Just days after releasing its new video, Invisible Children -- the
U.S.-based NGO behind the phenomenally successful "Kony 2012"
campaign -- has yet again found itself in the midst of controversy over a U.S.
diplomatic cable released last year by WikiLeaks, which reports that the group
cooperated with the Ugandan military to facilitate the arrest of a former child
soldier who was allegedly involved in the formation of a new rebel group.
The cable, released as part of WikiLeaks'
massive "Cablegate" series, was sent on June 11, 2009, and signed by then
ambassador Steven Browning. Titled, "GAMES THE ACHOLI DIASPORA
CONTINUE TO PLAY," it concerns 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.
In early 2009, the Ugandan army arrested a number of people
alleged to be involved in plots by the PPF (originally known as the Uganda Patriotic Front or UPF) to attack military targets, including
Patrick Komakech, who had reportedly been impersonating senior LRA commanders on behalf of
the new rebel group. Komakech, reportedly a former LRA child soldier, had been
involved with Invisible Children 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 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. 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. He had a satellite telephone and other gadgets,
which were confiscated when security forces picked him up.
Komakech is currently facing treason charges, along with over a dozen other
alleged PPF members.
the cable has been online for months, its contents seem to have been first
reported on Sunday by the obscure New York-based website Black Star News under the
inflammatory headline, "Invisible Children, Makers of Kony2012, Spied for
Ugandan regime." The story has been picked up in the
Ugandan media as well.
Children has been criticized by a
number of observers in the United States and Uganda for working with the Ugandan
government -- which has itself been implicated in a number of human rights abuses -- as
part of its campaign to apprehend Kony. The group responded
to this critique last month on its website, noting that it "does not defend
any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government" and "none
of the money donated through Invisible Children has ever gone to support the
government of Uganda," but that nonetheless, "The Ugandan military (UPDF) is a
necessary piece in counter-LRA activities."
however, was not alleged to have been a member of the LRA at the time of his
arrest. And some Uganda watchers have suggested that
Museveni's government may be playing up the threat from the PPF to distract
from more pedestrian problems of governance, now that the LRA threat has been
largely neutralized in Uganda. The diplomatic cable itself suggests that "Several
sources outside the security services say that various Government officials may
be overplaying the level of threat posed by the rebel group for their own
Children Uganda Spokesperson Florence Ogola was quoted in
Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper
yesterday denying the truth of the cable. "That is not true. We are not
involved in anything to do with security. We only deal with development," she said. She
described the allegations as part of the "propaganda" campaign against the
Kulayigye, a spokesperson for the Ugandan People's Defense Force, also told the
paper, "That's a lie. Komakech was arrested in broad day light and we didn't
need a muzungu [foreigner] to tell us where he was."
In an e-mailed statement to Foreign Policy, a spokesperson for Invisible Children did not
elaborate on whether it had played a role in Komakech's arrest, but did say it
had discussed his case with the U.S. Embassy:
"In 2009, Invisible
Children was contacted by a member at the US Embassy in Kampala regarding
Patrick Komakech, a former LRA combatant who Invisible Children had been
supporting in attempts to assist with his personal recovery and academic
development, in keeping with Invisible Children's mandate to provide assistance
to individuals affected by LRA violence. At the time, it was brought to our
attention that Mr. Komakech and a group of others were allegedly involved in
activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the
organization and its staff at risk.
"Invisible Children was
deeply saddened to learn of these allegations; the organization was cooperative
in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship
with and academic support to Mr. Komakech. In light of the severity of these
allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech.
In this case and as always, Invisible Children acts in good faith to preserve
the integrity of our programming and uphold the protection of human rights in
the communities we work."
"[W]e do not conduct intelligence efforts of any
kind for a foreign government," the spokesperson said.