Stepping on eggs in Uganda
For the Achioli people of Uganda, when a wrongdoer steps on a raw egg it is a ceremonial symbol of purification and forgiveness. It’s part of the traditional cleansing that villages are turning to in the wake of 20 year insurgency notorious for its sadistic abuses.
Worina Bosco was an LRA soldier.
The war in the north between the Kampala government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is over. Most of the 1.2 million people who had fled to relief camps are back home. Peace accords have seen former rebels lay down their guns and return to their villages.
The LRA leadership are still at large and their soldiers are committing atrocities. But they have fled Uganda and are hiding deep inside tropical rain forests in Central African Republic, Congo and Sudan. They’re now somebody else’s nightmare.
Rebuilding the tortured north after the long and brutal war has begun. There are many wounds to heal as communities return to villages that are mass graves or must welcome back former killers.
Everyone has a story to tell of abduction, murder, torture and rape. In one village, residents were forced to build a covered pit and then herded inside while the pit was set on fire. The unlucky ones who survived the first day were returned to the pit the next. Caritas has helped survivors build a memorial there.
Those who escaped an LRA attack in another village returned home to find their relatives cooked in pots in their homes. Villagers had their lips hacked off with machetes as a sign for others not to talk.
Then there were the abduction of tens of thousands of children into the LRA ranks. Initiation was 150 lashes. Those who survived were considered strong enough to travel with the LRA, becoming soldiers, sex slaves, and pack animals. Punishment for stepping out of line could be severe and fatal.
“A hundred of us had to form a long line and walk over the boy until he was dead,” said Jennifer, who recalls how the LRA dealt with people who tried to escape.
Jennifer was 12 years old when she was abducted by the rebels in 1998 and taken into the bush. She was given to a rebel commander as one of his five wives. Her life was a nightmare of rape, forced marches, sickness, hunger and brutal beatings.
Freedom came in 2003 for Jennifer when government helicopters attacked the camp she was in, killing her husband. She escaped through the bush, three months pregnant, pieces of shrapnel having ripped through her chest and a leg in the attack. She was pursued by LRA fighters, but she dodged their bullets and reached safety before they could catch her.
At a Caritas reception centre, she was fed, counseled, and gave birth to a boy, Jok. She says she learned to tell the difference between right and wrong again. After that to a refugee camp, and then when the war finished in 2006, home.
But she hasn’t been welcomed back. Her father is dead, her mother remarried, and nobody wants to know her. She is determined to get on with her life, but raising her young family with no means of support will not be easy. Caritas is providing her with food at the moment until she can get back on her feet.
Worina Bosco was an LRA soldier. Press ganged into fighting after being abducted on the way from school, he said, “Burning houses, burning vehicles, killing enemies, killing people. You kill, because if you don’t the LRA will kill you.” He too escaped and was helped by Caritas.
Gaining acceptance has not been easy. “If something bad happens or one of one of the abductees does something wrong,” he said. “We get blamed. They say we’re still LRA. They say we’re still behaving like it was still the bush.” He has now joined the police force, he says, so people don’t mess with him.
Atoo Christian saw the rebels from her garden but was too frozen with fear to run. She was abducted with her brother by the LRA.
Her brother is still missing, perhaps either dead or fighting for the LRA in their new campaign in Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic. She escaped despite knowing the consequences. She was rescued and Caritas took her in to one of its reception centres. Caritas helped 3,500 other abducted children in their reception centres.
“It’s not easy for some of the children when they’ve escaped,” said Atoo, “Life is not easy and many went back to the bush to join the LRA.”
Ochaya Michael was an LRA fighter. He too was abducted as a teenager and turned into a child soldier. He thought battles and witnessed atrocities. He escaped four times only to be recaptured. He sent eight years in captivity.
He’s home now in his village called Bolippii. At first, his experience there was similar to other abducted children. “But Caritas has been running peace-building programmes in his community that has helped bring them together,” he said.
Bolippii was overrun by the LRA and the community fled to camps, over 30 were captured, and many were massacred in the village. When the survivors returned after the war was over, there was little left. They are in a very remote area, over an hour by dirt track from the nearest road. The first thing Caritas did in the community was speak to them about their needs.
Margaret, an elder in the village, said, “At first we wanted to go back to the camp, because of all the evil spirits. But Caritas helped us perform a traditional cleansing ceremony. Then things were better and people felt safe to return.
“Before the war, the community acted as one with love. But the war divided people. People were traumatized too. They’d given up on life. When people came back, there were disputes over land issues. The elders were dead and the markings were lost. Nobody knew what belonged to who.”
As well as provide food and livelihood support, Caritas promoted peacebuilding and trauma activities. These involved the community dancing, singing and acting out their journey and challenges they now face. They sing about peace, put on plays about the dangers of alcoholism, or dance celebrating their return.
“Caritas gave us good advice,” said Margaret, “They gave us training in conflict prevention. They told us about child protection. They ran a counseling centre. They helped with our livelihoods by running a seed fair.”
Ochaya Michael now leads the village band that Caritas helped set up. It’s made of abducted and those who escaped. It’s a position of prestige for Michael. “It has helped me relate to the community better,” he said.
Bolippii and Northern Uganda face a long road. Lack of farming means hunger is a problem. Hospitals and schools need to be rebuilt. Many suffer deep trauma. Many have lost their childhoods. But with peace they believe they’ve won their futures.
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