A Photo Essay: Kony’s Children, Impact of a War

Posted March 7, 2011 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Featured ~ 3,441 views


Photographs by Marcus Bleasdale, Article by Joe Bavier | For nearly a quarter century in central Africa, the Lord’s Resistance Army has run a merciless campaign of terror. Led by Joseph Kony, a former altar boy and self-styled Ugandan prophet who claims to take orders from a host of spirits he alone can hear, the rebels are dwindling in numbers but have mastered the dark enterprise of abducting children to staff their dastardly mission. Reports say the LRA has kidnapped at least 66,000 minors, some 12,000 of whom are now dead. Others escaped for their lives. Their ages listed here are at the time of capture. Today, chased beyond Uganda’s borders, Kony stalks the wildly remote jungles straddling the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and southern Sudan, eluding American backed efforts to end his demented war and save the children who suffer at his hand.

Marleine Solange Yagasourma, 16

Captive girls give birth in the bush, where many die in childbirth. Newborns will grow up within the LRA, often becoming fighters themselves. “It was my first child, so I didn’t know what was happening. I started having pains early in the morning. I was in labor for two days. I thanked God once it was over, but I wondered how I was going to march in the bush with that baby and what I was going to do if there was an attack.” In southern Sudan, Marleine escaped during an ambush and returned to a family who were simply happy to see the return of a daughter they’d believed dead. Neighbors, however, said she should have left her child in the bush.

Boniface Kumbo Nyeki, 13

In May the U.S. passed a law pledging to hunt down Kony and his top commanders and protect civilians from the LRA. Later, the White House shied away from any suggestion of direct involvement by the American military. “They are still there, and we are afraid. We need help to stop them from coming back.” Speaking in a whisper, Boniface remembered the tearful reunion with his family after nearly a year with the LRA. But he still fears for the safety of his brothers and sisters.

Olivier Mbolifuyhe, 15

The LRA specifically targets boys between the ages of 12 and 16. Physically, adolescents are as capable as adult soldiers. They also have an underdeveloped sense of death, are more easily manipulated, and are less likely to run away. “I was with them for a month before the training started. It was our job to kill those we found in the fields or on the road, or who were just too lazy to carry the loot. I became one of them.” After escaping, Olivier led a detachment of Congolese soldiers back to the LRA’s camp on a raid that freed dozens of captive children. When he returned to his family, however, his home had been looted, and his father could no longer afford to pay his school fees.

Teresa Bela Mbolikia, 18

United Nations peacekeepers, though present in the region, have not deployed in some of the worst-affected areas. Without the security they provide, most aid agencies cannot operate, leaving the LRA’s victims to return to their pillaged homes with no hope of assistance. Mbolikia says, “We have nothing. We survive doing a little farming and selling the alcohol we make here at home. But it’s never enough.” She and her husband were taken in November 2009 and forced to haul away their looted belongings for their captors. The LRA then murdered her husband. She returned to her village to live with her sister, two other former abductees, and her son, Frank.

Merci Mbolingako, 14

The LRA often disguise themselves in the uniforms of local armies and police to infiltrate villages and abduct civilians. In May of last year, rebels appeared on the road near Lolo, Merci’s village in northern Congo. Moving from village to village, they were dressed in the uniform of the Congolese Army, and some even spoke Lingala, the military’s lingua franca. Some villagers even came out to greet them. Suddenly they were told to lie down. They were tied up. Thirty-four villagers were taken, but many managed to escape when the LRA stumbled upon a Congolese soldier and a firefight broke out. Mbolingako was one of 10 children that were held by the rebels. He was freed a month later when the LRA base where he was kept came under attack from the Congolese Army.

Florianne Bolotilanite, 13

The LRA is able to abduct entire families when they surround isolated villages left unprotected. As the rebels sort through their captives, children are kept, adults are used as porters, and the elderly are often slaughtered. Long after the rebels move on and their captives return home, these communities’ social fabric remain in tatters. “We were at our hunting ground, all of us together, when the rebels came. Seven in my family were taken that day. Today we don’t live together anymore,” Florianne says. Following her abduction in Congo in November 2009, she spent seven months in the LRA’s captivity. She escaped and now shares a small house and even a bed with three other former abductees, who survive preparing and selling meat they themselves cannot afford to eat.

Marie Mboligele, 31

Abducted and now confined to a hospital ward, Mboligele has been taken from her kids. She says, “They cut off my lips and my ear. All I could do was pray and stay silent.” Mutilations are regularly carried out by children.

Artimas Levis Ganiko, 17

The LRA forces many of the children it abducts to kill. The practice is intended to bind its new recruits to the group, sever the connection with their communities, and break down their humanity. “We attacked a village and took an old man. We tied him up and led him into the forest. One of the rebels cut a length of wood and told me to beat him, to smash his skull and kill him,” Artimas says. “I asked why, and they told me, ‘If you don’t do it, then you can take his place.’ I took the stick, and I killed him. The old man never said a word …” Artimas escaped and returned home after 21 months with the LRA. But he says he is haunted by the memories of those he killed and his neighbors now fear him.

Savilia Mbwoniwia, 14

More than 60 percent report severe beatings. A quarter are attacked with a weapon. Many are forced to kill, some even members of their own family. “My husband was a very bad man. I was brutalized. I was raped. But I think he liked me very much. I was his fifth wife and the youngest. In the end, I couldn’t walk. I was taken to a road and abandoned, while others were just killed.” Despite her release, Savilia has yet to return home. Her family fears the reprisals of her captors.

Daniel Kpakana, 14

LRA attacks have driven some 450,000 civilians from their homes. Many schools—regular targets of LRA recruitment raids—have shuttered. “I want them to open again?.?.?.?I have nightmares and can’t sleep. I just want all the rebels eliminated.” A deep scar in his scalp is a reminder of Daniel’s daily beatings by his commanders

Valentine Mbolibirani, 14

Kony keeps dozens of “wives.” “I thought, ‘I’m a little girl, and he’s an old man. How could I sleep with him?’?” After charring Kony’s evening meal, Valentine was put on trial for witchcraft. Facing a death sentence, she escaped into the forest, where she foraged for days.

Travel for this project was underwritten by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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