- Uganda Is Too Sexy:Reflections on Kony 2012
In my African theatre class, I often show a video entitled This Magnificent African Cake (1997) in order to provide the students with context about the colonization of the African continent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Africanist historian Basil Davidson's narrative includes a brief mention of an 1894 Punch cartoon, "The Black Baby," which depicts Uganda as an abandoned infant left at the doorstep of a befuddled and bowlegged John Bull. As European governments and monarchies scrambled for the "cake" of neighboring Sudan, the Congo, and Kenya, the cartoon implies that Uganda was forgotten — a helpless child cast at the feet of its generous white savior, who exclaims, "What, another!! — Well, I suppose I must take it in!!!" (Punch Limited 1894).
The obvious racism of this image aside, my students undoubtedly find this cartoon puzzling given that Uganda is one of the few African countries that is, relatively speaking, not forgotten. Thanks in part to the 2006 feature film The Last King of Scotland, students have often heard of Idi Amin, whose reign of terror in the 1970s led to the deaths of 100,000 to 500,000 Ugandans (Human Rights Watch 2003). Thanks in part to student-awareness campaigns that the San Diego-based nonprofit Invisible Children, Inc., has launched since 2006, they've probably heard of Joseph Kony and his insurgency group the Lord's Resistance Army, which decimated northern Uganda from the late 1980s up until 2007 before taking refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and what is now South Sudan. And, thanks to the reprehensible legislation introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati in 2009 that calls for the death penalty for people convicted of "aggravated homosexuality" as well as the murder of Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato in 2011, they've definitely heard of the "kill the gays bill."1 In 2006, a publicity firm hired by the Ugandan government coined the slogan, "Uganda: Gifted by Nature," with the aim of helping the country compete more effectively for its share of the international tourist market in East Africa, long dominated by neighboring Tanzania and Kenya (Mukisa 2007). Considering that David Kato and Joseph Kony have become international household names while Uganda's scenic Rwenzori mountains and Murchison Falls languish in relative obscurity, one is tempted to substitute the phrase, "Uganda: Marked by Trauma and Repression." This particular brand has achieved a startling amount of success — in terms of symbolic capital if not tourist dollars.
Even Broadway cannot resist Uganda's cachet. The 2011 hit musical The Book of Mormon follows two Mormon missionaries to a village in northern Uganda where they attempt to win converts despite the violent intervention of the nefarious warlord General Butt Fucking Naked.2 In [End Page 10] one of the more memorable songs, "Hasa Diga Eebowai," the Ugandans revel in their suffering as they recount a litany of exaggerated horrors including rampant female circumcision, an AIDS infection rate of 80 percent, infant rape, and starvation. Through a satirical deconstruction of the romanticized image of Africa in the 1994 Walt Disney film The Lion King, Uganda in The Book of Mormon is transformed into the land of trauma par excellence. As a Ugandan chorus cheerfully sings: "If you don't like what we say / Try living here a couple of days! / Watch all your friends and family die!" (Wikia 2011).3 As depicted by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Ugandans eat trauma for breakfast.
As if Uganda's place in the international limelight wasn't already assured, Kony 2012 hit the YouTubesphere on 5 March 2012 and went on to become "the most viral video in history" (Wasserman 2012). The video, which was created by Invisible Children, Inc., calls for the continued presence of 100 US troops in Uganda, who arrived in October 2011 to assist the Ugandan army in tracking down Kony. Like many of Invisible Children's advocacy techniques, the video was familiar in its self-aggrandizing, sensationalist, and oversimplified representations of the complexities of conflict and post-conflict Uganda. Decidedly less familiar was the sustained and...