2. Historical Background Information
3. The founding of the LRA
4. What led to the expansion and
perseverance of the LRA?
5. Will the LRA ever be defeated or the
dispute be settled leading to peace in
7. Sources, Abbreviations and Annex
There are many wars in this world that are invisible to the generic world. Wars that the world is not ready or willing to face. Such a war has raged in Acholi-land (an area in northern Uganda bordering southern Sudan) for the past 20 years. In this area a civil war goes on that barely involves adults. Children form the firepower in the rebel group the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Children are abducted daily, marched into the jungle and most probably never seen again. Some become sex slaves, others become combatants but all of them have one common destiny: to be indoctrinated by rebel leader Joseph Kony.
The question in Northern Uganda is an extremely complex one. With its many external factors and foreign influences, understanding the complete situation is a study, which would take many years. In this essay, I have tried to compress key elements into something less time consuming by giving an overview of the problem, the raison-d’etre of the LRA and by offering my perspective of the possible results of the International Criminal Court’s intervention in the matter.
I hope that age mates and even younger children living in Northern Uganda will not have to fear abductions by the LRA. I also hope that the LRA is forced to lay down their weapons soon and that the two decades of killing in the Sudan and Northern Uganda region will come to a halt. Peace will eventually have to prevail in Northern Uganda, where at this moment the lives of about 2 million people have been disrupted, families have been torn apart and living conditions are below human dignity. Food shortage is a common crisis and clean drinking water scarce.
2. Historical Background Information
About 1500 to 2000 years ago, the first nomads migrated to Uganda. They came from West and Central Africa and spoke “Bantu” languages as opposed to the “Nilotic” languages, which are spoken by people living along the river Nile. They moved to southern Uganda near Lake Victoria and relied on agriculture to survive. Around the year 1000 AD the southern nomads contacted the northern herders, however no political organization was created. Uganda was based on a tribal system in which the chiefs controlled the local area. Southern Uganda made the first steps toward a regional government when the Buganda tribe, located in central Uganda, started expanding and created an empire through military conquests.
Until 1844 Uganda had no contact with foreign countries, this changed however when Arabic merchants came to Uganda. They introduced textile clothes (they were using bark cloth before) and firearms. The Arabic traders asked ivory in return and the growth in the demand for ivory lead to turmoil in the Sudan/Uganda border region in the 1850’s. Also slavery and sex slaves were sought after products at the time. The northern Acholi tribe became fine hunters.
Towards the end of the 19th century foreign diseases spread across the region, killing thousands in a matter of time. Southern Sudan’s constant turmoil and war pressurized the independent Southern Government into peace negotiations and an agreement.
The English created a typical colonial economy in which Uganda produced export products for England.
In colonial ages, the English rulers saw the dark, tall and broad Northerners as excellent armed forces, they therefore chose the Southerners for intellectual positions in the government. This created a certain level of division amongst the country, which even up to recently caused problems, as the British never established an army of national unity by having the army consisting of Northerners only. The Acholi were also the locals that were chosen to fight in the First World War amongst the British forces.
A few years after the Second World War, Great Britain was busy rebuilding its own country and many Ugandans saw this as a perfect opportunity to gain independence.
The many nationalistic leaders that arose in Western Africa lead to riots in Uganda. Finally in 1962 elections were held and Milton Obote, a Northerner, became the first Ugandan Head of State with the King of the Baganda as Prime Minister. Obote relied on the backing from the army for his dictatorial rule, which had been the case in many young African countries after independence. Hardly any African president would be able to survive or stay in power without the backing of the national army.
In 1971, Idi Amin ousted him in a military coup when Obote was out of the country attending the Common Wealth Heads of State meeting in Singapore. He originated from the Northwest of Uganda called West Nile and realized the importance of Southern support. To prevent Obote’s return, armed forces that spoke Obote’s local tongue were told to report to barracks, where they were massacred. Thousands fled and after Amin’s invasion of Tanzania, they saw the opportunity to strike back. In April 1979 the Tanzanian army, the UNLA and F.R.O.N.A.S.A (led by Yoweri Museveni), invaded Uganda and overthrew Amin. After two short lived Presidents (Lule and Binaisa) and a Military Commission that ruled Uganda in the post Amin period in December 1980 elections took place, which were unfortunately rigged. This is why Obote “won”. This is often called the Obote 2 Regime. In 1981, Museveni decided that he had to fight for his political rights which had been violated, and went into the bush (jungle) with only 27 fighters and formed the National Resistance Army, the NRA.
Fighting pursued during which Obote was highly dependant on the UNLA. A tribal division emerged, as the army consisted mostly of Langi and Acholi in the UNLA, and discontent grew.The Acholi were always in the forefront during military operations which meant they were the ones killed first when the NRA had laid an ambush. Tired of being killed first the Acholi led to a successful military coup against Obote by his former army commander, Lieutenant-General Tito Okello, also an Acholi. Obote himself was from the Langi tribe, another northern tribe close to the Acholi’s. Tito Okello became president in July 1985. A peace agreement was signed in Nairobi in December of the same year but Museveni marched for Kampala.
In January 1986 Museveni the NRA had developed an unstoppable momentum. Through political education in the areas they controlled they had convinced many Ugandans to join the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by Yoweri Museveni. By 22 January 1986, government troops in Kampala aborted their posts in fear because the rebels were gathering around the capital. On the 25th, Museveni’s NRA which started with ony 27 fighters had grown into a sizeable and well behaved, extremely disciplined army with a strength of over 10,000 men and women that finally toppled Okello's government, seized power and On the 26th of January 1986 Museveni became the president of Uganda. It continues to be celebrated as a national day called Victory Day.
Museveni’s rule has brought peace and economic growth to the country. The north however remained a problem area, as ex soldiers went home to the north and others became refugees outside the country.
Many defeated Acholi soldiers retreated to the north and tried to blend in (hid guns). The soldiers however discovered major setbacks because many tribes were reluctant to welcome the soldiers. The soldiers predicted that the NRA would be sought for. Some soldiers therefore fled to Sudan. Also many Acholi were already situated in Sudan that made the migration easier.
Supporting troops on the side of Museveni asserted control over the Acholi areas of Sudan. The government troops were former rebels turned soldiers and were therefore bitter war veterans. In the times of Idi Amin and Obote 2 regimes the country had turned into anarchy as soldiers were not paid properly and therefore decided to take the law into their owns hands. They would use the checkpoints also called roadblocks as a means of collecting taxes to pay themselves. Roadblocks were set up in strategic positions where many civilians would pass. They would demand money and any valuables from civilians at gunpoint. Sometimes arresting them so that relatives would bribe the police. Many people disappeared and there is hardly a family in Uganda that did not lose a relative during these two decades of political instability and insecurity.
Many defeated soldiers from the north felt discontent after having lost their means of raising money in the form of a gun. Their feelings of discontent created a fertile base for guerrilla activity.
3. The founding of the LRA
The turmoil led to a strange change; spiritual mediums became military commanders, these people were called Ajwaka. Africa had always revolved around spiritual powers and it still does. However the reflection of this characteristic in military warfare was unexpected. The British had tried to eliminate these “strange” habits. Amin, however, had promoted spiritual healing amongst Ugandans.
Just before the Okello military coup in 1985, Acholi soldiers had approached certain “Nebi”. “Nebi” were local witchdoctors. One of them was Alice Auma, who claimed to be possessed by various spirits, including Lakwena. Lakwena is the local term for messenger or apostle. Her cult, based on the healing power of water from Murchison falls, grew rapidly. She said war was a method of purifying people. She performed healing rituals on soldiers returning from the south. She claims that her direct involvement started when the LRA kidnapped a lot of people in her village. Her spirit then told her that she should recruit 150 soldiers. With 150 former UNLA soldiers and 40 guns she liberated the prisoners without any casualties. Her military movement came to be known as Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF). At the peak of the movement in 1986, she claims to have had 18,000 “soldiers”. She would anoint them all with special magical oil that had been blessed by her and promise that if they were pure, bullets would not penetrate them. “Purity” was also abstinence from sex and alcohol.
Soldiers in the NRA claim to have been confronted with partly naked, glistening men and woman marching towards them, some holding bibles, others just throwing magical objects, and a few wielding guns. Often the soldiers did not know what to do and just ran away. The early successes brought more and more recruits.
In October 1987 she marched South on a crusade with 10.000 soldiers but about eighty miles from Kampala they were stopped by the NRA and Alice escaped on a bicycle to Kenya and had been living there as a refugee ever since. She died in a refugee camp in January this year and was buried in Northern Uganda after having received permission from the Ugandan Government.
Survivors surrendered or started similar groups. The two most significant were those of Sevarino Lukoya and Joseph Kony. Sevarino Lukoya was the father of Alice Lakwena and his activities resembled Alice’s. He purified when possessed by Christian a Muslim spirits. He also claimed to have been possessed by Alice’s former spirits including Lakwena. His group had around 2000 followers and killed various ‘impure’ spiritual leaders. Unlike Alice, he encouraged followers to become possessed by pure spirits. He called his army the Lord’s Army. He was finally defeated in 1989, after which he was imprisoned.
Kony claims to be related to Alice. He was a school dropout and had based his life on being an “Ajwaka”. He claimed to be possessed by various spirits including Lakwena. At a certain point in time he tried to form an alliance with Alice; she, however, rejected him. In the beginning, his actions were not significant although he managed to maintain insecurity close to his home area.
In 1988 this changed, Museveni’s government signed a peace deal with the UPDA. The ones that disagreed turned to Kony, including one of the UPDA’s most ruthless commanders, Odong Latek. The formed group was called the UPDLA, the “Uganda Peoples Democratic Liberation Army”. Latek was a key figure in Kony’s movement and his influence was considerable. Kony learned a great deal from the veteran commander about guerrilla tactics. Fortunately Latek was killed in battle. By the 1990’s Kony's army was the only significant group in the North.
Shortly after Lateks death Kony changed the name to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Kony also created yards for cleansing like Alice and her father had done. He also used the Bible and the Koran, which increased the support north of the border. Kony himself believes that he is the third prophet, following Jesus and Mohammed. From Alice’s Holy Spirit Mobile Forces Kony adapted the idea of controllers. These were a select group who were the only ones that had access to Kony when he was possessed and passed on instructions to followers as well as checking compliance with various rules.
In the past, some Catholic priests had access to Kony, but a priest was killed and later Kony ordered attacks on missions.
Kony however claims to be innocent. When asked last year why he commited various attrocities he said: "That is not true. It's just propaganda; let me tell you clearly what happened in Uganda. Museveni went into the villages and cut off the ears of the people, telling the people that it was the work of the LRA. I cannot cut the ear of my brother; I cannot kill the eye of my brother".
"It is Museveni who is oppressing the Acholi people and driving the villagers into camps. Our wealth, our property, was destroyed by Museveni. He wants to destroy all Acholi so that the land of Acholi will be his land... I did not kill the civilian of Uganda. I kill the soldier of Museveni."
Some years earlier, Kony had said: "If the Acholi don't support us, they must be finished."
Until 2006 Kony never spoke in public. Most information comes from ex LRA abductees.
4. What led to the expansion and perseverance of the LRA?
LRA survival revolves around the abduction of children. The abduction of children has been a deliberate strategy. In society children are viewed most innocent and impressionable and for parents the thought of abduction is one like no other.
They then end up as sex slaves or combatants. The rebels target the children, because they are easily indoctrinated. Also recruits must be gained by force, because nobody would voluntarily join the LRA. Also they don’t have adult reasoning capability. Many babies have had their skulls crushed with clubs and even more have been thrown into fires. It is a war on, with and against children.
Many have implied that because of this fact the children should not be accountable for their actions because they are traumatized. Stone cold killers but nonetheless still children.
Among the techniques used to terrorize, the LRA has mutilated thousands of people. Civilians are punished for accepting their government. Kony justified these actions as follows:
“If you picked up an arrow against us and we ended up cutting off the hand you used, who is to blame? You report us with your mouth, and we cut off your lips. Who is to blame? It is you! The Bible says that if your hand, eye or mouth is at fault, it should be cut off.”
Kony kills abductees who thought about escape. Like the abduction of children, rape has also been used systematically to terrorize the public.
Sex is used as a reward amongst combatants. Wives or recently abducted girls were assigned as a reward but random rape is not a general characteristic. After a commander dies wives are often reassigned to a new commander.
Demands have popped up on the internet stating the LRA’s demands. Printed ones have also appeared in northern Uganda. They claimed Museveni was misusing Ugandan governmental funds and overstaying in power.
Various calls with local radio stations show that the LRA wish to express their case to the public. It is extremely strange that a religious cult such as the LRA is a match for a government army.
In 1988, Museveni appointed an Acholi who studied at Harvard "Minister of State for Pacification of Northern Uganda, Resident in Gulu." The woman was called Betty Bigombe and was assigned to convince the LRA to surrender. Soon after the post was renamed “Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Resident in Northern Uganda" as a result of protests regarding the the associations of the word "pacification."
The NRA changed its name into Uganda Peoples Defence Forces. The UPDF's failed military efforts to defeat the rebels forced Betty Bigombe, a Minister in charge of Northern Uganda to contact Joseph Kony directly in June 1993. These peace talks gained the nickname “the Bigombe talks". Unfortunately the peace talks failed in February 1994. Soon afterward the war intensified. For the next decade no significant efforts towards peace were made. At this moment everyone awaits the outcome of the International Criminal Court intervention. Kony and four of the most ruthless leaders now decorate the top of the International Criminal Courts warrant list Some are wanted more than others, Kony for example is charged for 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The LRA is infamous for its lack of solid realistic demands. One of the LRA's demands was that the Ugandan People’s Defence Force be reduced in size to allow the integration of LRA soldiers into the national army.
“We are demanding for a restructuring of the armed forces and the formation of a force that will take up some of the members of the UPDF, the LRA, and any other army or group such as the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) and PRA if they so exist," the spokesperson of LRA peace delegation said.
The Ugandan government was quick to inform the LRA that none of its demands were to be accepted. They say that the UPDF is the only constitutionally recognized army in Uganda. Its size is determined by the needs for national security. It is therefore also partially determined by the turmoil in the north, which undoubtedly undermines national security.
A very important factor in the LRA’s survival is foreign intervention on their side. The war is a product of a complicated international struggle to stop Uganda utilizing the river Nile’s potential. Uganda’s utilization of the river Nile for dams would be a catastrophe for Egypt, which earns significant amounts of money selling electricity acquired from their own dam.
The foreign political ties go even further than Africa. Leads have been found pointing to anti American president Chavez, who is believed to have supported various rebel groups fighting against governments that receive supports from America including the LRA. Also documents found in a mysterious plane crash above Rwanda have led the government to believe that Saddam Hussein has also supported the LRA.
The division in Sudan also plays a significant role. The northern Muslim part, governed by Omar el-Bashir and the southern rebel group, the SPLA led by John Garang had been fighting for each other for several years. Uganda’s support for the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, the SPLA (fighting against the Northern Khartoum government) created friction between the two governments. Garang had been a political ally of Museveni since their days at university. Insecurity in the north led to a peace agreement that stipulated a cessation of hostilities on both sides. So Sudan stopped aiding the LRA and Uganda stopped aiding the SPLA. Also Uganda was allowed to attack the LRA within southern Sudan.
Two years ago, however, another agreement was signed making John Garang Vice-President of Sudan. On the 30th of July 2005, John Garang died on Museveni’s presidential helicopter on a flight to Sudan following talks in Uganda. His death was a blow for Uganda and the SPLA; it almost completely stopped hope for regional peace in northern Uganda as a result of an alliance with Southern Sudan.
Displacement and abduction
In early 1997, the World Food Programme (WFP) delivered relief to 110,000 camps. Two years later this amount had risen to 400,000. In mid 2002 this was 522,000. At this moment, approximately 80% of the population in the three affected regions live in camps.
Lack of discipline in the army has made the camps less safe. Often soldiers have failed to respond properly or have run away. The Barlonyo incident was such an example when the LRA did not take intelligence information serious, which resulted in an LRA attack on the Barlonyo IDP Camp in which more than 200 innocent people were massacred to death. The UPDF did not provide sufficient protection, as they should have reinforced the camp having been told that the LRA was going to attack them.
Usually the LRA attack at night, to avoid abduction, thousands of young people go to towns at night, the so-called night commuters. The chaos has led to people offering shelter in return for sex.
Public health in the camps is appalling. Outbreaks of cholera are common; malaria and fever also lead to the high death rate. Food is often not enough and water rationed.
5. Will the LRA ever be defeated or the dispute be settled leading to peace in Northern Uganda?
In 2004 the crisis in northern Uganda gained increased attention following the intervention of the International Criminal Court. The Government of Uganda had invited the International Criminal Court to visit Uganda and investigate alleged war crimes by the LRA. The International Criminal Court then indicted Joseph Kony, his deputy in charge Vincent Otti and three other key LRA figures and instructed the Ugandan government to apprehend the indictees. The UPDF have not yet captured the rebel leaders and therefore a trial in The Hague is not possible.
The Northern Acholi tribe has an alternative justice system that is called Mato Oput. In exchange for amnesty, offenders have to participate in ritual cleaning ceremonies. It involves drinking a bitter remedy, after which the community accepts their apology. They then promise never to commit such atrocities again and are reinstated in the community.
Unfortunately for the rebels, their atrocities have targeted various tribes. This means that the other tribes will also want justice, probably in a different form than the Acholi.
In the year 2000 a Ugandan law was passed which accepted traditional laws as an alternative way of justice. This so-called amnesty law enabled rebels to surrender to the Ugandan government and return to society. 17,500 ex rebels have already embraced the amnesty law. The involvement of the ICC however undermines the amnesty law, which is why many Acholi leaders are against the ICC warrants.
Most Ugandans think it is an extremely light punishment for decades of terrorist activity. Many Acholi on the other hand, have stated that Kony is welcome to return to his hometown if he wishes to do so.
Others think that the best way for justice to take form is to create a combination of modern and traditional ways. Unfortunately Uganda still has capital punishment, which of course would be unacceptable in the eyes of the Acholi.
Furthermore Uganda has a justice system that resembles that in England. Except Uganda’s justice system has implemented the traditional justice system into its ways.
Some disadvantages of the ICC are that they have no jurisdiction on offenders under the age of 18. In a case such as the northern Ugandan one, this would mean that the ICC is unable to punish a substantial percentage of the rebels.
Another thing that prevents optimal functionality of the ICC is the fact that once international warrants of arrest have been issued, countries that acknowledge the ICC are obliged to arrest the rebels. However Sudan has not acknowledged the ICC, making it a safe haven for the LRA. This is also one of the reasons that peace talks were held in Southern Sudan in a town called Juba so that LRA representatives and rebels could come to the talks without the fear of being arrested.
A different aspect of criticism is that the ICC only seeks after LRA rebels, neglecting the fact that the current leading political party, the NRM, is a descendant of the NRA. It is known that the NRA was accompanied by children during marches, however, president Museveni denies that the children had anything to do with warfare and that they came tot the NRA to seek protection.
In realistic terms the ICC participation in the matter has made little difference. The ICC has no army of its own and has therefore not had much military purpose. It has however forced the LRA to negotiate. Their fear of being sent to the ICC in The Hague did however show some sort of fear in their cold hearts.
Another possibility could be a national truth commission. For a country like Uganda this may be the best solution. Apparently President Museveni favours this possibility. Uganda’s conflict has lasted for the past 30 years, for the LRA rebels this is an advantage because this would mean that also government soldiers (ex NRA rebels) would have to stand trial. Victims also feel recognized, because they are officially questioned. If the case was to take place at the ICC in The Hague, it would be impossible to hear all victims. Also offenders are more likely to tell the truth when standing trial before a national truth commission.
The commission would also bring forth what went wrong in Uganda and what needs to be changed to offer northern Uganda a brighter future. If the factors that lead to the guerrilla activity are not combated, it will be but a matter of time before new rebel groups rise from the smoke, ready for a new era of guerrilla combat.
The solution to the LRA matter will lie in a combination of the various factors;
Military pressure on the LRA and countries in which the LRA is located will play a large role in bringing peace to the north
The best solution would be proper execution of the ICC warrants of arrest. So catching the ringleaders of the LRA and therefore weakening the structure of the LRA. The issue of the warrants of the ICC in July 2005 made the leaders realize that wherever they would go, people would always be looking for them. Therefore one could state that the warrants of arrest have definitely served as a pressure tool against the LRA.
As mentioned earlier peace talks are favourable for all parties. Northern Uganda experiences temporary peace. The LRA rebels however have always used any peace talks to mobilize further support; to reinforce their military strength and reconsolidate their war strategy.
The cooperation of the States affected by the LRA as well as international political pressure is also of great importance. The Democratic Republic of Congo has said only to accept LRA presence within their borders if the LRA is involved in peace negotiations. This forces the LRA to participate in peace negotiations. The largest threat to peace is the continued support the LRA is receiving from the government of Sudan in Khartoum. The peace keeping forces in the DRC called MONUC have confirmed that Antonov planes from the Sudanese Armed Forces have made air droppings in the Garamba National Park consisting of medical supplies, ammunition and whatever the LRA further demands.
Exterior alliances with other terrorist organizations supply the LRA with supplies. Cutting of these supplies would weaken the LRA. Hopefully putting sanctions on anybody rendering supply and support to the LRA will take care of exterior help.
In this paper I have already indicated that there are a number of options or solutions to the problem. Each of these options do not stand alone but are part of a comprehensive strategy needed to dissolve the LRA and thus establishing sustainable peace in Northern Uganda and other affected areas in the region.
1. Military pressure
2. Execution of the ICC warrants of arrest
3. Peace talks
4. Cooperation of the States affected by the LRA as well as international political pressure
5. Sanctions on anybody rendering supply and support to the LRA
As the matter at hand is still an actual one, it is difficult to come to a conclusion. I can however say that since the interference of the ICC in the matter, the amount of deaths in Northern Uganda has decreased substantially. Ever since the peace talks were announced in May 2006 Northern Uganda has experienced peace and security as no attacks nor abductions have taken place.
As a matter of fact thousands of people have moved out of the IDP camps and have resettled in their former homes, or at least what is left of them. It is quite obvious that the temporary peace must become permanent. Traditional and religious leaders in Northern leaders are calling for a continuation of the peace talks, because due to the cessation of hostilities a relative peace is now being experienced.
In December 2006 the Secretary General of the UN appointed former President Chissano as Special Envoy for the LRA in the affected areas. It is now clear that with the worlds attention on the LRA this force needs to be disintegrated in order to stop atrocities being committed in Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA used to be a national problem, spilling over to Southern Sudan, but has now become an international problem, as the LRA set up a base in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the border with the Central African Republic. Latest reports have shown that the LRA is actually already preparing to move to the CAR.
The Government of Uganda, as well as the international community are determined to solve this problem once and for all and are willing to do whatever it takes to have lasting peace in Northern Uganda.
Until now it has proven to be impossible to defeat the LRA militarily. Therefore peace talks may be the only feasible solution.
People have often perceived this problem as something between northern and southern Uganda, but it goes far beyond. Because Sudan has for 15 years supported the LRA and made it possible for the LRA to become a force to recon with, the whole matter can be viewed as a conflict between the Arab Muslim north against the black Christian south.
Tim Allen – War and Justice in Northern Uganda (2005)
UPDF – Uganda Peoples Defence Forces
NRA – National Resistance Army
NRM – National Resistance Movement
HSMF – Holy Mobile Spirit Forces
UNLA – Uganda National Liberation Army
UNLF – Uganda National Liberation Front
FRONASA – Front For National Salvation
SAF – Sudan Armed Forces
UPDA – Uganda Peoples Defence Army
ICC – International Criminal Court
Story of Ms Grace Grall Akallo
In October 1996, the LRA attacked St. Mary’s College, a girls' boarding school in Aboke Town, in the Apac District, in northern Uganda. They abducted 139 girls--including myself. I was 15-years-old at the time.
One of the nuns who ran the school, Sister Rachelle Fassera, followed the rebels into the bush, pleading for our release. The rebels released 109 of my classmates, but the LRA refused to let me go. I was forced to stay, along with 29 others.
I was forcibly marched into southern Sudan. We walked for four days and four nights. In southern Sudan, the LRA had bases that were run and protected by forces allied with the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
I, and the other girls captured with me, were trained to assemble and disassemble, clean and use guns. We were used as slave labor by the LRA and Sudanese government soldiers. We were forcibly given to senior LRA commanders as so-called "wives."
For seven months, I was held in captivity by the LRA, always looking for an opportunity to escape. I constantly prayed that God would allow me to see my family once more before I died. I desperately wanted to finish my education, but hope seemed distant. I saw two other children who had tried, unsuccessfully, to escape. They were brutally murdered in front of me as a warning.
One night, we were forced to raid a village, and I was directed to help steal food and water. I fainted from thirst. I woke up hours later, buried alive in a shallow grave. The Ugandan soldiers, along with the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) attacked the base of the LRA, allowing me a chance to escape.
I walked for three days, living on soil and leaves before I found another group of children who had also escaped. I persuaded eight of them to join me, and we eventually found a group of villagers who took care of us, before helping us connect with the Ugandan army to return home.
I escaped, alive, from the LRA, but five of my classmates died in captivity. The others gradually managed to escape over the past ten years; some are infected with HIV/AIDS; many of them have children by the commanders who abused them. Ten years later, two of my friends are still held hostage by the LRA.
So I thank God for allowing me to see my family again. I thank Him for allowing me to continue on with my education. I went back to St. Mary’s to finish high school, and then I began studying at Uganda Christian University, in southern Uganda near the capital city, Kampala. I have since transferred to Gordon College in Boston, where I am now working on my undergraduate degree in Communications. When I finish my education I would like to work for one year and then continue on to graduate school to study International Relations and Conflict Resolution. I want to be part of the people struggling day and night to try to bring peace in the world.
Unfortunately, my story is not uncommon. In fact, it has become so common that abduction is now a fear which daily defines the lives of children who live in the war-affected areas. Because there is no protection for children in northern Uganda, they have created their own way to cope. Thousands of children walk each evening, by themselves, to towns, as far as 10 miles away, to find safety from the LRA. They sleep on the streets of town centers and in makeshift camps. These children are now known as "night commuters." Recently, there has been a decline in the number of attacks by the LRA, so the number of night commuters has been reduced. But just as the LRA kidnapped me in the middle of the night, they usually abduct children under the cover of darkness. Because of this, most children in northern Uganda are now afraid to sleep in their own beds at night.
Ending the War
This war continues because the world ignores our plight. But this war can stop if leaders in the international community take real action to end this crisis.