Sat, Mar 10, 2012
By Vikram Patel
Black Star News, a small investigative news site, isn’t exactly known for producing popular content or having high traffic. But on March 8, shortly after its publisher, Milton Allimadi, posted an editorial criticizing Invisible Children’s wildly popular “Stop Kony” video, the site’s server nearly crashed.
“It was difficult to access our site because there were so many hits,” said Allimadi, who operates out of a tiny office in lower Manhattan. “Our IT person was not able to handle it.”
Allimadi’s editorial tapped the global frenzy sparked by the video, released by Invisible Children, a non-profit human rights group, that documents the atrocities committed under Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony and his militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army. The group’s video, made by its founder Jason Russell, has had over 58 million hits on YouTube in less than a week. And while it’s raised awareness for the “Stop Kony” campaign, including support from the Obama administration, it’s recently come under fire by observers like Allimadi.
As a native Ugandan, Allimadi – who started Black Star News in 1997 partly with seed money from Bill Cosby – appreciates the attention that’s been focused on the region in recent days, but thinks the filmmakers don’t understand the nuances of the conflict in Uganda.
“The way this documentary was done was simplistic, it was sensationalized, and even people in Uganda – particularly the region which had been affected by the conflict with Joseph Kony, the Acholi region of Uganda – are not supportive of this,” said Allimadi in an interview in his office.
The viral video may bring unintended consequences to an already war-torn region, says Allimadi and other Ugandan activists. For about six years now, Kony’s army has not been active in Uganda, and Allimadi says the last thing people want in Acholi – a region that was terrorized by Kony and his militia – is to instigate more conflict by calling for unnecessary violence.
Listen to Allimadi’s thoughts on the conflict – including why he thinks the video is misleading. (Produced by Lesley Dong/The Brooklyn Ink.)
Ahabwe Michael, a Ugandan activist based in Lyontonde, echos Allimadi’s sentiments. In an email interview, he said the video may have been relevant in the late 1990s or the early 2000s, but since there are few rebels remaining in Uganda – they are believed to be hiding in a small town called Obo in the Central African Republic – it does not have as much relevance now.
“Why call for violence when Kony is no longer a threat?” Michael said in an email exchange. “There is a very big gap between what is always presented in the media in the United States and what is actually on the ground in Africa. It’s totally different.”
But one thing is certain: the popularity of the video won’t die down any time soon. The group is planning an event on April 20, encouraging viewers to blanket the world with the video’s message.
Meanwhile, Allimadi is trying to make sense of his site’s new exposure. His editorial has gotten hits from readers as far as Trinidad and Australia. And while he’s a staunch critic of the video, he says that good can come out of the campaign, at least for discussion purposes.
“I think what’s going to happen is you’re probably going to see more people making videos that offer an alternative narrative,” he said. Allimadi believes more people will make videos to counterbalance the Invisible Children narrative, which many consider out of touch with the reality in Uganda.
Invisible Children’s video is simplistic, says Allimadi, but that should be more reason for people to engage the issue and study it for themselves.
“If it seems too easy as presented by Invisible Children, it probably is, so do your own research,” he said. “In a way, Jason Russell and Invisible Children are actually to be thanked, because due to the laws of unintended consequences, there might actually be a better outcome than they had imagined.”
For more on the Kony 2012 video, click here.
Tags: Acholi, Africa, Bill Cosby, Black Star News, central Africa, Chicago, conflict, Invisible Children, Jason Russell, Kony 2012, Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, New York City, Stop Kony, Uganda, YouTube