Oketch: Bigger worries than Joseph Kony

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GULU, Uganda -- The people of northern Uganda generally, and my own Lango ethnic tribal group in particular, would be very happy if they never heard the name Joseph Kony again.

So it was with a sense of dismay when I learned that Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army were once again thrust into the public eye by a 30-minute video produced by a San Diego-based advocacy group, Invisible Children. Within a matter of days, the YouTube video, produced by filmmaker Jason Russell, had been viewed more than 80 million times and had become an Internet sensation.

Invisible Children calls on people to lobby U. S. lawmakers to maintain military advisers for the Ugandan military, and to wear bracelets to publicize Kony's name and ensure he is captured by the end of the year.


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I am dismayed that it is only now that the world has shown an interest in Kony. To my mind, this campaign reflects the self-interest of a Western-based advocacy group.

I should have thought Kony would have become famous when he killed dozens of innocent civilians in Burcoro, Gulu district, in 1987, or after the Atiak massacre in April 1995. Wasn't the LRA invasion of Teso in eastern Uganda in June 2003 and the abduction of hundreds of people enough to make him famous? How about the murder of hundreds of people in Barlonyo, Lira district, in February 2004? Twenty years of these intense attacks against a government incapable of protecting the lives and property of ordinary Ugandans was more than enough to make Kony well known to all of us.

If there is anybody longing for justice for the atrocities committed against northern Ugandans, it's me. I lost two brothers who were abducted in LRA attacks in 1998. I also want to see justice done for the dozens of other relatives killed during the war.

But is an anti-Kony media campaign really what we need right now? While the world's attention is focused on Kony, the issues of greatest concern to Ugandans right now -- disease and displacement -- are being ignored. We don't see anything about them in the foreign media.

The biggest and most immediate issues are how to stop our children dying of malaria, HIV/AIDS-related infections and other diseases.

For example, children in northern Uganda are currently falling victim to a mysterious illness known as "nodding disease," a fatal, mentally and physically disabling disease.

The first cases were reported in 2008, but little was done to prevent the disease escalating from spreading. Today, northern Uganda faces with a full-scale epidemic.

While treatment centers have opened in several northern districts, there is growing concern that the government is devoting insufficient resources to battle the disease.

Meanwhile, the world is talking about Kony -- six years after he left Uganda.

Should the hunt for Kony and his few remaining followers continue? Of course. Should every effort be made to bring him to justice? Absolutely.

But the truth is there are greater issues facing Uganda today than Joseph Kony. We need to concentrate on peace-building, redevelopment, reconciliation, and educating our children. Now at last we are in a position to start improving the lives of our people.

Writer Bill Oketch is a reporter in Uganda who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site: www.iwpr.net. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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