As if the mounting criticism and pressure wasn’t enough, in yet another moment of bad press for Invisible Children (IC), which recently released the two short films: “Kony 2012” and “Kony 2: Beyond Famous,” reports have surfaced that the organization engaged in intelligence work for the Ugandan government and its military – the UPDF.
The US diplomatic cable released as part of WikiLeaks' massive "Cablegate" series, was sent on June 11, 2009, and signed by then US Ambassador to Uganda Steven Browning.
The cable which is titled, "GAMES THE ACHOLI DIASPORA CONTINUE TO PLAY," concerned reports of a "new rebellion in northern Uganda" organized by “members of the Acholi ethnic group, of which Joseph Kony is also a member.”
The cable describes Ugandan government reports of a "new resistance group called the Peoples' Patriotic Front (PPF)" that had "begun stockpiling weapons in the districts of West Nile" and was attempting to win support of Acholis abroad for a new effort to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Then in early 2009, the UPDF arrested a number of people “alleged to be involved in plots to attack military targets,” including Patrick Komakech. A USB flash disc “forgotten” in an internet café also became another rallying point for the arrests.
Komakech, reportedly a former LRA child soldier, had been involved with IC for some time and appeared in several of its videos. (A 2007 Des Moines Register story describes a bike trip he and other former child soldiers took across Iowa organized by American missionaries).
According to the diplomatic cable, it was Invisible Children that gave the government the tipoff on where to find Komakech:
“The latest plot was exposed when the Government received a tip from the U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children regarding the location of Patrick Komekech………., Komekech is purportedly a former child soldier abducted by the LRA. Invisible Children had featured him in its documentaries. Invisible Children reported that Komekech had been in Nairobi and had recently reappeared in Gulu, where he was staying with the NGO. Security organizations jumped on the tip and immediately arrested Komekech on March 5. He had a satellite telephone and other gadgets, which were confiscated when security forces picked him up.” The memo can be viewed here.
IC is also alleged to have backed an operation that killed more civilians than militants when Operation Lightening Thunder was mounted by the UPDF under the supervision of American forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The leaked memos also document that U.S. officials were aware of the Ugandan government’s campaigns to demonize opponents of their military solution against the LRA by portraying them as collaborators to Joseph Kony’s LRA.
In Kony 2: Beyond Famous it is clear that IC has a military agenda and wants to send in 5000 troops to capture Kony. In truth this means that if the mission fails like Operation Lightning Thunder, it will only lead to the deaths of more innocent civilians.
What is unclear is whether Invisible Children provided additional intelligence information to the UPDF beyond what is referred to in the U.S. memo, what is clear is that the relationship continues. The US State Department didn't respond to an email sent by this paper to question whether a U.S. NGO was authorized to share intelligence information with Ugandan authorities leading to arrests.
Some legal experts say IC may be exposed to liability from the people arrested as a result of the tip-off to Ugandan authorities. Because since their arrest, the state is yet to prove their case; meanwhile reports in the media indicate that the suspects have been subjected to relentless tortured.
By actively engaging in intelligence work for the Ugandan authorities and then promoting the regime's militarisation of the region, IC shouldn't be entitled to its not-for-profit status. The U.S. embassy memos have clearly provided more insight into the working relations between IC, the Ugandan authorities and the U.S. government -- dating back to the George W. Bush administration, this working relationship is an abuse of its NGO status and an insult to the very people IC purports to be helping.