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Teacher in Uganda: Why give celebrity status to a killer in Kony 2012?

As a high school teacher, I grapple with the Kony 2012 video and horrific memories it stirs for my students. Foreigners again look at Uganda as a country of misery, ignoring our progress. We defeated Kony and the LRA rebels. Why not make a video about the surviving children?

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Even if I am right, Daniel’s question betrays the fear that I am trying hard to help my students overcome. After years of concentrating on his studies, Daniel, like many of his classmates, cannot help but wonder where his efforts will lead.

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I must confess to a sense of unease as I watched “Kony 2012.” The video shows children being abducted from their homes in the middle of the night. It portrays a people still mired in a horror put on them by a deranged rebel leader, a group that seemingly remains helpless to build a better future for itself.

It instilled in me a confused mixture of shock and pain. It is an agonizing reminder of a miserable past, but it shows nothing of our progress.

If I can’t explain “Kony 2012” to myself, how can I explain it to my students when they ask of Kony: “You cut off my lips, you cut off my legs, and as punishment you get celebrity status in America?”

Why not make the surviving children famous? Why not highlight those who are working hard to make Uganda better?

Daniel is one of my rock-star students. He dropped out of school for three years to ensure that his mother and siblings got a better life after losing his father during the insurgency. He tried various forms of businesses before returning to school. He wants to be the leader northern Uganda needs to rebuild. 
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Daniel had been the star of the YouTube video? “Daniel 2012” would be such an inspiration to us all.

Since Kony’s expulsion six years ago, Ugandans have moved on with their lives. No longer in internally displaced persons camps, they have constructed permanent houses, started businesses, and grown their own food. And there are the schools, Uganda’s great hope for the future.

But now, thanks to Joseph Kony on YouTube, foreigners are again looking at Uganda as a country of misery and torture, making the years of progress and development we have made just an afterthought. We defeated the LRA. But it doesn’t seem to matter, at least not to outsiders.

It does matter to Ugandans, though. And that progress is irreversible if we keep pushing forward, regardless of whether Kony is eventually captured or not. Perhaps that is my message to students such as Daniel. What we are doing matters to us, and to our future.

Angella Bulamu is a Ugandan native and mentor for Educate!, a Uganda and US based non-profit developing young leaders and entrepreneurs in Uganda. She works at four schools in Lira in northern Uganda.


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