AN ARMY OF CHILDREN
FR. MACIEJ JAWORSKI OCD, MONIKA HYLA
They do not play with dolls, teddy bears or a war. Their initiative is often killing their own parents. These are still children in appearance and age, but also machines for killing with a distorted conscience in their brutal deeds, who serve to the Resistance Army of Joseph Kony, a war criminal in Uganda (Eastern Africa). What is the situation in the region of Northern Uganda today?
The informative campaign ‘Kony 2012’ was watched on Internet during one month by about 80 million people from the whole world. Its main purpose is capturing Kony this year. ‘Kony 2012’ is an international campaign initiated by Invisible Children Inc. Its purpose is stopping the terror of Joseph Kony and his Resistance Army. The campaign, through publicising the crime done by Ugandan soldiers, wants to help to capture them and subordinate them to the administration of justice.
At night of 20 and 21 April, organizers and volunteers are planning to hang posters promoting the action in the biggest cities of the world.
Machines for giving suffering
Why has a brutal fratricidal war been taking place in Uganda for 20 years? Everything started from Joseph Kony, born in 1963. In Joseph’s childhood nothing portended the future tragedy – as a child he was a fervent altar-boy, a son of a fervent Catholic. Before finishing his education, he had lived at his older brother’s, a wizard. He liked mysterious and occultist rituals very much which formed his spirituality. Being influenced by them, he organised his army – a famous Lord’s Resistance Army. At the beginning Kony, in his spiritual ecstasy, was teaching on the basis of the Old Testament and was leading a partisan war for bringing back the Decalogue into the policy in Uganda. One more time, somebody took on an attitude against the Campaign (the capital and the biggest city in Uganda), in order to regain the lost honour of Achola (a tribe inhabiting the territory in the Northern Uganda). The central government from the Campaign nominated a minister for the matters in the region, who resides in the North, and the minister organised a military defence among villages against the invasions for food. People started supporting the president, and Joseph Kony started feeling betrayed by his people and threatened them with his revenge.
In 1992 the first attacks on secondary schools in Gulu took place. The first 44 kidnapped girls became sexual slaves of partisans. The partisans were aiming to renew the existence of the pure race of Achola among the kidnapped girls. The leader himself has 50 wives and 250 children. The next phase of the development of barbarism was kidnapping 10-year-old boys in order to form them into a real army which would be faithful to ideals. The first initiative was often killing their mothers and fathers. Boys, forced under the threat of cruel tortures, were going beyond the invisible border of conscience. They became machines for giving sufferings, the most faithful executers of mad orders of their master. Cruelty became new religion. Giving pain to get excited – became new ideal. Kony finds his ally in the Northern Sudan, in a Muslim government of Chartum. He gets weapon and money in return for weakening the government in Uganda. Grateful for help, he introduces Muslim elements into everyday practices of his army. Friday becomes a holy day, and Kony himself takes on a name of Mahomet, and ‘Allah akbar’ becomes a martial shout.
During a Sunday Holy Mass for children in Kitgum, altar-boys and girls create a children’s group of a charming name ‘Mary’s birds’. It is difficult to understand that here in Africa a child is not associated only with innocence but also or maybe first of all, with aggression and cruelty. Young aggressors are the first victims of the Satan’s system of recruitment of children into the army. Some of these children are the fruits of sexual war violence. The youngest ones do not ask difficult questions yet: ‘Who is my father? why is he older than me only by 15 years?’ A question about identity will be a crisis question in this region: ‘Who am I, where am I from, where is my father? Innocent faces of altar-boys looking at a celebrant bring a fact into mind that a boy Joseph Kony used to serve during the holy mass 25 years ago, he used to kneel in front of an altar and now everybody are kneeling in front of him with fright, asking him for his grace...
Lira, Gulu, Kitgum – are towns like many others in Africa. It is worth emphasizing that this area has been living now in peace for 6 years, a picture of today’s Africa is a picture of a strenuous return to normality. At 6.30 pm when you go past a church, you can see people standing outside. It is not such a phenomenon as in Poland where this vision does not surprise anybody. There are people standing outside not because they like it but for a more trivial reason: churches are too small towards the spiritual needs of people oppressed by the war. In the afternoon the youth meet in the shade of big trees for their chats. Girls walk in high grass of savannah, holding their hands, boys play a plaited ball near a destroyed school, men drink and play checkers, women prepare an evening feast in front of huts. Goats graze near gradually renovated mud huts, a few-year-old boys run, cattle are strolling slowly – the normality is coming back slowly. Ten-year-old children are seen everywhere, small traders who work after school, a little boy sells night lamps, manual torches on batteries.
Peace – an unappreciated gift
Peace is an unappreciated gift for those who got used to it. Did everything really come back to normality? A few years ago 2 million people from this area lived in safety camps, leaving their households voluntarily. Today their fields, slightly burnt tents, buildings for management, blackened with smoke remained. People live in not much better but their own mud huts on their land, trying to acquire cattle by their work again. Near parishes, in the diocese of Lira and Gulu, about 400 groups of support are working. After all a mother raped by her own son or a girl tortured by her older brother must tell somebody about their suffering. Men do not look for help but they simply drink. How to cope with a suffering of misunderstanding: what happened with my son? He used to be a good boy and now he became a slaughterer for his family...
A therapy is a synonym of help to the underage in coming out of the experience of the kidnap to the Resistance Army. In a famous questionnaire, given to new inhabitants of the centre Lira, children of refugees from the Army, to fill in, there appear many questions: were you forced to kill one of your relatives? Were you forced to cut off people’s arms and legs with a sword? Were you forced to hollow out people’s eyes? Were you forced to rape women? Were you forced to burn people alive? During 20-year-old history of the Resistance Army, the number of kidnapped children has reached 66 thousand. In the partisan war there is still about a thousand children-soldiers, now they are adult-slaughterers. About 20 thousand of those who were lucky to escape have come through therapy centres. Where are the rest of them? Probably the kidnapped children were sold for the war in Sudan as slaves or underage prostitutes. The Army left the areas of Uganda a few years ago. Being weakened, today it is based on the areas of Congo, Central Africa and Sudan. We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening in Africa, or towards our brothers in faith: today’s Uganda is after all a Christian country in 70%.