- Invisible Children, the non-profit, made well-known by its recent film Kony2012 was allegedly involved in helping the Ugandan government locate members of a "new resistance group called the People's Patriotic Front (PPF)".
- This led to the arrest of Patrick Komakech, a purportedly ex-LRA child solder who was featured in some of Invisible Children's documentaries, and several others who maintained their innocence but were reportedly tortured.
- Invisible Children has been criticized for its support of military action but if the allegations in the Wikileaks are true, some say they could have violated the rules of their non-profit status.
- An Invisible Children spokesperson has said these allegations are false and that the organization is not involved in spy work.
The U.S.-based non-profit responsible for the largely successful yet controversial film Kony2012 has been criticized for working with the Ugandan government in its efforts against the Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. Now, just days after the organization released a sequel to the film in response to critics, a document released last year by Wikileaks is revealing Invisible Children may have worked with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's government to help arrest regime opponents.
If this is the case, Invisible Children could have violated the rules of its non-profit status.
According to an editorial by Milton Allimadi in Black Star News, the communications were cables that showed Invisible Children's involvement in helping the Ugandan government "promote a military solution" against the LRA and how it, at the same time, kept U.S. officials informed of the situation. Eventually, the information reveals, with the aid of intelligence from Invisible Children, the Ugandan government was able to apprehend several suspects of a "new resistance group called the People's Patriotic Front (PPF)", which included Patrick Komakech, who was an ex-LRA child soldier.
Business Insider puts it this way:
Invisible Children's current alliance with Ugandan authorities began after a disastrous military assault on the LRA — which employed U.S. fueled helicopters in addition to U.S. army logistical support and intelligence — that failed to neutralize Joseph Kony as more than a thousand Congolese civilians were slaughtered in reprisal attacks. [Emphasis added]
The Black Star News goes into more detail:
Invisible Children's current alliance with the Ugandan authorities began after the AFRICOM-assisted military maneuver against the LRA in Congo, code-named Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT), which was a turning point in the war between Museveni's army the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and the LRA.
OLT was conducted with the Ugandan military's heaviest weapons -- the U.S. fueled helicopters to the tune of $1 million dollars, and, the mission itself was conducted with logistical support and intelligence from the U.S. army. After Kony's delays in signing a final agreement Gen. Museveni ordered what would be a disastrous military assault, after receiving a nod from Washington.
OLT failed to neutralize Kony; instead, attacks against civilians resumed, with over one-thousand Congolese civilians slaughtered in reprisal attacks, as the LRA was pushed into the Central African Republic (CAR). Hoping to reverse the negative publicity, the Museveni regime, with U.S. knowledge, teamed up with Congo to launch a public relations blitz to influence journalists, human rights organizations and other governments. Invisible Children played a role in the campaign, culminating with Kony2012. [Emphasis added]
U.S. involvement in OLT, also known as the 2008-2009 Garmaba Offensive, is well-known and was documented by the New York Times a few years ago. The Times reported that the U.S. had been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism -- the first time it had been involved in a military offensive with Uganda -- but the plan against the rebel group went awry and led to the death of about 900 civilians.
From Wikileaks (via Business Insider):
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. He was wanted by the security services for impersonating LRA leaders to extort money from government officials, NGOs, and Acholi leaders. 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. [Emphasis added]
It is that involvement, some explain, that will be picked up by critics of Invisible Children's not-for-profit status, according to Uganda's Daily Monitor. Non-profits are prohibited from participating in political acts.
Many of the organizations allegedly involved denied the cables as revealing spy activity. The Monitor reports:
“That’s a lie. Komakech was arrested in broad day light and we didn’t need a muzungu to tell us where he was,” UPDF Spokesperson Felix Kulayigye said.
Invisible Children Uganda Spokesperson Florence Ogola said: “That is not true. We are not involved in anything to do with security. We only deal with development.”
She said allegations that the charity was involved in spy work on behalf of the UPDF is part of the “propaganda” and “tagging” that is gaining prominence after the release of the 30-minute Kony 2012 video early this year, which critics dismissed for its supposed simplistic portrayal of the two-decade conflict and insistence on a military solution.
Water Minister Betty Bigombe, who the Monitor reports was integral in negotiations between the government and the LRA, told the Monitor she had heard of Invisible Children's involvement in bringing Komakech from Nairobi back to Uganda but was "unaware" if the organization was involved in the arrest.
Since the Wikileaks tip was analyzed, Black Star News states the Ugandan government has said it obtained names of other suspects -- who declared their innocence at the time and were reportedly tortured -- from Komakech himself, not necessarily Invisible Children. A 2009 memo from a political affairs officer at the U.S. embassy, Kathleen FitzGibbon, says Invisible Children provided the location of Komakech. In the same memo, FitzGibbon wrote the government was "considering options" for also implicating Bishop John Baptist Odama -- a well-known religious man who was against military intervention -- for "funding airtime for the LRA" and allegedly harboring some of the groups members.
Black Star News then becomes more editorial calling the original Kony2012 a "propaganda piece for the Museveni regime," and criticizes its sequel for trying to "exonerate" itself from some of its previous criticism. Black Star News believes these videos are to "divert attention" from Museveni's own political struggles. It also notes that Museveni has "contributed thousands of Ugandan soldiers [...] for U.S.-backed mission to stabilize Somalia, which, Washington fears, will become a haven for Al Qaeda." He also points out the benefit the U.S. receives in also maintaining a presence in "resource-rich regions of Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and Central Africa."
See more of the Black Star News' analysis of the intelligence revealed by Wikileaks here.
[H/T: Business Insider]