A Letter from a former child soldier in Pader, Northern Uganda
May 7th, 2012. In response to Kony 2012, Ricky the founder of our partner FRO, wrote this objective letter to Coaches Across Continents
I am writing from Pader, Uganda because I believe the recent conversation about Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Invisible Children is not including the voice of those that matter most in this conversation – the people of Northern Uganda who have had their lives and families terrorized by the LRA. I know more than I would like to know about the LRA, not from watching Kony 2012 or reading insightful accounts of the conflict, but because personally I have seen it, have lived it and have been in it. I was one of the now famous “child soldiers”. I was abducted at the age of 14 years with my brother by the LRA and remained with them for nearly 2.5 years. We were picked up in front of our home, our powerless family members were burned to death in our grass-thatched house while we were forced to watch and hear them cry for help. I saw brutality beyond description; I saw tortures, rapes, killing, abduction and war. Since 1999, through Friends of Orphans I have worked to rehabilitate countless former child soldiers and others affected by the war to reverse the massive amount of damage the LRA has done to my community and our youth. I know for real how bad the LRA rebels are and I demand for the immediate end to this conflict. I believe for this to happen, OUR voices must be heard.
At this moment, more than ever, the optimism and hope of the people in northern Uganda for the end of violent conflict and return of peace in the region is more prominent than ever. This is a direct outcome of the protracted negotiation that previously took place in southern Sudan. Even though the peace talks headed by Riek Machar did not result in a peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda, it has brought relative peace to Northern Uganda and people have moved back to their original villages from the refugee camps, at least for now there is no Joseph Kony in Uganda.
I support the peaceful means of ending this conflict rather than the military approach. I encourage it continually since it has brought tangible results and has saved many lives that would have been otherwise lost to the war. The people of Northern Uganda believe more in a peaceful means of resolving this conflict because it has been tried and it has worked, they have seen the result.
Invisible Children are known in Northern Uganda as a scholar organization supporting former abductees education, which much needed in the region. But they are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experiences with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a mean to end this conflict. Since 1989 the government of Uganda has been consistently used military campaigns against Kony including major operations like operation Iron Fist and Lightening Thunder. Operation Lightening Thunder was highly expected to end the war by either capturing Kony alive or killing him. This was carried out by UPDF (Uganda army), DR Congo army and the SPLA southern Sudan army on Kony in DR Congo with the technical support from the USA government and still it failed and instead spread the atrocities to Central African Republic as Kony relocated there. The only known result of the military attacks on Kony is dispersing the rebels into smaller groups from their base resulting in all kinds of atrocities on civilians including the Baralonyo attack in Lira district, (http://ugandaradionetwork.com/a/story.php?s=34980) the Kanga Pa-aculu attack in Pader district and many others where a lot of civilians lost their lives. It is also well known that a majority of the LRA soldiers are abducted children, he uses these abducted children as a shield to protect himself from any military attacks, as a result any attack will be on the abducted children.
Now, how can this be done? Instead of campaigning for military action as a means to end this war, I suggest a continuation of the failed peace talks. I would urge everyone involved in the process to examine what made the peace talks fail and how can we improve and reinstate the process. As an example, the government of Sudan, a key player in the financing the war, was left out and not involved in the previous peace talks. I strongly believe they can play a greater role in the peace process.
Furthermore, there seems to be a continual call for Kony to be taken to the ICC if captured. Communities agree that if Kony is captured he should be brought to book to answer for the war crimes he committed. Some want Kony to be taken to the ICC while others says he should be tried locally in Uganda so that it act as a lesion to others who would have bad intentions like that of Joseph Kony and bring closure for the communities affected. This becomes ever more complicated because others suggest that both parties involved in the war should be investigated and possibly tried too. People like Doctor Olara Otunnu, the president of Uganda People’s Congress, has written widely about the UPDF’s involvement in causing various atrocities during this conflict. The Government of Uganda has denied any wrong doing on its part. What is certain is that is not a simple problem that can be solved with a simple solution, this will inevitably require intervention in the form of a systematic approach in bringing Kony to book if reconciliation is to provide opportunities to all people affected by war and the wider communities to have a voice in peace building, reconciliation and societal healing. This will prepare the communities in Northern Uganda for subsequent rehabilitation with a view of shaping their immediate future through promotion of social inclusion and demonstrated ownership.
What we want is to stop the war in a way that will not cause any more atrocities because the people of northern Uganda have shed too much blood from this war. We do not want to see more death and destruction in the process of ending the war. Nobody supports Kony in Northern Uganda; we are only tired of wars and now want to look at ways in which sustainable peace can be restored in northern Uganda without seeing more people dying.
This brings me to my last point. We should also remember that the effect of the war is more painful than the war itself, so we need to think of more practical ways to rebuild and heal our community. We are now at the beginning of a long journey ahead. My vision is to build a Northern Ugandan society in which the vulnerable are empowered to achieve their full potential and contribute to the development of their community. In 1999 I founded Friends of Orphans (www.frouganda.org) to work with former child soldiers, orphans, child mothers, war and HIV/AIDS affected and infected communities in Northern Uganda to rehabilitate, reintegrate and empower them. We provide education (both vocational and academic), health, peace building, human rights, income generating activities and livelihood support programs. FRO is now working to build a radio station to help give voice to the voiceless through radio communication. The goal of the radio station is to promote peace and human dignity throughout our area. Our aim is to ensure that the perspectives of the people whose lives are most affected by development (mainly the poor and marginalized) are included within decision-making. The aim is to use information to empower the disadvantage communities economically and fight poverty so as to improve on their standard of living and contribute to the development of their communities. Just as Invisible Children is doing, we are trying to amplify “the voice of the voiceless”, however instead of through social media, we just want to start with radio. To do so, we need the support of all those who now know what we have endured and will not stand for it.
We thank Invisible Children for making you aware of what has happened in Northern Uganda and request they continue to focus their enthusiasm and resources toward building a better Uganda.
Anywar Ricky Richard is a former LRA child soldier and founder of the charity organization Friends of Orphans (FRO) www.frouganda.org Ricky and FRO have been awarded the2008 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award and the 2008 Humanitarian Award from World of Children.
Brief History of Friends of Orphans (FRO):
Friends of Orphans (FRO) was founded and is administered by former child soldiers and abductees from Pader District, all of whom were and continue to be affected by the war in Northern Uganda. FRO founder Ricky Anywar Richard and others
conceived Friends of Orphans in 1999 when some of its organizing members were pursuing their degrees at the University of Makerere. From our experiences as former abductees and orphans, many of whom also lost immediate and extended family members, friends and neighbors, suffered displacement and continue to suffer those losses, led us to commit to the ongoing and unmet needs of our community.
We formally prepared ourselves as educators, medical officers, administrators, environmentalists, and in other professions through university education and work experience to enable us to organize an organization with the vision and ability to meet the psycho-social, education and training, economic development, peace building, human rights, livelihood support programs and family service, cultural and social needs of children and women affected by conflict in Northern Uganda.
Since 1999, we have launched community-based education, vocational skill training, HIV/AIDS prevention, peace building and community development programs in Northern Uganda which address the immediate and long term needs of the community, many of whom are former child soldiers, child mothers, orphans, youths and women.
Friends of Orphans,
P. O Box 29536, Kampala, Uganda.
Tel: +256 772 383 574,