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Joseph Kony's Ugandan Victims Find A Voice On Twitter, With The Help Of Al Jazeera

Thanks to Al Jazeera’s latest project, the reaction of the people most affected by Kony’s violence is finally being added to the conversation sparked by Invisible Children’s viral hit.

Joseph Kony's Ugandan Victims Find A Voice On Twitter, With The Help Of Al Jazeera

The groundswell of focus on Uganda and Joseph Kony continues today with the launch of Uganda Speaks, an ambitious project from Al Jazeera that will allow ordinary Ugandans to post text messages—via local SMS numbers—to let the world know what their country is really like (instead of just the #kony2012 version).

Hundreds of users, most of them Ugandans with Internet access, have already posted tweets with the #ugandaspeaks hashtag. Most of these criticize the worldwide response to the Kony 2012 video, which many of the Ugandans (and worldwide observers) claim grossly simplifies a complicated war. Al Jazeera’s Riyaad Minty told Co.Exist that "we launched Uganda Speaks to get responses from people across Uganda via text message, email, Twitter, and Facebook. The idea is to have ordinary Ugandans talk about the [Kony 2012] video in their own voice, as this has largely been missing from the conversation."

Al Jazeera has already started to post some of the replies, including one commentator who notes, accurately, "#UgandaSpeaks #Kony2012 is completely out of touch with what is happening in #uganda. It fails to tell the world that Kony is not in uganda." Another user asks "How come the world now knows more about #Kony2012 than about the NODDING SYNDROME in Northern Uganda? #ugandaspeaks."

Nodding syndrome is a disease of unknown origin found among children in Uganda, southern Sudan, and Tanzania that causes violent seizures. The disease’s side effects frequently cause developmental delays, and the seizures are often triggered by eating. According to the Washington Post's Jocelyn Edwards, more than 3,000 children suffer from the disease in Uganda alone.

Most of these reactions are, admittedly, based on hearsay. Internet access is spotty in Uganda and attempts to actually show the Kony 2012 video have failed; local residents have become physically angry at film screenings. The African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), an Ugandan organization, held a screening in the northern city of Lira. Lira was the site of one of Kony’s worst Lord’s Resistance Army atrocities—the 2004 Barlonyo Massacre where over 300 civilians were killed by the LRA. Warning: Graphic images).

Life in northern Uganda continues; Susan Davis of aid organization BRAC USA told Co.Exist that "In the north, Ugandans are healing and moving on. I’ve witnessed the power of unleashing people’s potential by investing in the women and children who want more and better opportunities for education and livelihoods. Northern Ugandans are resilient and entrepreneurial, and willing to borrow for business and repay with interest — to learn, earn and save their way back to full and prosperous lives."

But northern Ugandans, who suffered some of the conflict’s worst violence, were not happy with Kony 2012. According to AYINET’s Victor Ochen, outraged crowds nearly stopped the screening. Many audience members were maimed or mutilated in the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict and believed that the Kony 2012 video minimized their plight:

"There was a strong sense from the audience that the video was insensitive to African and Ugandan audiences, and that it did not accurately portray the conflict or the victims. Watching the film was upsetting for many audience members, and a group of viewers nodded their heads in affirmation when one viewer said, "This was very painful to watch, it brings back to me many bad memories and that is not good."

Viewers also spoke about their hopes that their abducted and disappeared loved ones from the war will return to them. They also called for the protection of their fellow Africans in those areas now being subjected to the kind of LRA atrocities and terror that was visited upon northern Uganda in the past."

Al Jazeera began working on Uganda Speaks on March 5—two days after the Kony 2012 video first went online. The project is using two pieces of technology for the backend: FrontlineSMS for the SMS-to-Twitter conversion, and Ushahidi to visualize and map data. The station’s The Stream program solicited a video Kony 2012 response from Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire of Channel 16 as well.

According to Minty, "the general message we’ve [received] from the campaign is amazing. It’s great that Africa is finally discussed, with quite a bit questioning the accuracy of information in the Kony 2012 video and the lack of Ugandan voices talking about their own situation. Their voices were getting drowned out by other people mass sharing/commenting on Kony 2012."