nvisible Children, makers of KONY2012, provided an intelligence tip to Uganda’s security apparatus leading to arrests of several suspected regime opponents, according to U.S. embassy cables posted by WikiLeaks.
The San Diego-based group has since 2008 acted in concert with the Ugandan government in coordinating public relations campaigns to promote a military solution against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), while keeping the U.S. administration informed. Key partnerships formed by Invisible Children in Washington, D.C. include lobbying organizations Resolve Uganda and the Center for American Progress’ Enough Project ; groups that have also promoted U.S. military penetration in Africa.
The memos also document that U.S. officials were aware of the Ugandan government’s campaigns to demonize opponents of the military approach by linking them to the LRA as sympathizers or collaborators — even church leader Bishop John Baptiste Odama was implicated.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State declined to comment on the U.S. memos and its contents when excerpts were sent via email message for reaction. Invisible Children’s CEO Ben Keesey didn’t return a phone message left at the San Diego office seeking comment. Additionally, an outside spokesperson for the organization didn’t respond to detailed questions submitted via email message.
A memo written by a public affairs officer at the US embassy in Uganda documents Invisible Children’s collaboration with Ugandan intelligence services. It notes that the US-based NGO tipped the Ugandan government on the whereabouts of Patrick Komakech, a former child soldier for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who was wanted by security officials for extorting money from the government officials, NGO’s and local tribal leaders. Ugandan security organizations jumped the tip and immediately arrested Komakech.
As a result of the tip, the Ugandan military claimed it obtained the names of other suspects from Komakech. The military then conducted a sweep and arrested a number of people, many of whom declared their innocence, the Ugandan media reported. Human rights groups say torture of arrested suspects by Ugandan security forces is routine.
Invisible Children also actively supported Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT), a joint attack by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the then-autonomous South Sudan against the LRA. The operation, which was also received US intelligence and logistical backing, killed more civilians than LRA militants.
In a confidential memo dating back to 2009, US ambassador to Uganda Steven Browning noted that the US-based NGO planned pro-OLT events under the theme “Kony Must Be Stopped. Rescue Our Children”.
According to the most recent 990 tax forms available for Invisible Children, Inc., the organization behind factually-challenged Kony 2012, Jason Russell makes over $89,000 annually as its founder. In 2009, Invisible Children spent over $742,000 on travel expenses alone. In 2010, travel expenses exceeded $1,074,000, according to the organization’s 2010 990 form. 2010 revenue exceeded $13 million.
What is Invisible Children’s mission? They are filmmakers who make films: “Invisible Children is a youth for youth movement that uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities to peace and prosperity.”
The Chief Executive Ben Keesey has a BA in Math and Accounting. Jason Russell has a degree in film. Neither of these individuals has an any expertise in international development, managing NGOs, and the Ugandan people, history, and its politics. Yet they feel emboldened enough to direct discourse and policy.
Here’s an excellent piece from Teju Cole in The Atlantic that puts it all in very clear terms.
[T]here’s a place in the political sphere for direct speech and, in the past few years in the U.S., there has been a chilling effect on a certain kind of direct speech pertaining to rights. The president is wary of being seen as the “angry black man.” People of color, women, and gays — who now have greater access to the centers of influence than ever before — are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles.
There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.
One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of “making a difference.” To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau. It does give me away as an “educated middle-class African,” and I plead guilty as charged. (It is also worth noting that there are other educated middle-class Africans who see this matter differently from me. That is what people, educated and otherwise, do: they assess information and sometimes disagree with each other.
The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.
Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo. But those whom privilege allows to deny constellational thinking would enjoy ignoring this fact. There are other troubling connections, not least of them being that Museveni appears to be a U.S. proxy in its shadowy battles against militants in Sudan and, especially, in Somalia. Who sanctions these conflicts? Under whose authority and oversight are they conducted? Who is being killed and why?
If we look not to San Diego but instead to Kampala and Gulu for what civil society groups are focused on, we see another major downside of the Kony 2012 campaign—distraction from core issues. As Arthur Larok of Action Aid recently said, “Many NGOs and the government, especially the local government in the north, are about rebuilding and securing lives for children, in education, sanitation, health and livelihoods. International campaigning that doesn’t support this agenda is not so useful at this point. We have moved beyond that.”
What are they focused on? Ugandan groups are deeply concerned about newly rising HIV rates and the millions who lack access to anti-AIDS drugs. They are challenging government inaction on maternal health as a violation of human rights through a constitutional court challenge. They are struggling with the barely known nodding disease. They are working to build new models of getting basic services to northern Ugandans in a post-conflict society. And many are working to get education and jobs for the many in northern Uganda whose communities were disrupted at the hands of the LRA and UPDF, who now stand unemployed or too often stuck in sex work without basic support.
There is an opportunity cost to what Invisible Children is demanding. If we focus all our energy on catching Kony, what will we achieve? Perhaps the “bad guy” will have been caught—but little will change for the Ugandan communities most damaged by war, and the fundamental conditions that plague the region will remain firmly in place.
A message from Ugandan PM Amama Mbabazi:
Kony 2012 in a nutshell for those of you who missed it: