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Kony 2012: 80m views, but Africans ask 'why are we talking about this?'

Graham Holliday

lives in Africa and is a foreign correspondent, photojournalist, lecturer and BBC journalism trainer. Twitter: @noodlepie

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It's not supposed to work this way.

Conventional wisdom says viral videos are less than three minutes long, sometimes less than a minute (averaging 1 minute 42 seconds apparently). Thirty-minute videos aren't designed for the attention-deficit internet audience.

Until, that is, a video produced by the Invisible Children NGO which in the space of a week has chalked up almost 80 million views on YouTube and another 20 million or so elsewhere, to become the most successful viral video campaign in internet history.

There are several layers of irony connected with the video's success that are not lost on Africa, especially not in Uganda which to a large extent is the focus of the video.

Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army wreaked havoc in northern Uganda, but the 20-year war there ended some six years ago. Kony's much diminished gang moved on and there's peace in northern Uganda today.

As TMS Ruge, a prominent Ugandan blogger, wrote soon after the video went viral:

"Kony has been on the run for 25-plus years. On a continent three times the size of America. Catching and stopping him is not a priority of immediate concern... How many of you know that more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2,838) than have died in the past three years from LRA attacks in whole of central Africa (2,400)?"

The irony is not lost on Semhar Arai, founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women's Network (DAWN). As she said on Twitter recently:

"There are 1 billion ppl in #Africa. 1 BILLION. Did anyone check to see how many of those billion were a part of the 100 million video views?"

I suspect very few Ugandans have seen the video.

You see, since the end of February the internet in East Africa has been incredibly slow. A cable connecting this part of the continent was damaged and it's still not been fixed. All of us in this part of the world - Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Ethiopia - continue to experience the effects. Watching internet video is a frustratingly slow experience at the best of times; at the moment it's pretty much impossible.

That's not to say Ugandans haven't reacted. They have. For its part the Ugandan government felt it had no choice but to release a statement, stating the obvious - that the war is long over:

"Misinterpretations of media content may lead some people to believe that the LRA is currently active in Uganda. It must be clarified that at present the LRA is not active in any part of Uganda. Successfully expelled by the Ugandan People's Defence Forces in mid-2006, the LRA has retreated to dense terrain within bordering countries in the Central African area. They are a diminished and weakened group with numbers not exceeding 300."

Like a sandbag against a tsunami, it's unlikely the Ugandan voice has been heard by the majority of clicktavists and #Kony2012 hashtag followers. Similarly, for the victims of Joseph Kony's LRA. Those that have voiced their opinions are not positive about the video and its content.

"What is this going to help? Kony cut off my arm - will the video bring it back?" asked Angella Atim. "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.

Screenings of the #Kony2012 video organised in the northern Ugandan town of Lira provoked anger and were eventually abandoned. "People kept on getting upset," said Victor Ochen of the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET). "They were wondering: 'If this is about northern Uganda, how come it's dominated by non-Ugandans? What is it about now? This is an insult,'" he said. "And they were saying whoever did this movie was celebrating their suffering."

Other Ugandans (left) simply ask: "Why are we talking about this?"

The saga is not over yet. The Invisible Children have released a follow-up video to counter the criticism the first video has received. The group is planning a "massive day of action" across US cities on 20 April. The day could also be a day of bewilderment for Ugandans. As Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire said on YouTube soon after #Kony2012 began to go viral:

"My major problem with this video is that it simplifies the story of millions of people in northern Uganda... Right now Joseph Kony is not in Uganda. The situation in the video was five or six years ago. The situation has tremendously improved in northern Uganda... It's about post-conflict recovery right now and we don't see those issues of now what needs to be done... We need to see the situation which is currently on the ground, which I don't see in the video."

Graham Holliday - @noodlepie - is a foreign correspondent, photojournalist, university lecturer and BBC journalism trainer. He lives in Africa and has worked on blogs, social media and citizen journalism projects since 2002.

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