A non-profit organization behind the enormously successful “Kony 2012″ viral videos is on the defensive this week after anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks released a U.S. State Department cable which claims the group fed information to the Ugandan government that led to the arrest of at least one key opposition figure in the country.
The newspaper that first published details of the document, Black Star News in New York, reported that Invisible Children has also been coordinating their messaging strategies with the Ugandan government and two U.S. groups, including the Enough Project, founded by the Center for American Progress, in order to promote further U.S. military involvement in the country.
Ugandan officials have for years struggled against rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been accused of kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to become soldiers. Kony’s forces are known to use beheading and mass rape to intimidate local populations, and have at times threatened all-out civil war in the country.
The relationship between Invisible Children and the Ugandan government began in earnest in 2007, after Invisible Children director Ben Keesey met with with U.S. ambassador Steven Browning, the memo reveals. The following year, the organization began acting in concert with the regime of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to create messaging strategies. In one case, the U.S. cable shows, Invisible Children even tipped off the government to the location of a central opposition figure, who was later swept up with 10 others and accused of treason.
The man arrested was Patrick Komakech, who just two years prior had come to the United States with a missionary he met in Uganda named Conrad Mandsager. Mandsager founded a group called Child Voice International, which works to rehabilitate child soldiers around the world. He brought Komakech to the U.S. for a bicycle ride across Iowa, sponsored by The Des Moines Register, to help spread the word of Kony’s evil deeds in Uganda.
Though Komakech said he had dreams of attending a U.S. university, he ultimately returned to Uganda and allegedly conspired to replace Kony as the principle opposition to Museveni’s regime. After his arrest, he and 10 others, including a journalist, were accused of treason over their alleged efforts to raise an army against Kony that would also fight the Ugandan government. A reformed child soldier himself, Komakech had previously been granted amnesty in Uganda, but that was revoked after he allegedly helped establish a training grounds for a rebel group called the Popular Patriotic Front.
“Invisible Children reported that Komakech had been in Nairobi and had recently reappeared in Gulu, where he was staying with the NGO,” the cable notes. “Security organizations jumped on the tip and immediately arrested Komakech on March 5.”
Following his arrest, many of his alleged co-conspirators claimed they were innocent, but still faced torture at the hands of Ugandan security forces despite their pleas. The cable also notes that Ugandan officials were angling to go after a religious leader who had emerged as a key critic of the regime’s desire for increased U.S. military involvement. It suggested that Bishop John Baptist Odama had provided radio airtime to members of Kony’s forces, and that he’d personally harbored a number of rebel troops.
Just a month prior to those arrests, U.S. forces at AFRICOM provided more than $1 million in material support to a Ugandan government strike aimed at crippling the Lord’s Resistance Army, in a fantastically bungled operation that scattered Kony’s forces and sparked a wave of massacres that left over 900 civilians dead.
Speaking to Ugandan news website The Daily Monitor, Invisible Children Uganda spokeswoman Florence Ogola insisted the U.S. diplomatic cable’s report is not accurate. “We are not involved in anything to do with security,” she reportedly said. “We only deal with development.”
Invisible Children did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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