Earlier this month, Black Star News sifted through the WikiLeaks cable database and uncovered some evidence that Invisible Children may have handed information over to the Ugandan government that led to the arrest of a member of the opposition. I have been refraining from writing about this until more information comes to light, but it seems that everyone is remaining silent, so now’s as good a time as any to reflect.
According to the cable, Invisible Children gave information to the Ugandan government concerning a Patrick Komakech, a former LRA abductee whom the government alleged was a part of a plot to create a new rebel group, the People’s Patriotic Front. Komakech was a recipient of IC’s aid at one time, and was arrested by the police and charged with treason.
According to an article in The Monitor, both the Ugandan military and Invisible Children deny that the exchange of information ever occurred. In an e-mail to Foreign Policy, a representative for IC stated that they were “cooperative in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech [after the US Embassy contacted IC about him]. In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech.” But the statement emphasizes that there was no IC involvement in his eventual arrest, nor does it acknowledge any involvement with the Ugandan government, only the US embassy.
Since virtually everyone involved in Uganda knows the government tends to unjustly crack down on opposition figures, it’s curious how quickly IC separated themselves from an LRA survivor that was a beneficiary of their programs and services. But what actually transpired still seems pretty murky, and a number of questions still need to be answered. If Komakech was indeed involved in planning any sort of violent actions, it would be understandable why IC would want to wash their hands of him. They would be getting as much criticism for aiding a rebel-in-the-making as they are now for indirectly supporting the Ugandan military. If we take this cable to be true, and IC did give information to the government of Uganda, we need to ask more questions. Who approached whom about Komakech? And whose decision was it to pass information to the government (or not)? Did anyone confirm or at least investigate the government’s allegations?
Without getting some answers, I would still refrain from joining critics saying that IC pledges blind support to the Ugandan government. While the efforts of IC and their partners have directly led to increased US funding, training, and arms to the UPDF, it’s worth noting that IC isn’t unaware of government abuses, even if it wasn’t prominent in Kony 2012. When I saw IC co-founder Laren Poole speak in San Diego in 2007, he came incredibly close to calling the IDP camps in northern Uganda a genocide, and the Sunday bracelet video is almost exclusively about the poor conditions in the government-mandated displacement camps (you can find out more about the camps at Justice in Conflict, where Patrick Wegner looked specifically at the genocide question). More recent videos have been specifically about the effects of the contemporary LRA attacks in eastern DRC and CAR, events that so far haven’t been host to UPDF abuses (for the most part).
While the verdict is still out on the Komakech controversy, and it will be important to continue watching how current operations go in the region, I don’t think I would call this a fatal blow to the movement. With a rogue rebel group in survival mode and a growing force looking for it (now with the AU label), the situation will definitely continue to be something to monitor as the advocacy-for-peace-and-justice-through-military-means path marches on.