA A Regional Strategy Beyond Killing Kony Africa Report No 157, 28 April 2010 by International Crisis Group

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