On Kony 2012: The Visible Victims Speak: Considering that Kony 2012 -- the most viral video in Internet history -- exploits the suffering of northern Ugandans to raise money, Victor Ochen, a victim of the Lord's Resistance Army and a founder of the nonprofit African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), thought it only right that they should get to see it too.
Ochen traveled to the city of Lira, where he and his NGO set up a makeshift outdoor theater so locals could watch Invisible Children's much-discussed fundraising campaign, and decide for themselves if it helps or hurts.
According to a statement released by AYINET, over 35,000 people attended the screening, many of whom rode in on bikes from neighboring villages. Additionally, some two million northern Uganda residents tuned in to a live broadcast of the audio aired simultaneously on five FM radio stations.
Al Jazeera reporter Malcolm Webb, who was on hand to gauge people's reactions, filed the following account:
People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.
The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.
Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.
A woman Webb spoke with afterwards compared IC's approach of selling products with Kony's image to "selling Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11," which she felt would be offensive to many American, irrespective of how "well-intentioned" the fundraising campaign was.
Last night's screening was AYINET's first and last. It announced this morning that it had suspended further screenings of Kony 2012 in light of the outrage it caused. Wrote Ochen: "It was very hurtful for victims and their families to see posters, bracelets and t-shirts, all looking like a slick marketing campaign, promoting the person most responsible for their shattered lives."
"Why give such criminals celebrity status?" asked people in attendance, according to AYINET. "Why not make the plight of the victims and the war-ravaged communities, people whose sufferings are real and visible, the focus of a campaign to help?"