While a short film recounting atrocities by Uganda’s brutal rebels has become a huge Internet hit, victims of the ruthless insurgents driven out six years ago say it is too little too late.
“What is this going to help? Kony cut off my arm, will the video bring it back?” asked Angella Atim, referring to Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony.
“Where were these groups when we were being killed by Kony?” added Atim, whose left arm was chopped off when she could no longer walk on the second day after being captured by the rebels.
The 30-minute film by the California-based advocacy group Invisible Children has earned praise from celebrities and drawn millions of viewers, but in Uganda, its timing raises questions.
“This is a good initiative, but it should have come at the right time, not at the time when Kony has been defeated in Uganda,” said Onyango Kakoba, Uganda’s representative to the Pan-African Parliament.
Ugandan forces drove the rag-tag LRA fighters from northern Uganda in 2006, into the jungles in South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they continue to kill, maim and abduct civilians.
Kony, a semi-literate former altar boy, took charge in 1988 of a rebellion among northern Uganda’s ethnic Acholi minority, to fight the Kampala government it wanted to replace by a regime based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.
He is accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the rape, mutilation and murder of civilians as well as forcibly recruiting child soldiers.
Regional armies launched a hunt in 2008 to capture Kony after he repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal with Uganda. The drive has been fruitless and Kony remains at large alongside a clutch of fighters.
Some in northern Uganda, the region worst hit by the LRA brutality, welcome the film “Kony2012”, but say they now want to rebuild their lives.
“The video has been overcome by events. The situation has changed from war to peace, and that’s what we are currently doing to ensure that people return to normal lives,” said Solomon Kigane, an aid worker in northern Uganda.
Former LRA fighter Jackson Okoth said: “This video is like flogging a dead horse. Kony is no longer the same as he was 10 years ago.”
“The war in northern Uganda is over and efforts must be made towards settling people in their homes.”
Invisible Children said it has been denouncing the atrocities by Kony’s fighters since they fled Uganda. It also denied accusations that it oversimplified facts about the conflict.
The group has also been criticized for using funds raised -- some 70% or more by some accounts -- for salaries, travel expenses and filmmaking rather than charitable work.
Ugandan human rights lawyer Moses Sserwanga said the video was an important document that could help in trying Kony, who is sought by the ICC alongside three of his top lieutenants.
“The video is a perfectly legitimate initiative. Recording and documenting Kony’s atrocities, if he is captured and taken to ICC or tried by the special division of the Ugandan court system, is very important,” said Sserwanga.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for a concerted international drive to capture Kony, now believed to be in the Central African Republic.
“Any such action requires stepped-up protection for civilians in the regions where the LRA operates to prevent the inevitable retaliatory attacks,” it said in a recent report.
U.S. special forces have set up a base in the Central African Republic as part of their regional hunt for the elusive rebels.