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Over the last few days, the #Kony2012 documentary film made by the Invisible Children humanitarian agency has sparked both acclaim and discontent. I am one of the people who has criticised the organization, not just because of the recent film but for the last couple months. My friend and activist, Michael Kirkpatrick authored a stinging critique of the nonprofit 2 years ago called How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed the LRA Disarmament and the Northern Uganda Recovery Act in June of 2010. He received ridicule and even threats. Kirkpatrick’s monologue was nothing short of a vent on the fraud at which the Invisible Children is. And yet, undoubtedly, Invisible Children must have some good intentions with Kony2012, even with its heavy laden flaws. At the very least, even I, the sceptic believes so. But many a Ugandan or African are not pleased with the style with which this narrative has been framed. In fact, it not in a way a departure from the usual western paternalistic approach to global issues. The emerging class of Africans and Ugandans; the cheetah generation will have none of this. And by the way, it does not help much that this #Kony2012 buzz comes on the heels of the resurrected Uganda Homosexuality Bill.

But it’s already here. Invisible Children has created a viral video that for whatever reasons has put Uganda on the forefront of internet media, television and major newsprint for more than two days. What I would like every Ugandan and African lover to ask is this; how can we leverage this massive unprecedented exposure into something, something really good? I have often heard that even bad publicity can be good publicity. I would like to believe it. Musicians have used it to sell records, and so on and so on. Stanford Graduate School of Business says this of bad publicity:  “in some cases negative publicity can increase sales when a product or company is relatively unknown, simply because it stimulates product awareness.” That’t exactly my point. Uganda was hardly known. The aging class that could still remotely relate Uganda to the mayhem of Idi Amin was quickly fading. But now Uganda is back in the main stream. It is now even a phrase, you didn’t know? Uganda be kidding me!

True, if you live in the west, many people maystill ask you where Uganda is on the map or if you lived in a tree or something…it doesn’t matter. For now, at least for now, Uganda will be fresh in their memory, they will know it’s a country – even if they may not know where it is in Africa! If you are African and you are not from Uganda, do not be offended if some student or the guy in the grocery store thinks you are from Uganda or Central Africa. You are African, that’s what matters! Many may start thinking that Uganda is Africa or narrowed down to Central Africa, even though it is in East Africa. That don’t matter much either. What matters is for weeks on end, Joseph Kony will be a household name in the west. If that was the objective of the campaign, they have achieved it. We have had our fair share of dissenting with the narrative both on twitter, blog post, radio and television interviews, et al. But now we must seize this moment, take advantage of this free publicity and hunger and talk about Uganda that the world needs to be hearing about. The world is ready to listen. For example:

1. Uganda Tourism: Uganda is a leading tourist destination in East, South and Central Africa. Even though the impression from the Invisible Children documentary may paint a grim picture, Uganda is absolutely a safe country to visit. In fact, many parts of Northern Uganda which were the epicenter of the Kony or LRA war are totally pacified and have some of the most magnificent game parks. Last year, I drove through the Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda while on a photography commission for my client. The photo below was taken in that park. Uganda has more than 342 animal species including lions, elephant, giraffes, zebras, and over 1040 bird species, by far, the most attractive destination for bird watching in the whole of Africa. And did you know that  over half of the world’s Mountain Gorillas reside and thrive within Uganda? Yes, there was war, but that was then. Now come and visit Uganda and enjoy Uganda Tourism!

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2. Uganda Culture: Despite our rants on social media, the internet, the blogs, radio and television about the Invisible Children Kony2012 video, Uganda has the most hospitable of any groups of people in the whole of Africa. Ugandans are calm, very welcoming and amiable. Perhaps that explains why Uganda is the largest home to millions of refugees from different countries across Africa, has a huge Asian population from China and India, and is home to hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, Congolese, Sudanese and Somalis. Many that have visited Uganda enjoy the night life that never stops till 6 in the morning (I don’t recommend it), the boda-boda (you will discover it when you go there, you can’t miss it), and everything. Ugandans speak good english and it is easy to get around, whether you are a tourist, foreign worker or investor. And we do not kill gays, contrary to sensational reports in the media. If you are gay, according to BBC, the president of Uganda says do your stuff, don’t force it on others and don’t brag about it, and no one will bother you.

3. Investing in Uganda. Recently, Harvard University and MIT published a report that shows East Africa will be the fastest growing region in the world between 2012 and 2020. So, for sure 2012 is a great year. Apart from capturing Kony, Uganda is also touted by the Harvard and MIT report to be the fastest growing of all the East African countries during the same period. If you are in business, whether its agriculture or technology or healthcare or construction or energy or anything, Uganda is a great destination. It has a huge educated population and many Ugandans like most places in Africa have a great entrepreneurial spirit. Therefore, do not be deterred by the Invisible Children video. Uganda is a great place to invest – it is a peaceful country.

4. Uganda and Innovation: Recently, a group of Ugandan university students of engineering researched and developed the first ever electric motor vehicle in the whole of Africa. The Makerere University technology students, with the help of their professors and government funding unveiled this car to the public last year. According to American Technology Blog EnGadget, The Kiira EV plug-in was test driven successfully after nearly three years of development…the two-seater successfully completed its first test run, reaching a top speed of 65 kilometers per hour and nimbly making its way up a 55-degree incline…the Kiira is capable of maxing out at a speed of 150 kilometers per hour, and can run for up to 80 kilometers before the next recharge. In fact, one local engineer is currently making a helicopter, while two different groups are each making an aircraft. One of the groups is the Africa Space Research Program, and the progress of their aircraft can be seen in photos here. Besides such bold innovations, many Ugandans have heavily invested time and resources into developing local information technologies, both web and mobile based. Such initiatives should be reported and supported. This photo below is by Edward Echwalu/Reuters. 

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5. Uganda’s Challenges and How You Can Help: As any developing country, Uganda still faces some major challenges. And certainly, poverty is the main challenge. In my view, without poverty we would not have Kony in Northern Uganda, in Central Africa Republic, in Congo, in Chad or the Sudan. Poverty is the main root of conflict, that’s my thesis. But an interplay of various factors can perpetuate a conflict like that of the LRA. We have already argued that the Northern Uganda conflict needs holistic solutions including truth telling and reconciliation that would bring  national healing, real democracy and an open space for different political actors, addressing governance challenges including corruption, and improvement in government social services. We face all these challenges but we are optimistic. Addressing poverty issues and empowering people to have a voice should always be the starting point. That’s why I urge you to look for non profit agencies and social enterprises that address the issue of poverty and self sustainability. Obviously, humanitarian efforts such as dealing with victims of war and trauma cases or the nodding disease in Uganda issue should always happen in earnest, but long term efforts of dealing with the root must always be emphasized. And do let the local people take the lead. Check out our start up social enterprise here.

Lastly, the great English Statesman, World War II England Prime Minister, Winston Churchill upon setting foot in Uganda declared, “Truly Uganda is the Pearl of Africa”. He was attracted to the magnificent scenery (landscape), wildlife and friendly natives (culture). To him, the beauty of it all could only be described as a pearl.” The pearl still remains today. Kony can’t destroy it, the UPDF can’t touch it, and no one will tamper with it. Come to Uganda and experience the Pearl of Africa. Contact me if you would like to visit Uganda. I will hook you up. Follow me on Twitter here!