David Bahati and “The Family” in Uganda

In an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Jeff Sharlet reveals a link between David Bahati, the Ugandan MP responsible for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration, and the The Family, the discreet “elite” US-based Christian organisation which enjoys considerable political patronage in a number of countries:

David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda… Working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family’s work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni’s kind of right hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. And here’s a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s executive office and has been very vocal about what he’s doing, and in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

…Looking at the, The Family’s 990s, where they’re moving their money to – into this African leadership academy called Cornerstone, which runs two programs: Youth Corps, which has described its in the past as an international quote, “invisible family binding together world leaders,” and also, an alumni organization designed to place Cornerstone grads – graduates of this sort of very elite educational program and politics and NGO’s through something called the African Youth Leadership Forum, which is run by -according to Ugandan media – which is run by David Bahati, this same legislator who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

And as for President Museveni:

… The Family identified [him] back in 1986 as a key man for Africa.

They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. They’ve since promoted Uganda as this bright spot – as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting – strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.

He’s come out just this – just last week and said that this bill is necessary because Europeans are recruiting homosexuals in Uganda, that Europeans are coming in and trying to make Ugandans gay. And he’s been rewarded for this because this is sort of where these sort of social issues and foreign affairs issues and free market fundamentalist issues all come together.

I blogged an anti-gay speech made by Museveni here.

Jeff wrote a book on The Family, entitled The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which was published last year by HarperCollins. It’s a remarkable work, shining a light on a political back-channel which before now was only semi-visible to those with eyes to see, with passing references in news reports and Christian paperbacks. My full review can be seen here.

A few weeks ago I noted Bahati’s role in a  “servant leadership team” directed by a US-based “College of Prayer International”. Warren Throckmorton has more about this, here. I’ve also blogged previously on Nsaba Buturo, and I noted Museveni’s links to American evangelists here. Links between the US Christian Right and Africa are also the subject of a report which was published by Political Research Associates last week.

(Hat tip: Talk to Action)

VIGIL Network: Questions for Lord Ashcroft

Just under a year ago I noted the disappearance of the website of the VIGIL Network, a self-styled freelance intelligence gathering outfit which supposedly existed to expose Islamic extremism and terror threats. In late 2006 VIGIL had provided material for a BBC Newsnight article, featuring both its director, Dominic Wightman (using his “Dominic Whiteman” spelling) and Glen Jenvey. At the time I thought VIGIL was rather strange, and I wrote a posting expressing some concerns here. The VIGIL website was launched in mid-2007, as I blogged here.

So why did VIGIL disappear? Wightman has released an audio on YouTube (supposedly via a Venezuela-based lawyer posting from Costa Rica) and an article on his website in which he claims that the idea was flawed and that some of his collaborators wanted “more cash than the project could afford”. However, this explanation was only put forward a couple of months ago, after SpinWatch found documents showing that Wightman had declared bankruptcy after being sued by a VIGIL ex-employee – and that he had other business creditors besides. In an email to me early this year, Wightman explained that he had moved his assets and was planning to become bankrupt so that he could write freely about Islamic extremists without fear of being sued for libel; when the truth was revealed, he told me that his employee did not deserve payment and he would “never have paid her”. On his website, he also subjects this former employee to personal abuse.

(I have described my dealings with Wightman throughout this year here and here; he provided Tim Ireland and me with audio evidence proving that Glen Jenvey had concocted the bogus “Terror Target Sugar” Sun headline, but he also wanted to manipulate us into writing about another person from VIGIL against whom he has a grudge, and he tried to hoist on us a bogus document for that purpose. After the truth was discovered, Wightman claimed that his lies to us were justified in order to “expose” our supposed links to Muslim extremists.)

However, other documents show that during the time this employee worked for VIGIL, he had explained to her that payment was not forthcoming because promised donations had not arrived. Who had supposedly made these promises? Details are vague, but apparently Wightman claimed to have had a meeting with none other than Lord Ashcroft. This is not outside the realms of probability: Wightman has enjoyed a high-profile political endorsement from Patrick Mercer MP (currently Chairman of the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Counter-Terrorism), and in the wake of the Newsnight piece they posed together for photographs outside New Scotland Yard.

Lord Ashcroft is of course a very busy person who has a lot on his plate just now, but he also has staff to deal with enquiries. However, the question of whether Ashcroft indeed agreed to help with VIGIL is not one that they have been minded to answer. Tim has therefore made the relevant questions public:

1 – Wightman claimed in July 2006 that he was in contact with your PA at the time to arrange a meeting with you personally in London*. Is this claim true?

[*If your diaries and records let you down, you can always check your passport, as you may have been out of the country at the time.]

2 – Wightman also claimed that this meeting was arranged specifically to discuss funding for VIGIL. Is this claim true?

3 – Wightman went on to claim that the meeting took place, as scheduled, on Thursday 20 July, 2006. Is this claim true?

4 – Wightman also maintained that he left that meeting with a generous promise of funding. (He described the result as being beyond his expectations**.) Is this claim true?

[**The exceeded expectations he told others of may have referred to some small amount of funding where none was expected, or funding on a faster timetable than expected, rather than any amount beyond his known expectations (which were, early in VIGIL’s history, as high as £250,000) if, indeed, there was any truth to this claim at all.]

5 – Wightman then claimed that he went on to collect a cheque within 10 days of that meeting, implying heavily that it had come from you or your organisation. Is this claim true?

6 – Wightman went on to claim that subsequent delays in accessing the funds were the result of his/your wish to handle these funds discreetly through offshore trusts. Is this claim true?

UPDATE (June 2013): Ashcroft has momentarily engaged with the subject via Twitter:

Richard Bartholomew ?@Barthsnotes 1 Jun
@LordAshcroft Patrick Mercer worked closely with a group called the “VIGIL Network”. VIGIL’s director claimed to have links to you. Comment?
1:24 PM – 1 Jun 13

Lord Ashcroft ?@LordAshcroft 1 Jun
@Barthsnotes Tosh
1:36 PM – 1 Jun 13