University of Sydney academics' perspectives on Kony 2012

22 March 2012

The Kony 2012 video is a social media phenomenon that has been viewed over 100 million times since being launched earlier this month.

The online campaign wants worldwide action to arrest Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army and accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the rape, mutilation and murder of civilians as well as the forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

On 22 March a free public seminar at the University of Sydney will discuss the impact of Kony 2012 and the controversies surrounding it.

Presenting the seminar will be Dr Wendy Lambourne, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and Professor Bob Cumming, Professor of Epidemiology at Sydney Medical School, both of whom have strong professional ties to Uganda.

Dr Lambourne's recent research has included two trips to northern Uganda looking at attitudes towards the ICC indictment of Kony and participating in a workshop on transitional justice and peacebuilding.

Dr Lambourne observes that "Kony's arrest may go some way to addressing the psychosocial trauma and fear experienced by people in northern Uganda, but the situation is far more complicated than the Invisible Children campaign presents it.

"The Acholi, Teso and Langi people of Northern Uganda have suffered oppression at the hands of the Ugandan government, and discrimination is continuing in terms of inadequate attention to resettlement and development. They express deep resentment and mistrust of the Ugandan government and believe President Museveni should also be indicted for crimes against humanity perpetrated against them during the LRA war."

Dr Lambourne therefore has mixed feelings about the Kony 2012 campaign because of its oversimplication and danger of public concerns and priorities being misplaced, even though she agrees that Kony should be stopped from perpetrating further violations."But is the use of force by the US military the best way to achieve this?" she asks.

"I also have contact with Ugandan diaspora and students in Sydney, including from northern Uganda, who are keen to correct misinformation in the media about the crimes of the LRA and Ugandan government, and to highlight current concerns about peacebuilding and development."

Ugandan PhD candidate, James Tonny Dhizaala from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University, who will also present at the seminar, agrees: "The plea to send money to capture Kony is misplaced; it is a diversionary political agenda. The people in Northern Uganda need financial help to rebuild their lives."

Professor Bob Cumming most recently travelled to the north of Uganda last year and in 2009, when he ran public health courses at Gulu University. He has this week been appointed as a visiting professor in the Faculty of Medicine at that University.

"Gulu is Kony's home town in northern Uganda and while there I was told that fear of him was preventing some health professionals from moving there, with obvious implications for the development of that region."

There is a severe shortage of health workers and health facilities there. The new medical school in Gulu is trying to address the lack of doctors but it will be years before numbers are adequate to cope with the high burden of disease in northern Uganda, according to Professor Cumming.

"Two decades of war caused by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army has resulted in very high levels of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder. There is also a mysterious new disease among young children, called nodding syndrome, which is probably related to the long war," Professor Cumming said.

"Meanwhile Kony may no longer be in Uganda but he is still terrorising people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

"I am generally positive about the Kony 2012 video. I think many Africa experts have missed the point: the video was designed to raise awareness about Kony among young people living in rich countries and in this it has succeeded brilliantly."

The Ugandan President recently responded to the viral campaign saying that while "Joseph Kony is a truly evil criminal... we do not need a slick video on YouTube for us to take notice".

Event details

What: Kony 2012: Beyond the Hype public seminar 

When: 4 to 6pm, Thursday 22 March

Where: Room 275, Carslaw Building, Camperdown Campus

Cost: Free

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