On Monday, March 5th, a non-profit called Invisible Children released a video called KONY 2012. Over the past few days, the video has gone viral, hitting 60 million youtube views as of today, Friday, with 15 million more on Vimeo.
After the dust settles from KONY 2012, Invisible Children will have ten to one hundred times more followers than before. These followers will bring money, and Invisible Children will soon find itself with much more than its usual $10 million annual revenue.
To ensure that new donors know what they’re giving to, Invisible Children must be scrutinized, especially since its record in transparency is mediocre.
In light of the great success of KONY 2012, we—who have decided to remain anonymous—feel obliged to share the following story regarding the kinds of activities in which Invisible Children may be involved.
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On September 20th, 2011, in a large African city, we met a representative of a Private Military Company (PMC) called STTEP International. We work for a health NGO, and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss STTEPI’s ability to provide security for prospective projects in Somalia. As a side-note, our contract with STTEPI did not proceed.
It occurred to the representative that, as an NGO, we had come at a good time. He mentioned, correctly, that the interests of PMCs and NGOs do not traditionally align, but that STTEPI had recently begun a contract with an NGO for the first time.
That contract was highly confidential, he said, but throughout the course of the ensuing conversation he nevertheless divulged several characteristics of the partner NGO, perhaps unaware of how restrictive his description became. He relayed the following characteristics:
- Its leadership consisted of several “young American guys.”
- These guys had started the NGO by travelling to a war-torn region of Africa with a film camera.
- One of their main donors, the one with whom the representative had interfaced, was a lady from California.
- The NGO’s age was under ten years.
At this time, we were somewhat familiar with Invisible Children, and it occurred to each one of us, separately, that the representative’s clues described Invisible Children’s salient characteristics. Moreover, hiring a PMC was very much conceivable in the context of capturing Joseph Kony.
In sum, it is our contention that Invisible Children has a confidential contract running with the PMC STTEPI.
Can we be sure? No, but we can be pretty sure, and we challenge any reader to come up with another NGO that fits this description. If you can provide one, we will take this post down immediately
In the interest of full disclosure, we must issue two caveats:
- This operation is definitely sanctioned by the host government wherever it is occurring. The represenative stressed this as essential.
- The operation is likely not funded out of Invisible Children’s budget. Hiring a group like STTEPI is not cheap and could probably not be hidden in a $10 million dollar budget. It is far more likely that Invisible Children has directly connected a complicit donor to STTEPI, which would also explain why STTEPI’s representative was familiar with the Californian donor. To give a sense of costs, having ten to twenty STTEPI men on the ground would require around $2-4 million a year.
OK, so what does this mean? Who is STTEPI? Here is where it gets interesting. STTEPI is essentially the reincarnation of Executive Outcomes, the notorious though well-respected South African PMC which disbanded in 1998 for unknown reasons. Executive Outcomes was founded by Eeben Barlowe, the current head of STTEPI, and its members were ex-soldiers from South Africa’s elite 32nd battallion of the apartheid era, nicknamed the “terrible ones”.
Executive Outcomes is known for the following:
- Suppressing the rebel group UNITA on behalf of the Angolan government in 1992, until forced to leave under international pressure from the UN and the USA despite good results.
- Operations in Sierra Leone, where they fought the RUF rebels in 1994, until the signing of the Abidjan Peace Accord.
It has been said that these operations in Angola and Sierra Leone saved many lives, but Executive Outcomes has negative associations as well, though they are only associations and not the work of Executive Outcomes itself:
- The South African 32 battallion from which Executive Outcomes was born brings to mind the Phola Park incident, wherein several unarmed civilians were shot and killed.
- In 2004, several of its former members, who thereafter joined STEPPI, may have been involved in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.
As an interesting sidenote, a few days after we met this representative from STTEPI, Eeben Barlow (head of both Executive Outcomes and STTEPI) wrote an entry on his Military and Security Blog about “Relentless Pursuit”. It is an interesting read, along with the rest of his entries, which generally give the interesting impression of a mercenary concerned with world peace. Here is an excerpt:
Implementing relentless pursuit requires, amongst others, that troops:
Can eat whilst on the move
Can track an enemy at speed
Have the ability to leap-frog ahead of the enemy by means of helicopters
Have outstanding communications
Are adept at night operations
Must outgun the enemy
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To reiterate, it is our contention that Invisible Children has hired STTEPI, previously known as Executive Outcomes, in order to either eliminate or apprehend Joseph Kony.
We are bringing this to light not to criticize the action itself—hiring a PMC to assist the Ugandan army and others in their task—which requires a debate of its own. Rather, our intention is to criticize Invisible Children for their opacity especially since their stated goal is to increase awareness and stimulate discussion.
As their influence grows, we urge Invisible Children to address our concerns, so that the millions of well-minded viewers of KONY 2012 do not find themselves, in the end, misled and complicit in something more sinister than an advocacy campaign.