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Posts for July, 2010

Scam Alert: Uganda Beheading Story Revealed As A Hoax

Jim Burroway

July 7th, 2010

The story seemed solid. I first saw it on the Episcopal pro-LGBT site for Changing Attitudes , in a post written by the Rev. Colin Coward, who is the founder and director of the U.K.-based organization. I also found two Uganda media reports that confirmed that a headless body and a body-less head were found on and near a farm owned by the Uganda Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu. With three separate sources, that seemed like confirmation enough for me to go forward with yesterday’s story about a Ugandan LGBT Advocate found beheaded.

We Americans (and Westerners in general) can be a myopic bunch. Our ignorance about the rest of the world renders us naïve as a people, and vulnerable to scams and hoaxes. Nigerian scam artists figured this out more than a decade ago. And that is what this story appears to be, another scam.

Here is what we do know: a young man was brutally murdered, that he was mutilated and his head was cut off and dumped into a latrine. That much is true. But we have now confirmed that the young man had no connections with Integrity Uganda. Furthermore, the story about the missing Rev. Henry Kayizzi Nsubuga’s disappearance following a pro-LGBT sermon also appears increasingly unlikely. Yes, the man is reported to be missing, but so far the only sources indicating that he gave a pro-LGBT sermon are from Rev. Coward himself and the virulently anti-gay Anglican web site Virtue Online. In short, there is almost nothing about the article published by Rev. Coward that appears credible. And the more I dig into this story, the greater the likelihood it appears to me that the story may have been planted by an anti-gay activist who has defrauded to LGBT community in the past.

I have tried to contact Rev. Coward for comment and to ask him where he got his story, but so far he hasn’t returned my email.

To unwind the story, let’s go back to two key quotes that were included in the original Changing Attitudes article that Rev. Coward posted yesterday. The first is from Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, founder of Integrity Uganda, the organization that the murder victim was said to be a volunteer for. Rev. Coward posted this reaction from Bishop Senyonjo:

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Chairperson of Integrity Uganda lamented the murder of this young man as ‘absurd’ adding that, ‘clearly, the values of tolerance and social inclusion are sadly being sacrificed on the altar of state ignorance, ineptness and good old colonial stupidity’.

This morning, I received an email from Bishop Senyonjo himself. He denied making that statement. And as the Chairperson of Integrity Uganda, he said that the individual who was murdered has no connection with Integrity Uganda. This has been confirmed through multiple sources in Uganda, many of them expressing exasperation that this story has made headlines.

The heart of the hoax, and it’s biggest clue, is the quote attributed to Rev. Erich Kasirye, who Coward identifies as the “Director General” of Integrity Uganda. Kasirye supposedly said:

‘Pasikali and his partner Abbey joined Integrity Uganda in June 2007 and during the last three years, Integrity Uganda has seen an increase in coordination and harmonisation of youth activities. Pasikali emphasized the promotion of the concept of care across the continuum through the formation of voluntary home care groups for young LGBTIs who continue to live in fear. He will be greatly missed by the entire LGBTI fraternity’.

Multiple sources in Uganda, as well as Bishop Senyonjo himself, confirm that Kasirye is not associated with Integrity Uganda, and that he has had no connection with the organization since 2004.

Erich Kasirye (left) and his wife Patricia, also identified as Colonel Josephine Luboyera (Photo from the Summer/Fall 2001 issue of the Integrity USA newsletter)

According to multiples sources with close ties to  Uganda’s LGBT community, Kasirya was a part of Integrity Uganda when it was founded by Bishop Senyonjo. Kasirya was identified as a co-founder in this newsletter (PDF: 448KB/16 pages) published in the Spring of 2001 by Integrity USA, and he quickly established himself as the de-facto spokesperson for Integrity Uganda to the American LGBT community. Kasirya penned two articles in the Integrity USA newsletter for the Summer/Fall  2001 issue (PDF: 664KB/16 pages) and he contributed another article the following year (PDF: 300KB/20 pages). In that later article about Uganda’s sex eduction policy, Kasirya braged that the anti-gay Anglican leadership in Uganda was “unable to keep pace with Integrity Uganda” and that the people of Uganda were “now eager to open up to the homosexual reality than ever before.”

But two years later, all of that would come tumbling down. Multiple sources who requested confidentiality have told me that by late 2003 or early 2004, it was learned that Kasirya had been using his connections with Integrity Uganda to defraud American and European donors with false stories of a supposed imprisonment for his advocacy on behalf of Uganda’s LGBT community. According to one source, he tried to induce American supporters to purchase a farm out in the bush. Later published reports confirmed that he diverted funds intended for Uganda’s LGBT community to himself and his wife, Patricia Kasirye (who is sometimes identified as Colonel Josephine Luboyera). One source complained about how long it took for Integrity USA to see the red flags, describing the leadership at that time as “naïve.” But by February 2004, the evidence proved conclusive to all doubters, and Integrity USA issued a joint statement with Bishop Senyonjo announcing that Kasirye had been kicked out due to his fraudulent activities:

Leaders of Integrity USA and Integrity Uganda have been in joint consultation for several weeks concerning troubling accounts of the activities of one of the members of the leadership team of Integrity Uganda, the Rev. Erich Kasirye. Fr. Kasirye was among the founders of Integrity Uganda in 2000 and has served frequently as its chief spokesperson.

It is now, sadly, clear to us that Fr. Kasirye has been involved in a number of scams in order to raise money for himself personally using his connection with Integrity Uganda. In particular, in January 2004 he solicited funds from a number of organizations and individuals claiming to have been imprisoned because of his connection to Integrity Uganda, a claim which has turned out not to have been true. At the same time he has, in Uganda, publicly renounced his connection with Integrity to church officials and turned over to them the Kitemu Community Center, which has been the base of Integrity ministry in Uganda. Kitemu Center was built largely with funds raised by Integrity USA.

Integrity USA is under different leadership today and has no official comment for this story other than to confirm past problems with Kasirye, according to spokeswoman Louise Brooks.

Just a couple of weeks after Kasirye’s scam was publicized, the anti-gay Anglican web site Virtue Online crowed:

Integrity USA, ECUSA’s official pansexual organization for sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, announced, at its website, that the Rev. Erich Kasirye, one of the founders of Integrity Uganda in 2000 had been enriching himself at the expense of the poor and downtrodden and those suffering with AIDS. He was involved in a number of scams in order to raise money for himself personally using his connection with Integrity Uganda, said a joint statement.

…Not only was Kasirye skimming money he has now publicly renounced his connection with Integrity to Uganda church officials… This is a serious blow to Integrity’s desire to gain a foothold on the African continent, and probably its last. The question is was Kasirye playing Integrity USA for suckers all along? The Anglican Church of Uganda maintains that the organization was an elaborate confidence scam since its formation. The former Primate Livingston Nkoyoyo called Integrity Uganda “a fiction and a sham”.

In fact, sources tell me that this debacle was a serious setback, not only for Integrity Uganda, but for the state of LGBT advocacy in Uganda in general. Today, Integrity Uganda has re-emerged from the scandal with new financial oversight controls in place. Other LGBT activists in Uganda, I’m told, took this scandal as an example, reinforcing what they had already recognized as the importance of independence from foreign connections and the development of clear trust and transparency among members within the community.

While it took years for Integrity Uganda to recover from the betrayal, it didn’t take at all long for Kasirye to land on his feet. Before the year was out, his name would surface again, except by this time he had changed teams. On Dec 3, 2004, Orombi boasted to Virtue Online that the Anglican church in Uganda was growing while the head of Integrity Uganda was “cut off”:

Asked why the liberal retired bishop in Uganda was promoting the Integrity organization, Orombi said it was purely for the money. “The good news is that his assistant the Rev. Eric Kasirye has left him and returned to the church. Praise God.”

By mid-2005, New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the world’s first openly gay prelate in the Anglican communion, had been in office for little more than a year. In response, several American parishes severed themselves from Robinson and other bishops who supported Robinson’s installation and aligned themselves under the direction of African anti-gay bishops. Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola and Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi were particularly active in recruiting American Episcopal anti-gay parishes away from their American bishops. It is against this background that Erich Kasirye re-emerged, again with this notice on Virtue Online:

LOOKING FOR A DIOCESE OR PROVINCE THAT WILL GIVE YOU COVER. I got a note this week from the Rev. Erich Kasirye, Diocesan Mission Coordinator for Bishop Samuel Ssekkadde, in the Diocese of Namirembe. This was the first Diocese in East and Central Africa which now has over 5 million membership.

Kasirye wrote saying: “This is to inform you that my Diocese would like to adopt a parish in the States which is orthodox and lacks ecclesiastical protection. Kindly let us know those churches which might need some pastoral and personal support. We are very much aware of the poisonous efforts of the revisionist forces which face orthodox churches in ECUSA-and we do not want them to be vulnerable.”

The Diocese of Namirembe is seated at St. Paul’s Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. It is the resident church for the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi.

Integrity Uganda would go on to slowly and painfully recover from Kasirye’s 2004 betrayal. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo has recently concluded a speaking tour of the U.S. and U.K. I was able to meet with him for an evening and morning in Irvine, California. You can find two articles I wrote about him here and here. I find him to be incredibly sincere, brave, and a steadfast ally to the LGBT community. Meanwhile, the state of Uganda’s LGBT advocacy has continued to grow despite the incredible obstacles they continue to face. In addition to Sexual Minorities Uganda, there is Freedom and Roam Uganda and Icebreakers Uganda providing vital services and support for the LGBT community.

It is now clear that the entire story published by Rev. Colin Coward is a complete hoax. The purpose of the hoax is unknown, but a few possibilities come to mind. Some believe that the story was planted by Kasirye to discredit the Ugandan LGBT community, foreign bloggers, and Integrity Uganda specifically when the story is inevitably revealed to be a fraud. Other possibilities include Kasirye’s using this story for another run at fraudulent fundraising. At any rate, it’s hard not to imagine the source of the story somehow tracing itself back to Kasirye himself in some form or fashion. Rev. Coward certainly knows who the person or persons are who planted the story, but so far he has not revealed who they may be.

Update: Nearly simultaneous to this article being posted, Rev. Coward posted his explanation of where he got the story:

The original report by Erich Kasirye was emailed to the SOGI list which had been receiving reports for the past week from activists and media about the disappearance and murder of LGBTI people from Integrity Uganda. [Emphasis mine.]

So it appears that Erich Kasirye himself was the source of the hoax, much as I suspected. Coward suspects that Kasirye planted the story on behalf of Archbishop Orombi, pointing to this paragraph from an article posted on the anti-gay Virtue Online last May:

Asked why the liberal retired bishop in Uganda was promoting the Integrity organization, Orombi said it was purely for the money. “The good news is that his assistant the Rev. Eric Kasirye has left him and returned to the church. Praise God.”

Coward sees it as evidence that Kasirye is still working on Orombi’s behalf. But as I noted above, this paragraph is a word-for-word repeat from an article posted in December, 2004. It appears that this is not a fresh quote, but is a recycled paragraph from six-years ago. Hence, by itself, it is not a good indicator that Kasirye colluded with Orombi in planting the hoax. But Rev. Coward is not the only one to raise this suspicion. I, for one, think it is a very fair question. Is Kasirye still working for Orombi?

Another update: The government-owned New Vision today has an update on Fr. Henry Kayizzi Nsubug, who remains missing. Again, no mention of a gay-sermon connection, probably because there is none. It does say that Fr. Nsubug was in an auto accident on June 10 and “sustained minor injuries.” The descriptions of his behavior a few days after the accident suggest to me that he may have suffered a head injury. His whereabouts remain unknown.