On Sunday, the United States began notifying Congress of a new deployment of special operations forces to Uganda to capture the warlord Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is responsible for stealing thousands of children from their villages in central Africa and forcing them to become child soldiers and sex slaves.
In 2006, I wrote a story of Grace Akallo, one of those children who was stolen from her village and forced into captivity by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Grace, who had spent seven months in captivity before escaping, had traveled to Washington, D.C. to ask the U.S. government to stop the war in northern Uganda and urge members of Congress to pressure the Ugandan government to end the war and pressure the government of Sudan to stop supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Grace told members of Congress that children made up more than 80 percent of the LRA, where they were subjected to a “spiritual initiation” and sometimes ordered to kill relatives or neighbors. Pretty girls were given to older commanders as wives. Many children were killed.
“The first thing, you’re beaten. The beating is to initiate you into the army,” Grace testified. “The second thing, you’re forced to kill someone.”
She told the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations how she was forced to abduct other children: “The more you abduct, the more they give you a rank.”
Grace recounted how Kony used “the spirit” to control young brainwashed soldiers: “When you enter, they smear you with shea nut oil . . . they say that is protection.” Then there is a ritual. They tell you that, ‘You do something, you dead. You think of escape, you dead . . . We already know your thoughts.'”
The older girls “became wives” to the men. “In Uganda, we don’t say we were abused. There is no word for sex. It is not mentioned. They gave you as wives,” Grace said.
During her visit to Capitol Hill that day, I spent the day interviewing Grace and reporting as she talked with members of Congress.
As she was leaving Capitol Hill, Barack Obama, then a young senator, stopped Grace and shook her hand.
In the 2006 story, I captured this scene: “During her brief visit to the Hill, the child soldier turned activist lectures senators in hushed elevators and underground shuttles ferrying them to the Capitol. Star-struck, she shakes the hand of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and compliments him on his book. ‘I just finished writing a paper about you,’ she gushes.”
Read the rest of the story here.