Kony 2012 campaign: Are you creating discrimination against persons with disabilities?

By Hisayo Katsui

Many might have seen the Kony 2012 video in youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc) or elsewhere. It was launched 10 days ago and already watched by 80 million people. On 8th of March in the morning when I visited the site of Invisible Children (http://www.invisiblechildren.com/) that started this campaign, 30,000 “liked” it already on the facebook, which is now 3 million. It has become a global phenomenon. Even the biggest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin sanomat, introduced this phenomenon already twice. Youth are targeted and reached effectively by internet and social media. As a researcher who visited the Northern part of Uganda in 2008, I feel I have to write something about it from the viewpoint of women with disabilities.

What they do is to advocate (perhaps American) youth to “do more than just watch” by knowing that Joseph Kony has been abducting children from Northern area of Uganda and forcing girl children to become sex slave of soldiers. They target to catch him by the end of this year. On 20.4. people around the globe to place awareness raising posters everywhere to catch him. They have already “successfully” managed to convince the US government and mobilized 100 US soldiers to be sent to northern Uganda. They ask for the audience to join the force to catch him. Otherwise, the soldiers are to be withdrawn, they claim. The video shows the American leader’s little son who learns to know who is the bad guy. He says, “We have to stop him.” Even a small child like him can understand the logic, which is the message. The video is 30 minutes long and hopefully many used more minutes for investigating more about the historical background of this civil war, complexity of aid, validity of this quest and modality etc. At least, it has increased visibility of Uganda and the civil war to the world, which has become the topic of everyday talk for many, at least for a while. It is just so impressive to see how fast information could be delivered to so many people instantly. Self-activism (at least in the virtual world) has become core of global social movements.

Already many criticisms were written instantly against this campaign such as a Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumiren, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLVY5jBnD-E) who explains much complex picture of the war and the current situation of reconstruction rather than on-going fight that the video describes. There is no voice of Ugandans and misses out local initiatives, as if Africans are all helpless, which has been a very problematic stereotype.
Schomerus (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/10/opinion/kony-2012-video/index.html) asserts that it is the Ugandan government propaganda that the movement is promoting, and seemingly modern message due to the mobilized modern technologies is too comformist: fight violence with violence by dismissing steps for social change. Finnish KEPA also placed a blog writing of Salminen that criticizes the movement as dangerous “White man’s burden” (http://www.kepa.fi/blogi/11027). Only America can save the situation and with force, which are criticized by many. Invisible Children quickly answered many questions raised directly to them (http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html). Whether the video supports the propaganda of the Museveni regime or not, there has been a huge impact of this campaign, which cannot be denied.

When I was there in 2008, the situation was already peaceful, though I saw some soldiers around. Many cars carrying logos and names of international organisations made me realized that this is a war-torn zone. I visited two internally displaced people’s camps: Bwongatira and Koch Goma in Gulu. I followed activities of National Union of Women with Disabilities (NUWODU) which went there to monitor their activities of HIV/AIDS advocacy trainings for women with disabilities living in these camps. Human Rights Watch made a review on the realities of women with disabilities in Northern Uganda (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/HRW_CEDAW47_uganda2.pdf), which facilitates your understanding why NUWODU has such activities. NUWODU went there as soon as the situation was stabilized, though they decided to remain near the Gulu center for their security reasons. During the armed conflicts, many women with disabilities were left behind when others fled from home for safer places. In the camps, many of them have been raped. Humanitarian aid agencies did not take disability into account first, and with the intervention of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, they gradually started to take persons with disabilities into account in their delivery of aid. Before that, persons with disabilities could not compete with the able-bodied people for food and other aids and were left without aid. Even after the Universal Primary Education policy was introduced, many children with disabilities living in the camps cannot access education. Now majority of the people have gone back to their villages, while many persons with disabilities are left to the camps. Lang and Murangira warn that camps will soon become “disability ghetto” (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lc-ccr/downloads/scopingstudies/dfid_ugandareport) The video has touched none of these critical issues for women with disabilities in Northern Uganda caused by the war, thereby further marginalizes women with disabilities from the discourse.

Boys became soldiers and girls sex slaves as victims, it says. But their parents, other families, so many more people were affected seriously, and many have become persons with disabilities due to the war. Invisible Children organization has been building schools and supporting reconstruction works with local people, it says in its homepage. They claim they are not naïve. But I would like to know whether those schools accommodate children with disabilities and children of women with disabilities. At least, newly built structures and activities are not to exclude children and persons with disabilities in the area.

Perhaps it applies to any global movements of today among youth that use internet to mobilize them, but it is worrisome that “participation” is only one or a few clicks away. That means, you can also withdraw in the same way. Moreover, you can feel your part of contribution is done, which is far from a human rights-based approach but rather a charity-based approach in which givers decide what, when, and how to do it. This way of engagement could be forgotten easily, I’m afraid.

I went there and saw how local disability organisations had been making so much effort in mainstreaming persons with disabilities in conflict and post-conflict discourses and practices. They say it is very challenging because so many other much bigger and influential organisations and international agencies are ignorant about persons with disabilities and their specific needs. Consequently, many discriminatory structures are still built and rebuilt by international interventions. As this video has become a phenomenon, I would like you to stop and think whether your contribution is at least not making any more discriminatory structures against persons with disabilities. Many Ugandan organisations are there as your alternatives.