Over seventy-five million people have viewed the viral documentary Kony 2012. The YouTube video calls for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to be arrested and brought to justice for his war crimes against children. As criticism pours in regarding the oversimplifications of the film (including in The National Interest), a critical piece of local knowledge may still be missing. Jackee Budesta Batanda’s latest in Foreign Policy, “The Real Battle in Uganda,” attempts to remedy this.
A Ugandan herself, Batanda indicates that the LRA is not actually the country’s most urgent problem. Nodding disease is. The fatal, debilitating illness, about which little is known, affects thousands of children in Northern Uganda, a number far exceeding the remaining LRA members in all of Africa. The syndrome causes epilepsy, severe mental and physical retardation, and eventually, death.
Batanda successfully demonstrates that not only is Nodding a far deadlier and more unpredictable force than the LRA, but that the Ugandan government seems indifferent. Batanda notes: “The Ugandan president’s office requested additional funding for its own needs that amounted to nine times what the Health Ministry had specified for its first response to the disease.”
Women activists in Uganda tied themselves to trees last Friday “in solidarity with Northern Ugandan mothers” who often “tie their sick children to trees to protect them from falling down or wandering off.” Batanda paints a dire picture. All while Joseph Kony is absent from Uganda and has remained so for years, as aptly noted by J. Peter Pham and others.
Batanda’s sharp, smart piece paints a clear picture of current issues in Uganda and thus corrects some of the distortions of Kony 2012.