he drama of the children from Northern Uganda began in 1986. Since then, The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, had abducted children and subjected them to inhuman torture, which resulted in them becoming soldiers. They are forced to fight for the organization’s cause, often killing their own families.
Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army
The Lord’s Resistance Army is a rebel group led by Joseph Kony, originally from Northern Uganda, who fights for the interests of the Acholi community. Kony lost the support he had gained and, for the past 24 years, had set up a regime of terror, taking violent action among civilians, kidnapping children, and forcing them to fight for his army. The group was forcibly removed from the country by the state army and is currently divided into the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and southern Sudan.
It all started in the 1820s, with the “Holy Spirit Movement” led by Alice Lakwena, who wanted to overthrow the Ugandan government, which was accused of violating the rights of the Acholi people. Armed conflicts between the Lakwena-led group and the government intensified until the authorities won and the movement’s leader was exiled. In 1986, Joseph Kony revived the movement, forming a new group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
He said his mission was to overthrow the current government and lead Uganda based on the Ten Commandments. All group members did not support him, so to fill the ranks of the Resistance Army, Kony began kidnapping hundreds of children from the villages, which he turned into real killing machines.
Rebels often disguised themselves as soldiers and attacked villagers gathered for various occasions, such as religious services. They launched violent attacks, killing the weak or old with machetes, swords, or stones, and cut off the noses, ears, or lips of others as a warning. The rebels captured those who were useful, especially children who could carry weapons.
The captives were tied up and taken to camps, where violent methods indoctrinated them, and thus transformed into soldiers, porters, cooks or sex slaves. They were often forced to rape or kill members of their own families, making it impossible for them to return home. Those who tried to flee or opposed the orders received were tortured and killed.
Turning Children into Soldiers
Once at Kony’s camp, the children were met with a beating. They were savagely beaten by other children, already there, until they fainted. If they screamed or cried in pain, they were killed. At first, they were not allowed to eat in the same place as the other soldiers. They were considered dirty. After a while, they were called by the commander, where a ritual was performed: shea oil was mixed with water, and the sign of the cross was drawn on their heads, lips, hands, and near their hearts.
Only then could they eat with the rest of the soldiers. The daily life of a child soldier who belonged to the Lord’s Resistance Army consisted of famines, beatings, and patrols, but also violent raids. One of the child soldiers who was rescued says that during an incursion, he watched a man be cut limb by limb until death. They also had a constant battle with the disease. They had developed an idea that the hope and memory of the family made them sick.
“The moment you remember your family, you get sick. You have diarrhea and you become so weak that you look like a skeleton. If that happens to you, you will die.”
To turn the abducted children into soldiers, members of the group followed three steps:
- First, they had to give up any hope that they might ever return home.
- Then they had to kill and soil their bodies with the victim’s blood.
- Finally, through rituals and superstitions, they come to believe in and appreciate the new person they have become.
After all these steps, they are dominated by a final constant: anger. Every action they take is driven by anger, beatings, and famine, the atrocities they witnessed, and the crimes they commit — anger kept them alive.
“I did not do anything with what I saw with a good heart. My mind was engulfed in destruction, “said one of the survivors.