Original Articles

Trauma aesthetics in war documentaries about the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda

DOI: 10.1080/23277408.2014.941749
Author(s): Okaka Opio DokotumLiterature Department, Uganda


Memory studies scholar Cathy Caruth postulates that “history is precisely the way we are implicated in one another's trauma” (24). Given the violent and traumatic history of post-independence Uganda, especially the bloody, insane and protracted Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in northern Uganda and its aftermath, Caruth's statement summarizes our collective cultural trauma and the challenges of internal representation of trauma. Recent documentaries in Uganda deal with the mayhem of Joseph Kony's LRA. These are George Otis Junior's An Unconventional War (2006), Sean Fine and Andrea Nix's War Dance (2007), Jason Russell's Invisible Children Rough Cut (2006) and Kony 2012 (2012). These documentaries offer a broad range of approaches to testifying about the impact of the war on individuals, families and entire communities. Although these are films by foreign directors, they offer perspectives on the trauma of children and communities in northern Uganda that the victims would take for granted precisely because they are caught up in the violence. As Sigmund Freud notes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1922), victims of trauma may not fully comprehend what they are experiencing and may even resist testifying. These documentaries may be called expatriate films relative to indigenous East Africa productions, and even have strands of “Dark Continent” discourses, they nevertheless mediate Uganda's supranational trauma experience in the age of globalised cultural production and consumption. In a country like Uganda that is desensitized to violence, and the official narrative is obsessed with revolutionary fetishism, these films compute the collateral damages of the LRA rebel insurgency. In this article, I discuss the use of trauma aesthetics in contemporary documentaries about the LRA war and assert that the films invite us to witness the atrocities and testimonies of victims to nefarious rebel violence, and act as avenues for contestation and catharsis.

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