Konymania: this is not Uganda’s reality

March 17, 2012

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LONDON — The world is getting faster. And stranger. Have you noticed?

This is what I know. I think. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to know what we know. Take Joseph Kony. He’s someone who, thanks to social media, you likely know.

I’m betting you know Kony is that Ugandan warlord with a strangely genteel face, that he’s abducted thousands of Ugandan boys and stole their souls when he made them into so-called soldiers.

I think you know that countless northern Ugandans suffered — a hacked arm here, a gouged eye there, a tossed corpse everywhere — during Kony’s two decades of unpredictable terror.

I first learned about Kony in 2004 when I wrote about Grace Grall. A young, bright Ugandan girl, she was abducted from school in the night to be a “wife” for Kony’s soldiers. They did things to her I won’t share. Thinking she was dead, Kony’s boys buried her — alive. Somehow she escaped.

Later, Grace told her story on Oprah. I thought that this was as famous as Kony could get. I mean, Oprah. But now he’s gone viral, an apt word. And leading to the April 20 global day for Kony 2012, you’ll hear only more. Get the Kony action kit. Wear the T-shirt. Show the bracelet.

My family and I live in Uganda for a large part of the year. Ugandans, by and large, aren’t impressed by any of this. While Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video neared 70 million YouTube views, I phoned the New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily paper.

“What have you heard about Kony 2012?” I asked. “Nothing,” said a senior editor.

Nothing? I explained the campaign. He said the West’s interest is too late, that it was needed years ago when Uganda’s government was slow and hapless on the Kony crisis for its own tribal and political benefits.

Did I mention the world is getting stranger? There’s Kony, larger than life in your neighbourhood, in your very living room. Meanwhile, Ugandans just want to turn away and get on with it — with their healing and rebuilding — without sentiments that may be fashionable, but misguided.

The latest is that a community in northern Uganda stopped a public showing of the Kony 2012 video. This sort of thing is terribly upsetting for Ugandans, just like say, watching a movie about Idi Amin is.

So the community itself stopped the showing. The police were on the way, to do that exact thing, but didn’t have to, as it was stopped before they arrived.

So a significant part of the reaction on the ground in Uganda has gone from “What is Kony 2012?” to “We’re rather peeved.”

No, Kony hasn’t been active in Uganda for a couple of years. He has retired into the forests of Central African Republic or Sudan. It’s believed he’s hiding somewhere there, living quietly off the land.

So let’s review what we know. Kony is crazy. You can get a Kony T-shirt. Kony is now a farmer. And I’m in London. Did I mention that? I’m in transit from Uganda to Seattle for studies. As I write this, I’m at Huxley’s restaurant at London’s Heathrow.

Why is this important? Because it’s one thing that I know. How can I prove this? Well, if I don’t show up for my studies in Washington state, someone will notice. “Froese didn’t show up,” they’ll say. They’ll then reach my wife in Uganda and ask, “Where’s your husband?”

One piece of evidence will lead to another. Eventually, I’ll be found to be either telling the truth or living in an alternate universe. And this, despite its genuineness, is the problem with Konymania. It’s a distortion of Uganda’s current reality.

Of course, social media can build global awareness with startling speed. Hurray for social media. But awareness of what? For whose sake? To make crowds of Westerners feel involved when, really, precious few have been?

Now unfolding is this bizarre scenario where, on April 20, a bazillion folks thinking about Kony will gather in the streets and schools and halls of everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except Uganda. Talk about information disconnection. And, yes, at supersonic speed.

I blame the Industrial Revolution, the conveyor belt in particular. That’s when things started getting seriously out of whack. Then came Sesame Street with those quick edits. That brought ADHD. Now too many people are left jittering and twittering, in need of posting something, anything, before breakfast.

Very soon, I’ll be aboard a jet. It will reach 900 kilometres an hour. That’s three-quarters the speed of sound. This is what I know. I think. Or does that sound a little slow to you?

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March 17, 2012 • Posted in ,
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