UPDF should prepare to account for donor funds
Posted Saturday, October 26 2013 at 01:00
When the day private donors hire mercenaries to take out the regime comes, please don’t come running to us shouting “sovereignty” when you have already sold our sovereignty to the highest private bidders from afar.
On Wednesday evening, my attention was called to an article written by Elizabeth Rubin and published by The New Yorker magazine on October 21 under the headline “How a Texas Philanthropist Helped Fund the Hunt For Joseph Kony”. The article told the story of how an American lady called Shannon Sedgwick Davis, whom the author described as “a lawyer and activist from San Antonio, Texas and the mother of two young boys”, has allegedly been paying for training and logistics to help the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces fight Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
Ms. Davis, the CEO of the Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, a multi-billion dollar investment management firm, was quoted as having said that she was moved to “do more” than just donate to human rights organisations by reports of LRA massacres in the DRC. She decided to hire private military contractors from South Africa, under Eeben Barlow, the controversial founder of Executive Outcomes, to train the UPDF and also paid for logistics, including a helicopter, a light plane, night vision goggles, satellite phones and radios.
Ms. Davis related details of her meetings with senior commanders of the UPDF and gave the impression that she was able to get unfettered access to military training facilities as well as detailed information from the field of operation – presumably as accountability for the money that she was donating. The article also revealed that the UPDF received other donations for its anti-Kony military operations from philanthropists, Howard Buffet (the son of multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffet) and Muneer Satter.
There are those who will write about the misguided and unsubtle arrogance of people from the West who think that they can solve all of Africa’s problems. I believe that many who read the article will agree that Ms Davis and friends exhibit very high levels of what the Nigerian-American writer, Teju Cole, calls “White Saviour Complex” but that is not my issue here. What I found astounding was the very casual way in which Ms Davis and her philanthropic friends were able to move from giving relief aid to people displaced or otherwise affected by the LRA’s brutality to paying for and getting heavily involved in military operations. If this is legal and ethical in the US, and the article suggested that lawyers were consulted, I wonder whether it is considered legal or ethical in South Africa where the mercenaries came from or in Uganda.
Ms Davis was also allegedly able to get an undertaking from the UPDF that if Kony was captured, he would be handed over to the ICC, this despite the fact that taxpayers money was being spent on the establishment of a War Crimes Division of the High Court of the Republic of Uganda at the time. It would appear that her money was able to buy a change in Uganda’s policies.
I also cannot help but be gob smacked at how money was able to buy Ms Davis access to our top commanders and into what should be top secret military facilities and forward operating bases. Was she subjected to any vetting by our External Security Organisation or the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence? Was she required to sign any secrecy undertakings? If so, she doesn’t appear to be taking them very seriously. The article reveals operational tactics that the UPDF is now using against the LRA, which, I am sure, UPDF commanders would have rather kept secret because we must assume that LRA sympathisers have access to the Internet and can read the New Yorker.
I also find it strange, but sadly not surprising, that the UPDF would accept private charitable donations to fund the work for which we, the taxpayers of Uganda, already pay. Perhaps the money allocated by Parliament is not enough but shouldn’t there be some democratic oversight of these private donor funds to the military? Were these funds audited by the Auditor General? How do we guarantee that the private donor funds do not end up covering holes left by the theft or misuse of the funds that Parliament had already appropriated to the UPDF for these operations?
Lastly, it never ceases to amaze me how, in their eagerness to receive aid and enchantment with white saviours, our leaders fail to identify the thin ends of wedges and end up setting traps for themselves. Asked about why he had donated money to fund military operations, Howard Buffet was quoted as having said “We spent money on reintegration of child soldiers, on rebuilding agricultural areas, counselling rape victims. Why would you not jump at the chance to stop the core problem?” Does Kony being a very bad man justify taking private money from foreign activists motivated by vague “progressive christian beliefs”?
But what will happen when these or other American billionaires suddenly decide that the serving regime is the “core problem?”
What will stop them from hiring private military contractors to train rebels to take out the regime?