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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Wednesday, September 10, 2003  
Children are very efficient killers

Children are the weakest victims, the easiest recruits, and often, the most effective killers. At a certain age the mind can just absorb, digest or obliterate. Trauma comes later, or it doesn't. That just depends on the type. The LRA, operational in some form or another since the late 80s, consists of child warriors and men who spat out their youth coming through the ranks: hardened, brutalised, utterely desensitised, or maybe dying to escape, or maybe dying by trying.

The LRA has its immediate origin in the civil war between Milton Obete's Acholi army (Obete was Ugandan president both pre- and post-Idi Amin) and Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army. Before Museveni's eventual military victory Obete was ousted by an Acholi army officer, Tito Okello, who then entered into the Nairobi peace accord with Museveni. This broke within weeks, and the NRA forced Okello's fighters to retreat North. In August 1987, the remains of Okello's army, who had fled to Southern Sudan, formed a rebel alliance with other opponents of the Museveni regime. One of these rebel units was called the Holy Spirit Mobile Force and led by an Acholi mystic and prophetess called Alice Lakwena. Lakwena told the Acholis that she was possessed by the Holy Spirit and would purge them of witches and sinners. She claimed that her fighters could repel bullets. She would annoint them with shea butter oil and the bullets would bounce off their skin. Fusing the roles of spiritual healer and military leader, Lakwena fermented a millenarian uprising. Aided by an enthused Acholi population, the Holy Spirit Mobile Force advanced to within 60 miles of Uganda's Southern capital, Kampali, where they finally met a large NRA force. Armed with rifles and stones, and smeared in shea butter oil, Lakwena's followers were massacred by the modern artillery of the government troops. Lakwena herself, like some macabre cross between Alice Coltrane and Rwanda's Hutu Power Madame Agathe, fled to Kenya.

After this defeat the Acholi rebel force largely disintegrated, but a small group remained in the bush under the command of Lakwena's 20-yr old relative, Joseph Kony. Kony claimed to be Lakwena's spiritual successor, and to share her religious powers. They had even been involved in special ceremonies together, he said. He would accomplish her mission to otherthrow the Southern-biased government, purify the Acholi people, and run Uganda according to the Ten Commandments. These aims would be achieved through violence; he called his fighters the Lord's Resistance Army.

Throughout the 90s, the LRA didn't pose a real threat to state power, but they were impossible to actually defeat. And in the North they perpetuated numberless atrocities and abducted thousands of children, absorbing them into their rank-and-file. A terrifying mix of The Pied Piper and Battle Royale, children were forced to kill their relatives and other children, either to punish those who had tried to escape, or just as a ritual, a rite-of-passage, or an excercise. They were raped and starved and trained as guerillas. They became slaves, guards, and soldiers. Girls as young as 11 would be taken as 'wives' or concubines. Later, when Sudan began to fund the LRA because of political hostilities with Uganda, they would be given as 'gifts' to arms dealers in Sudan. The LRA set up camps in Southern Sudan, and made guerilla raids into Northern Uganda, as well as wreaking havoc in their Sudanese locality.

To most of the fighters the actual ideology behind all this remained obscure, despite Kony's occasional sermons. The LRA were characterised as deranged Christian fundamentalists, but the reality was more complex, of course, and murkier. Kony was raised a Catholic but his litany of rituals was more eclectic, drawing on various Christian traditions, Acholi tribal religion and, more recently, elements of Islam (notably, during the period of support from Sudan's Islamic-dominated government). Kony personally benefited from the conflict to a staggering degree: he had about 20 wives, scores of cars, buildings in townships, trading centres in Acholi, and other forms of property. Ugandan officials considered him a villian, making profit from prolonged Ugandan/Sudanese hostilities, child abduction, massacres, and the economic and social disruption of the Acholi districts. This status quo ended last year, when Sudan promised to stop funding the LRA and, alongside Uganda, flush out their camps and detain their fighters. The renewed intensity of LRA invasions and abductions in Northern Uganda is simply a result of this crackdown.

12:17 AM

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