Jacob Acaye, the Ugandan former child abductee at the heart of the film Kony 2012, a web phenomenon seen by more than 50 million people around the world, defended the video and its makers on Thursday against criticism that it is misleading and champions western intervention against an insurgency which is already waning and on the run.
Acaye's home region around the town of Gulu is now relatively peaceful, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which kidnapped him and killed his brother in 2002, has been driven out of northern Uganda along with its warlord leader, Joseph Kony, who has melted into the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
But Acaye denied widespread criticism in Uganda and elsewhere that the American-made film calling for Kony's arrest is out-of-date or irrelevant.
"It is not too late, because all this fighting and suffering is still going on elsewhere," Acaye, now 21, told the Guardian in a telephone interview from Kampala, where he is studying law. "Until now, the war that was going on has been a silent war. People did not really know about it.
"Now what was happening in Gulu is still going on elsewhere in the Central African Republic and in Congo. What about the people who are suffering over there? They are going through what we were going through."
Kony 2012 has become a surprise hit around the world some 25 years after Kony founded his militia and a decade after the peak of its reign of terror in northern Uganda. But its makers, a group called Invisible Children, have been widely criticised by Ugandan journalists and other aid agencies for being self-promoting (the video spends much of its 28 minutes on its maker, Jason Russell and his young son, Gavin) and opaque about its use of funds — and for concentrating on an issue that has dramatically changed in recent years.
In 2009 a US-supported military operation dubbed Operation Lightning Thunder and carried out by Uganda government forces failed to kill Kony. The Ugandan army said Kony had left his compound a few minutes before the attack. Since it was set up in 2003, Invisible Children, a San Diego-based charity has released 11 films and run regular "awareness-raising" film tours across the US, mainly showing to schools and universities. Acaye was taken prisoner by the LRA militia when it attacked his home village of Koro, near Gulu, but he escaped after three weeks when one unit handed him over to another.
"I got lucky. I was taken by a second group which did not know much about me, and I was transferred to that group. They asked me how long I had been with the LRA and I said three months so they thought I had no intention of running away, so they did not watch me," Acaye said.
He found his way back to his village, but from then on joined the hundreds of children who walked into Gulu to sleep every night for safety. It was while he was sleeping on a verandah there that he was found by Invisible Children.
"They could not understand what was happening. They wanted a kid who was sleeping there and who spoke English. I could understand English and I could say what was happening, so that is how I was in their film," Acaye said. guardian.co.uk