In my public school history education, I listened to the rhetoric that the European explorers were 'the first people', who saw the Source of the Nile'. They named rivers, waterfalls, mountains and cities after themselves and their royal family. I thought - admittedly - not much about it till many years later I found myself working in northern Uganda - that those who facilitated this part of the history had completely overlooked the fact that the people in Uganda had already 'discovered' the source of the Nile (!).
I was reminded of this today when I discovered the intense debate on Facebook and Twitter, which is about the American organisation Invisible Children's latest film. The film is called Kony 2012, and the promotion includes sale of merchandise such as bracelets and onward distribution of widgets and links. All customary when a message needs to succeed virally. The film is available here and the promotion includes this hashtag on Twitter - which updates at fairly high speed.
Ugandans (and others) are however answering back via social media.
Amongst others, on this blog under the title The Visible Children (Facebook does not allow to link to) and on Twitter the Ugandan citizen journalist, Maureen Agena, and journalist and blogger, Rose Bell Kagumire, lead the forefront of the debate. I.e., Rose Bell Kagumire explains: 'Western Media coverage of things like #KONY2012 video refuses to accept there were local initiatives to end the war. Ask #BettyBigombe. (Follow her discussions on Twitter for others' tweets).
One of the arguments is that 'the children have always been visible to us' - in the sense that 'just because a group of young Americans do a movie in northern Uganda, it does not mean that the problem was not visible before so.' (Similar to the rethoric of my history lessons.) Other arguments against the Invisible Children are manipulation of data, and that their support for military intervention is not clearly enough disseminated.
It must be said, though, that the debate goes between being less objective, to very factual. However, I do not need to read between the lines to understand that for the Ugandans this is also about a widespread frustration with how western NGOs work in and fundraise for Africa, especially about what images they produce of Africa in the name of a good cause. A tendency one should not be blind to, and which in my opinion needs to be listened to and dialogued with if you want to understand the context you have to work with. Not least, it is relevant in relation to how Danish NGOs raise money.
Today's debate, which will certainly continue for some time, is indeed relevant to the Danish actors in developing countries who are using similar methods to the American Invisible Children. One is obviously to find the balance between means and goals, another is discussing how to find the best balance, but also to engage in dialogue and to listen to the tone among the people whose case you intend to work for and with.