The night of her abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, Grace Akallo was 15. She was kidnapped with over a hundred other students from her school, marched into the black Ugandan night by armed, violent rebels.
For seven months, she lived the nightmarish life of a child soldier in the bush. The LRA forced her to abduct and even kill other children. "They tell you that, 'You do something, you dead,’” she recalls their threats with trepidation: "'You think of escape, you dead. ... We already know your thoughts.’”
Those days, she says, it was “hard to hope.”
Uganda’s Death Cult
It was stories like Grace Akallo’s that influenced President Obama only days ago to authorize a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to assist in removing the leadership of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army, including the army’s notoriously sadistic leader, Joseph Kony.
The LRA "has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Obama said, and "continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security."
No Faith in the Lord’s Resistance Army
But the news of the troop deployment was not met with a favorable response by everyone. “[The] Lord's Resistance Army are Christians,” a misinformed Rush Limbaugh reported on the air last Friday, “They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. … So that's a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and no, I'm not kidding.”
The broadcast generated shockwaves in the human rights community as advocates and victims fired back with the harsh reality of the LRA’s cruel antics.
Evelyn Apoko, a former child soldier herself, addressed Limbaugh’s comments directly in a video. “My heart breaks when I hear your message about the LRA,” she said. “I experienced firsthand the pain and hatred of humanity in the LRA. I know that there is nowhere in the Bible that says Christians should treat humans like animals."
"The LRA rebels are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines,” she stated in a press release issued by the Institute for Religion and Democracy.
"The LRA has been a destabilizing influence across a swath of central Africa for years,” she continued, “leaving abduction, rape, maiming and murder of civilians, including children, in their bloody wake. Whatever political goals they may have originally espoused, they now exist to perpetuate their own power.”
McDonnell was clear that the legacy of the Lord’s Resistance Army is far from peaceful: “Recent statements that this is a Christian group are woefully misinformed. Their legacy has been over a half-million people in Uganda displaced by the fighting and living in temporary camps."
End in Sight for the LRA
Obama’s initiative was immediately welcomed by those familiar with the brutality of the LRA, including conservative member of Congress Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma.
"I applaud our nation's military for making this a priority and taking the steps outlined in our legislation that will eventually protect the children and people from Joseph Kony's reign of terror," Inhofe said, noting he has “witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA.”
Inhofe wasn’t shy with his applause of Obama’s decision, stating: “We must work to bring justice to the children and victims in Uganda devastated by Kony and the LRA. I have been fervently involved in trying to prevent further abductions and murders of Ugandan children, and today's action offers hope that the end of the LRA is in sight."
A 2010 human rights report on Uganda released by the State Department exposes the depth of the abuses propagated by the regime: “Arbitrary killings; vigilante killings; mob and ethnic violence; torture and abuse of suspects and detainees; harsh prison conditions; official impunity; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detention; incommunicado and lengthy pretrial detention; sexual abuse of children and the ritual killing of children.”
'Most People Have No Idea'
While the State Department report and other reports produced by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other organizations, promote awareness of the true tragedy occurring in Uganda, confusion still exists.
The LRA is “creating havoc in this part of the world, but the area is so remote that most people have no idea that it's going on,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth told National Public Radio.
For the victims, those who have witnessed the brutality of the LRA firsthand, recovery comes slowly and memories remain. Grace Akallo speaks compellingly of the depth of attention that former child soldiers need in order to recover from their nightmarish pasts: “These children need love. These children need peace. These children need concrete futures. A matter of counseling a child for only six months doesn't help."
Awareness, perhaps, is among the most important steps to bringing the Lord’s Resistance Army to its knees. The confusion precipitated by talk show host Rush Limbaugh isn’t altogether uncommon for this under-reported topic.
Toward the end of Friday’s broadcast, Limbaugh began to learn more of the truth of the situation.
“Is that right?" he asks in the radio transcript. "The Lord's Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We're gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless, we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys -- and they claim to be Christians.”
Kristin Butler is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, religious freedom and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: October 20, 2011