"In Kony’s Shadow" – stories of LRA child soldier survivors

Source: Christian Aid - UK - Wed, 12 Feb 2014 23:00 PM
Author: Christian Aid
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Any views expressed in this photoblog are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

To mark International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, Christian Aid has launched In Kony’s Shadow, a new online multimedia exhibition that explores the stories of those who survived the terror of the 19-year Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in northern Uganda. Using films, photography and written testimonies, In Kony’s Shadow (named after the group’s messianic leader Joseph Kony), examines the legacies of the conflict from the perspective of both child soldier and civilian.

Find out more by visiting In Kony’s Shadow

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    Norman Okello was abducted at just 12 years old. Still only a child, he was brainwashed by the LRA and forced to kill and maim his own Acholi people in northern Uganda and Sudan (now South Sudan).

    "There’s a time when you give up thinking you will ever get home – that you will die like this," he says. "All your pain comes out as aggression, rage and frustration. I was traumatised – I know that now. But at that time I didn’t have a good heart. I was full of anger. My mind was very far away. Sometimes as a human being you have been pushed too far and you forget who you are."

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    Norman’s captors, the LRA, operated in northern Uganda between 1987 and 2006, before fleeing to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) where they remain at large today. Spreading terror throughout the local population, particularly in the remote rural areas around Gulu and Kitgum, they claimed that they were fighting to overthrow the government of Uganda. Unable to recruit soldiers voluntarily after a time, they used force and brutality instead, abducting children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old because they were considered easier to control. They were also used as front line soldiers; to confuse the enemy and because they were easily expendable. Many were forced to kill their own parents to ensure that they had no home to return to. The fear of death meant most were too scared to escape, with individual child soldiers regularly murdered in front of their peers to act as gruesome warnings to any who dared to try.

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    In the name of God, the LRA regularly massacred entire communities in order to instill terror, and obedience, into the local population.

    Dorina Adjero's husband, Luzy, 41, and youngest son Ben, 20, were bludgeoned to death when Kony’s rebels attacked her village, Amoko, in December 1991.

    “I don't remember the rebels' faces but I know that there were many of them, and there were some very young, very thin boys with them. Their faces just seemed blank; they were like spirits living in another world. The rebels were singing while they killed my family. One even smiled at me – they seemed to enjoy what they were doing. They wanted to destroy everything.”

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    The LRA also enforced their own rules to control the population and prevent civilians from collaborating with government forces. Villagers were not allowed to keep animals such as poultry or dogs, as they made too much noise when the rebels approached. Bicycles were forbidden as it was thought these would be used to alert the enemy. The colour red was also not permitted as it was clearly visible to government helicopters.

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    Those who broke these "commandments" were punished by the hacking away of lips, ears, noses, hands and feet, using pangas (machetes), knives and scissors. The riding of bicycles was punished by chopping off the riders’ feet. Suspected informants had their lips sliced off. This grisly calling card strengthened the LRA's control and deterred the population from informing government forces about the LRAs location or strategy.

    Suffering unimaginable agony, then later discrimination from their communities, the maimed victims rarely had access to hospitals or clinics. Cheap pain killers or local herbs were the only relief they could find.

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    "The LRA slaughtered 17 members of my extended family in one afternoon in December 1991," says 72-year-old Martin Olanya.

    A 30-strong rebel group had emerged from the papyrus grasses at the edge of the village. When the killing stopped, more than 100 villagers lay dead.

    "We found many bodies piled up together – including four new-born babies among the corpses. More than 40 children were taken away by the LRA that day.

    "Even now I still feel a lot of anger. Maybe it is just too much to see the faces of returned child soldiers when your heart and mind are not yet mended.

    "I want the terrible acts that were committed here to never be forgotten."

  • Christian Aid / Will Storr

    The National Peace and Memory Documentation Centre set up by the Refugee Law Project in Uganda, which received Christian Aid funding, is helping survivors of the conflict record their stories in order to document the true scale of the atrocities so that future generations might learn from the past. Their extensive research and precise mapping of atrocities committed by the LRA and the government of Uganda is helping to capture the lost voices of those caught up in the terror.

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