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Shazza in Africa

by Anneke Rautenbach / 05.04.2012

‘I was trying to have a midlife crisis, but I got too busy, so I had to hide out here for a while,’ her staccato speech crackles and bursts through my laptop speakers, reminding me of one reviewer’s comparison with Shazza from Bridget Jones’ Diary. I struggle to keep up with her freight train of thought, and lean closer. Jane Bussmann is skyping me from Kenya, and I don’t want to miss it. Shazza in Africa.

She is a rare breed: a British comedy writer (best known for her work on South Park, Smack the Pony and Brass Eye) turned political activist. In 2009, she made waves with her strangely hilarious book The Worst Date Ever Or How it Took a Comedy Writer to Expose Africa’s Secret War, an account of a career-changing misadventure in Uganda that caused her to stumble upon the disaster left in Kony’s wake. I came across her at a performance of her one-woman roadshow, ‘Bussmann’s Holiday’, at the Book Lounge’s Open Book Fair last year. Whilst nursing my split sides, I realised the power of her tactic. The show has been touring the globe to raise awareness about the Lord’s Resistance Army’s actions in Uganda. After working towards the same end as Invisible Children for the last six years (and refusing to be interviewed for their video), the Kony2012 media explosion came as quite a shock, and a thrill. But Bussmann does not hesitate to describe the campaign as ‘genius’.

‘I am… staggered… by the backlash. The fact that it has reached one hundred million people in six days – this thing has been going on for twenty six years and no one has paid attention. Never mind Invisible Children – it doesn’t matter if Pinky and Perky made this video; the point is people are paying attention to the issues, and people are starting to ask questions – and this shows the intelligence behind its creation.’

Mahala: What do you make of the criticism that the video has oversimplified the problem – reducing it to terms understandable (quite literally) to a five year old?

Jane Bussman: Look, the fact that you have managed to recognise that it has been oversimplified means that you, and many others like you, are clever enough to see that this is not all there is to the problem. You have gone out of your way to find out more. Perhaps there are hordes of stupid people who are blindly accepting the video as the whole truth but I’ve never met them. The point is, we should not get so bogged down with aimlessly criticising Invisible Children that we start to ignore the issue at hand – it’s like the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. Good or bad – this is publicity that is being created for something that has desperately needed publicity for twenty six years. If to make caring about what happens in Uganda cool is the way to do it, then so be it. And now Invisible Children has reached the level of public wanking cool – this is great. I think everyone should go out and have a big wank on April 20th.

What about the video’s advocation of American military intervention in Uganda? Countless critics have pointed out the malpractice of Museveni’s government and have caught onto the idea that the failure to capture Kony may have been intentional, something you have been vocal about too. Is it wise to align ourselves with such a government and would American military intervention not do more harm than good?

The American government has been paying Museveni lots of money to catch Kony for years – no wonder he hasn’t done it yet. The reason they have been reluctant to criticise his failure is that he is a useful ally; he has conveniently been sending troops to Somalia, where the US needs them. But now they have a bigger concern – the people who put them in office are putting pressure on them to make sure Kony is arrested. And as soon as this interest trumps the other, action is guaranteed. I think at this stage any foreign intervention is important because where there is intervention there is attention, and attention is needed because the Ugandan military is bent, period. The spotlight is on the military for the first time ever not to be shit.

The organisation has been heavily criticised for their apparent ‘white saviour’s complex’, and the video for flat-out ignoring the efforts made by local initiatives to restore peace to the region. Apparently the situation has greatly improved in the last six years.

Everyone who I have spoken to whose kids have been kidnapped by the LRA has said the same thing — not ‘I wish these whites would fuck off’, but ‘why is the international community not doing more?’ Yes, the situation has improved – the LRA are down to two hundred and fifty five fighters now, apparently, but they have been down to lower before and have always managed to regenerate. Perhaps local initiatives have improved the situation but the situation has not improved for the kid who’s just been kidnapped. We need more.

But do you think this focus on one man, Joseph Kony, is the answer? Do you think his arrest will solve the problem?

I think Kony should be arrested because he is a criminal. It’s as simple as that. Yes he has people working for him, and there are billions of little rebel groups committing similar crimes all over the world, but his arrest will at least begin to shine a light on these issues. His arrest will mean the beginning of peace talks that will start to solve the problem, because anyone is more likely to talk peace with a gun to his head.

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