map of africa showing uganda

Uganda in the Media

by Daniella Elghanayan

December 5, 2005

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005
(course homepage, web projects index page,
Uganda project main page)

Main Text
About the author
Uganda Project
Main Page
History of Uganda
Uganda Film
Invisible Children

"There is no greater tragedy on earth today as the one unfolding in Sudan." –Colin Powell

"Invisible Children," a documentary of the war in Uganda, is one of the many ways for the rest of the world to capture the reality of what the film calls the "Seventeen Year War." Even with the outrageously high number of deaths and countless child abductions increasing daily, the media does not present enough information about the genocide that is necessary in order to raise awareness and provoke change. Similar to the Holocaust, many people who hear about the atrocities in Uganda ignore the problem and downplay it as less significant than it actually is. Some cannot seem to distinguish the current war in Uganda from other problems in Africa, such as the horrors in Uganda when Idi Amin was in power, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and the H.I.V. /AIDS epidemic throughout Africa. As a result, people regard Africa as altogether tormented and afflicted, rather than recognizing the individual disasters in different areas of the continent. With the media being a major influence and a primary source of information, the fact that after seventeen years the Uganda war still remains unheard of by many people can be blamed on the media’s failure to capture the reality of the battle.

Curious about how many people in my peer group knew about the genocide in Uganda, I decided to perform a random survey of college students and ask them what they knew about the war in Uganda or if they had heard of it at all. I asked thirty students – fifteen males and fifteen females – all college students currently attending school, ages 18 through 21. My results did not surprise me, because I personally did not know about the war until I watched "Invisible Children." Out of fifteen girls, twelve knew nothing about the war, one had heard of it, and only three actually knew about it. Thirteen boys said they had no idea that a war was taking place and two told me that they did know about the genocide. The five people who did know about the conflict had learned about it through their parents, a global studies class, a political science class, doing a current event for the MCATS, or the screening of "Invisible Children" on campus. Of the students who had never heard of the war, almost half of them asked me, "Where is Uganda?" One student thought she knew about the combat, and asked me if a boat had blown up there. At a highly ranked university, less than seventeen percent of my random sample were aware of a genocide taking place on the other side of our world. When asked if they watch the news or read the newspaper regularly, over half of the students said they did at least twice a week, and twenty-one out of thirty said they read the Daily Nexus several times a week. When asked if they knew about the war in Iraq, every single student said yes with strong conviction.

I performed a systematic search for articles relating to Uganda and the war in The New York Times from 1988 to the present day, November 2005. The New York Times website,, allows users to search for articles printed starting from a specific year, or during a custom date range. My search was done specifically for articles published starting at the beginning of the year, seventeen years ago, January 1, 1988 until the present day, with "Uganda" and "war" as my subject/keywords. The search I did came up with 919 results, meaning 919 articles were written that had something to do with Uganda and war. The results showed that about four articles regarding Uganda were printed each month on average, but after scanning many articles I noticed that only about one each month actually dealt with the war. Next, I asked myself, is 919 a high number? Keeping in mind that the search was over a seventeen year span, I ran another one from August 2005 to November 2005 with "Hurricane Katrina New Orleans" as my subject. The New York Times has 885 results of articles about Hurricane Katrina throughout a three month time period, only thirty four less than the Uganda results. It is no wonder college students are unaware of the battle when what the media portrays does not exemplify its magnitude. Maybe a factor of the media recognizing other atrocities with more attention is the high number of people affected at once rather than a much smaller number being affected daily over years and years.

Looking into these articles more meticulously, The New York Times proved to mostly display different aspects of the war, rather than focus the articles on how serious the problem has been in Africa and that it is progressing downward. One article from October 3, 1988 discussed the hunger that has developed as a result of the fighting. International relief workers stated that the battle threatens two million people with starvation, and has resulted in a sudden government setback. About two weeks later, on October 19, the next article published regarding the war stated, "In a country that has been besieged this year by plagues of almost biblical proportions - famine, flood, drought and locusts - a protracted civil war is proving the most debilitating of all" (NYT, October 19, 1988).

Many of the articles dealt with the H.I.V. cases in Uganda, and related them to the war. In 2004 an article was published that informed the public of the high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS infections in Uganda. It said that the rate of infections was nearly double that in the rest of Africa because of the "devastation" caused by so many years of civil war. However, in 2003 another article was published regarding a visit President Bush made to Uganda, praising Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, "for working to remove the stigma of AIDS and aggressively pursuing a program that includes drug treatments, as well as promoting abstinence, condom use and education about the disease" (NYT, July 13, 2003). Not a single word was mentioned about the war or about the conditions in Uganda, aside from the disease. A large portion of the articles published were concerned with the AIDS epidemic in Uganda without mention of the war or the fact that the war is a cause in the rise of cases. One article suggests that the disease is perhaps crueler than the war, "In war, the women and children are often spared. In famine, only segments of the population, the very young and the elderly, seem vulnerable" (NYT, June 10, 1990).

Talks of peace and negotiation were another popular topic for articles about the genocide. In August 2002 The New York Times stated that President Museveni had appointed negotiators in hopes of putting an end to the ongoing war with the rebels. The president had invited them to peace talks and had promised to crush them within six months if the rebels refused. Three years and three months later, Uganda is not at peace and the rebels are still fighting. An article written about Uganda’s animal kingdom and national parks mentions the horrors that took place under Idi Amin’s regime before Museveni gained power in 1986. Author Michael Gavin, an environmental conservation worker living in western Uganda for the past year (the article was published in 2004), states that under Museveni’s rule Uganda is "recovering and is now considered one of sub-Saharan Africa's more stable countries" (NYT, June 20, 2004). Gavin refers to the country’s current problems as "a longstanding conflict with rebel insurgents in the north and sporadic fighting across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo" (NYT, June 20, 2004). Without mentioning child abductions, slaughtering, or genocide of any sort, Gavin states that much of Uganda is deemed safe and, most importantly, all of the national parks are protected by armed rangers.

Recently our former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "There is no greater tragedy on earth today as the one unfolding in Sudan." It is one of the biggest atrocities in the world because so many people do not know about it. The media is not picking up the magnitude of the war, and the majority of the people who are raising serious awareness about Uganda are non-profit humanitarian groups that are too small to have a much influence, such as student leadership clubs such The Monitor, New Vision, and of course the guys who filmed Invisible Children. Many people think back to the Rwandan genocide, such as the students I surveyed, but they do not realize that another war exists today. Militias are kidnapping children, brainwashing them and forcing them to murder. The film calls these children "invisible" because they are running on distant battlefields away from public scrutiny, no records are kept of their numbers or age, and their own armies deny that they exist. Bobby Bailey, one of the boys who filmed the documentary, said that there is a "mind-numbing hurt and fear in Africa" (Invisible Children). The three boys reminded each other that the war in Uganda could never happen in America and people they stated this to responded to them by saying that America and Africa are two worlds that cannot be compared. As the film proves, the children in Africa are no different from the children in America; "we are all human beings" (Invisible Children). Bobby ended the film by saying, "Coming from a culture where the youth are exceptionally valued, we never realize there could be so many children that could go unseen, that so many beautiful faces could be invisible" (Invisible Children). The war remains quiet, but the children continue to be abducted and people are still being murdered. As the war wages on, it only gets worse and the issue remains buried from the public eye.

About the Author (back to top)

Daniella Elghanayan
I am a sophomore communications major, and I have been studying many global issues recently. I am part of a non-profit organization called Helping Everyone Live Peacefully, and our objective is to raise money and awareness for victims of tragedy, just like the victims in Uganda. I chose to write about the war in Uganda because I was not aware of it until I watched the Invisible Children DVD, and as a communications and mass media major I was interested in looking at how the media presents the war.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/6/05; last updated: 12/15/05
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