Survivors of Uganda's LRA rebel insurgency
- 10 April 2012
- From the section Africa
It is now more than five years since the notoriously brutal rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) stopped carrying out atrocities in northern Uganda.
Their diminished forces, led by Joseph Kony who has been subject of a recent viral online campaign highlighting his activities, still spread fear in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and occasionally South Sudan.
The more than 20 years of war in northern Uganda has left a terrible legacy of poverty and disease but at least there is peace.
The BBC's East Africa correspondent, Will Ross, met four survivors of the insurgency in Kitgum district.
Geoffrey Obita - attacked by LRA
Geoffrey Obita first spoke to the BBC in 2003, using another name for his protection, at the Catholic Mission hospital in Kitgum after he had been rushed there on the back of a bicycle from his village. He had been attacked by LRA rebels who falsely accusing him of being a government soldier.
The rebels sat on his chest and pinned down his limbs as one of them hacked off his ears, lips and fingers with a knife. In agony he begged them to kill him. Nine years later, he runs a small stall on the outskirts of Kitgum town:
Every day I come here and I try to earn a living but it's not easy.
I'm struggling for my three children, Joseph, Isaac and Emmanuel.
I want them to get a high level of education so they can cater for themselves.
Here in Uganda without an education there's no meaningful future.
I was doing well at secondary school when I was attacked in 2003.
I tried to finish school but my problem was writing was difficult because of what they did to me.
I couldn't hold a pen.
When I was recovering in hospital the boy who had cut me was also admitted - he had been shot in an attack.
At first I was angry to see him and I thought of revenge.
'Unable to farm'
But later I realised he had been abducted by the rebels and was forced to do what he did so I forgave him and now relations between us are ok.
He may still fear revenge but I have forgiven him.
When I was better I started a small bakery in Kitgum and then I set up this shop selling food items like rice and salt and sugar and drinks.
But business has not been going well recently.
Today, four-year-old Isaac was sent away from nursery school because I haven't been able to pay the school fees.
Many people survive by farming the land around here but because of my hands I'm unable to dig the fields.
I've had no help with my disability.
Taking responsibility is not easy but I'm trying.
Genesis Atube - former LRA commander
Genesis Atube was known as "Commander Jolly Joe" when he was in the LRA. Countless testimonies from those who escaped from the LRA say he was responsible for leading raids in Uganda during the early 2000s in which large numbers of children were abducted. He denies this.
He escaped from the LRA after being injured in a battle:
When I came back from the bush in 2005 life was not easy at home.
People were accusing me of abducting and killing their children - something I didn't do.
When they started accusing me I had to relocate from Kitgum to Gulu District where I stayed for two years.
People are still very angry with me - that's why I can't easily relate to them in the villages.
That's why I stopped drinking these locally made beers.
I only take beers from the factory because I fear at any time they can poison me.
When I had enough money I came back to Kitgum to set up this bicycle repair shop.
Here many people don't know about my history and being by the roadside many people just bring their bicycles when they are passing.
But the problem is at home - that's when I face many difficulties from the community members.
In the 1980s I was a lieutenant in the UNLA [the Uganda National Liberation Army that was defeated by President Yoweri Museveni's guerrilla forces in 1986].
I didn't apply to LRA leader Joseph Kony to be one of his soldiers, I was abducted.
In the LRA I was given the rank of 2nd lieutenant.
I'm very happy that there is peace now.
Sometimes I ride my bicycle right up to Gulu and then come back.
Reconciliation is one of the most important things to be done but I'm not sure what the government position and the LRA position is.
Even now as I talk I left one of my children in the bush so reconciliation should be done so people can live in peace.
Rebecca - former LRA abductee
Rebecca was abducted from her school in northern Uganda in 1996 and was held by the LRA for three years, experiencing appalling atrocities. Now 26, she is still frightened of the LRA and did not want any photos taken of her. After escaping she has worked hard to fulfil a dream, which is about to come true:
It has been hard because missing three years is a long time and what I went through was somehow traumatic and so it disorganised my mind.
When I went back to school after three years I'd forgotten almost all I had learnt.
I had forgotten how to write so it was not so easy.
I was so excited to enter university as I didn't expect to make it here.
Although in my mind I had wanted to study and be a success, on the other hand I saw darkness coming as finance was a problem.
I had to believe that I could make it.
Thanks to a miraculous meeting, someone offered to pay my school fees and they kept their promise.
I am so grateful.
I had this inspiration to become a doctor because of my past life experience - the years I went through due to the LRA war in the north.
I saw many people affected by ill health in the north and among the abducted people were dying.
One thing which inspired me to study medicine was the death of my mum. She died of a heart attack.
But I was wondering if something had been done in the right way at that time would she have survived.
In a few weeks time I'm graduating as a doctor.
I am so excited I can't wait for the day I make the oath of becoming a doctor and I'm putting on that gown - I think I'll be so excited. It is a dream come true.
After my graduation I will dedicate my life to work.
I will go to the north and give them my service because currently there is crisis - there are very few medical personnel and people are really dying because of that so I'd be grateful to work."
Helen Amony Omono - school teacher
During the conflict, Helen Amony Omono struggled to protect the children under her care. In 2002 she was the head teacher at a school in a village that came under attack by the LRA.
She is now head at Pajimo Primary School where she no longer has to worry about security:
There is a lot of hunger to learn here.
We have seen the results improve slightly with the peace.
There is more concentration in class compared to those days when there was a lot of trauma and fear especially when they heard gunshots because the children feared they'd be abducted.
When the war was on the majority of the students were displaced and lived in the camp.
Some were born in the camp so they hadn't known what village life was like.
Life there was not good - people were congested, rebels targeted the camps and there was a lot of indiscipline and sickness.
Many people died from cholera, hepatitis and other diseases including HIV/Aids.
When there was abduction the children would fear coming to school.
At 10:00 people would begin walking in groups but by 15:00 there would be no movement because of the risk of abduction or being killed.
'Want normal lives'
But these days it's ok - people can even walk at night as there is peace.
Today many students want to join the school.
Our first class, P1, has 141 students. There are two teachers manning the class doing all the activities together.
Around the school there are signs promoting peace: "Talk peace listen to peace and discuss peace."
We have always been talking to the children about peace and what they can do to bring about peace.
If anything bad happens or there is a problem they should discuss so people can live in total peace.
We pray that no more conflicts come around so our children can begin living normal lives.
We no longer want to live a traumatised life.