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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Former Kony Child Soldier Tells Her Story

Former child soldier Grace Akallo. (Sur la photo Grace Akallo/ONF)

Friday is April 20, the day that the Kony 2012 video asked people worldwide to put up posters and call for the arrest of Joseph Kony, whose Lords Resistance Army in Uganda in the 80s and 90s brutally abducted tens of thousands of children and forced them to be child soldiers.

Grace Akallo was one of the abducted children, and she has mixed feelings about Friday.

“I don’t know whether I’ll be putting posters up. I want Joseph Kony to be captured, I want him to disappear,” she told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

“But at the same time, if all the resources are directed towards him, then what about the people who suffered under him — what kind of justice are they getting?” she said. “Even if we capture Kony today… is that the end of everything? After tomorrow, what is the next step?”

Akallo’s Abduction

Before she was abducted, Akallo lived in a sleepaway Catholic finishing school in Uganda. And students there were often told to run and hide outside because there was word that Kony and his soldiers might be coming for them.

“I don’t even know how to speak about it. It was horrible. What they did to us is what should never be done to any human being.”

– Grace Akallo, former Kony child soldier

“It was very scary. [A head sister at the school] would come in and say, ‘Girls, we have to run right now. We have to go hide because it’s not safe. There’s rumors that the Lord’s Resistance Army are coming this way,” she said.

And in 1996, the LRA did come and take 15-year-old Akallo away.

“I don’t even know how to speak about it. It was horrible. What they did to us is what should never be done to any human being,” she said.

Life As A Child Soldier

Grace was forced to march through the bush and jungle hungry and thirsty, brutally beaten and forced to beat others, including children.

Akallo says the girls she was with were so young and innocent, they did not have language for what was happening to them. When the girls were forced to have sex with soldiers, for example, they only had the expression, “become wives” to describe it.

And Joseph Kony also used psychological techniques to control the children, telling them that he knew their thoughts and could tell when they were considering escaping.

“I tried to stop thinking. I’m scared he’s going to get me. And it’s not a joke — they bring people and they kill them in front of you and they say they were thinking of escape,” Akallo said.

“Children make very easy targets for military recruiters — they’re easy to manipulate, less likely to question what they’re told,” Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch said.

Akallo eventually escaped after LRA soldiers mistook her for dead and buried her in a shallow grave after she passed out during a battle.

Community Stigma

But returning to her home proved difficult.

“When you come back it’s very hard to rejoin the community,” she said. Many of the girls were pregnant, or already had children as a result of being raped by LRA army members. This engendered even more stigma from the community.

“Sometimes the community would decide to beat you or kill you or report you that you were a rebel. We were scared of the community and the Ugandan soldiers,” Akallo said.

She said she tuned out much of her family, but started talking to one of the sisters at her school.

“We started building friendship and trust and that would help me to start talking about myself to her,” she said.

But Akallo says it’s not just about talking. Former child soldiers need a second chance to go to school, they need a home and hope for a future.

“If you know that you have a future you work hard, but if you don’t, it’s hard,” she said. “My concern is that child soldiers and the children who are affected… they need to get resources to make sure that they’re given a second [chance] to contribute to themselves and the community that they live in.”

Akallo went to to become an activist, to raise awareness about Joseph Kony and his army, and especially to help former child soldiers and communities affected by war.

More On Invisible Children And Kony 2012

The Kony video was made by a young Christian evangelical, it drew ardent followers, and criticism from some Ugandans.

Ugandan Angelo Izama said that the campaign suggested that Ugandans needed Americans to step in and help, when Izama argues that Ugandans were already leading a search for him.

Others also pointed out that the video was misleading, implying that Kony was still in Uganda — when he is not.

Akallo did not agree with Izama’s criticism that the tone of the Kony 2012 video was demeaning to Ugandans, but she did recognize the video’s inaccuracies.

“The video is not updated, they should have said Joseph Kony is not in Uganda now,” Akallo said. “But still, we have to know that Joseph Kony still exists in eastern Congo and is still committing atrocities — abducting children in eastern Congo, he is still raping women in eastern Congo.”

Invisible Children, the group that made Kony 2012 has also responded to criticism, saying that since leaving Uganda in 2008, Kony army has killed over 2,400 people and kidnapped over 3,400.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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