Archive | April, 2012

Death and Domination in the Congo: The First Global Shout-Out

29 Apr


“Everywhere I hear the same news of the Congo Free State – rubber and murder, slavery in its worst form.” E. J. Glave, Congo Free State administrator, Century Magazine (1897).

On November 15, 1908 Leopold II, King of Belgium formally renounced his personal control of the Congo Free State which immediately was placed under the administration of the Belgian Parliament and renamed the Belgian Congo. Leopold had no intention of surrendering his personal property without a long and arduous fight but changed his mind after he became the object of  such intense hatred and negative publicity that he succumbed to the political pressure and gave in. Even after he had signed away all rights to his possession a host of British and American newspapers continued to post headlines exposing new atrocities reported to have taken place in the Congo. Numerous articles and an outpouring of “Letters to the Editor” called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try him as a criminal and hang him for his “heinous offenses”.   Unfortunately the ICC was a fledgling judicial institution  in the early 1900’s and did not have the legal authority to render an official verdict or impose a sentence but numerous citizens around the world felt that it was time to give the court “some teeth” and allow it to formally try King Leopold II of Belgium and convict him for his “crimes against humanity”.

But how was it that the good citizens of the world came to hear about Leopold and his systemized exploitation of the Congo in the first place?  Reports about the “horrid enslavement of the natives” began to surface in official mission communications handed to a Dr. H. Gratton Guinness and then sent back to the Harley Missionary Training Institute in East London. These were the same missionaries who had been invited into the Congo Free State by Leopold himself to “Christianize the natives.”  Dr Henry Grattan Guinness became particularly outspoken about the horrendous abuses described to him by the missionaries in the region who were outraged by the methods employed by the Force Publique against the villagers especially the use of torture and dismemberment. Although the Belgian authorities challenged the accuracy of Dr. Guinness’ claims, the eye-witness accounts would not be dismissed so easily and were eventually turned over by the Mission Society to British journalists in London. Dr. Guinness was a highly respected physician, missionary, protestant preacher, evangelist, and author who had a large following of supporters both in England and in Ireland. He had spent a full year traveling a 3, 600 mile course on the Congo River and its tributaries charged with investigating the conditions and potential of  missionary service in that region. In his role as Mission Secretary he made visits to all of the missionary stations belonging to the Congo Balold Mission.

In 1877 The Livingstone Inland Mission to the Congo was first envisioned by the Baptist minister Alfred Tilly after he heard about Stanley’s journey into this area of Africa. Henry and his wife were members of the Mission Committee and ran the East London Training Institute for Home and Foreign Missions so they were charged with preparing the first recruits. Fifty missionaries along with Guinness and his wife left for the Congo. In 1878 the Livingston Inland Mission was the first mission to be established in this region. It had originally been planned that the mission would be self-supporting but this failed to happen. The first missionaries suffered from a host of tropical diseases, inadequate equipment, and a lack of support from the Belgian administrators in the area even though Leopold himself  had pledged his support at the beginning of the project. By1884 the lack of resources and the illness of Mrs. Guinness forced Dr. Guinness to hand the mission over to the care of the American Baptist Missionary Union and the Swiss Missionary Fellowship.

 Edmund Dene Morel was the Head of Congo Trade for the Liverpool shipping company, Elder Dempster which had been awarded the shipping contract between Antwerp, Belgian and the port city of Boma located in the Congo Free State. Morel who had been educated in France as a child was fluent in the French language and so the company sent him to  Belgium to serve as Elder Dempster’s  business agent there. Once he had settled into their offices he was able to study the Congo accounts and cargo manifests in detail. After a careful examination of these records he uncovered the exploitative nature behind Leopold’s business practices especially in regards to his collection of rubber and ivory.  While in this position he was also privy to the first –hand accounts told to him by English traders and seamen sent by Elder Dempster to the Congo export stations to collect the shipments. They described in detail the abusive conditions endured by the villagers under the corvee system imposed upon them by Leopold’s business agents. Corvée is an unpaid labor practice used with individuals required to pay taxes but with no cash or coin with which to settle their debts. It was usually imposed upon them by a state or  ruler. It was first used in feudal times where the taxee agreed to work a certain number of days without compensation in order to pay off what was owed to the ruler or administrator. Leopold had amended this system so that  his laborers were required to work non-stop every day of their lives for  no monetary compensation whatsoever. And if they refused to comply with  his demands he killed them off or mutilated members of their families. Not only did he  distort the system but he eventually reshaped it into one of the cruelest forms of enslaved labor ever implemented by a ruler.

 Morel’s outrage over Leopold’s uncontested domination of  the Congolese people eventually led him to begin writing about the injustice of it all. In 1900, Morel repeatedly lashed out against Leopold’s polices in articles published in a weekly magazine called Speaker. By1902, Morel retired from Elder Dempster then dedicated his life to exposing the human rights abuses taking place in the Congo Free State. His articles were so well received that he was soon hired as an editor of a new periodical, called West Africa. In 1903 he founded his own magazine, The West African Mail, an illustrated weekly journal in which he conducted a relentless campaign against Leopold, his Belgian Colonialists, and the actions of the Force Publique. Morel also published several pamphlets and his first book, Affairs of West Africa. He became a passionate watchdog who alerted the British Empire to the extent of Leopold’s inhumanity to his  subjects. His horrendous descriptions so outragesd the citizens of Europe and the United States that they began to  formally petition their governments to intervene on  behalf of these “innocents” to stop the torture and the slaughter.

As certain of his articles were reprinted byAmerican and London dailies Morel became a “Man of Influence” around London. Eventually  he agreed to take part in public lectures speaking out against Leopold in community halls and private homes. He proved to be a gifted and persuasive orator and  became so popular throughout Europe that even King Leopold II was forced to acknowledge his scathing diatribes. The King was so unsettled by Morel’s relentless condemnation of him in the world press that he begged the owners of certain British tabloids to intercede on his behalf and see to it that Morel was “stopped” from defaming “his good name”.

Eventually the Aborigines’ Protection Society acted on the “disturbing news” brought back to them by the surviving members of the Congo missions. This Quaker- initiated Society was the first international human rights organization, founded in 1837 to protect the health and well-being as well as the sovereign, legal, and religious rights of indigenous peoples subjected by the colonial powers. By1832 Britain had formally abolished the slave trade and by the 1880’s there was a large population of Brits and Americans of both sexes firmly devoted to the eradication of any form of slavery around the world. The APS continued until 1909 when it became known as the AntiSlavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society. It is currently called Anti- Slavery International and can be accessed at

The APS sponsored the creation of written materials such as tracts, pamphlets, annual reports and a widely- respected journal entitled The Colonial Intelligencer. By 1889 ,the writer Henry Richard Fox-Bourne had been named editor of the Intelligencer and Chair of the Society. Bourne began collecting private testimonies about the atrocities committed in the Congo and in 1902 published his book, Civilization in Congoland: A Story of International Wrongdoing. The book was well accepted in literary circles around London and New York City and went on to further fuel the righteous indignation of more and more of the citizenry living on the Continent. Also in 1902 Joseph Conrad, a Polish-born novelist who had immigrated to England published a three part series called “Heart of Darkness” in Blackwood Magazine causing an uproar of criticism against Leopold’s brutal treatment of the Congolese villagers. In it, his hero arrives  in the Congo and observes the abject poverty and the inhuman conditions imposed on the tribes living along the river by the white colonialists  engaged in trade there. Soon after it was published as a novella and was read by thousands more in Europe and the United States.

In 1903 the British House of Commons passed a resolution in response to the recommendations of some very influential members of Parliament and at the behest of the Aborigines’ Protection Society to investigate the disturbing headlines pasted across the front pages of London newspapers and magazines at the time. The British consul at Boma, a Roger Casement, was assigned the task of investigating the charges of inhumane practices leveled against Leopold and his administrators. This was no easy task. Leopold had spies everywhere and in time all of the white traders in the area had to have been aware of why Casement was making regular visits to the surrounding villages. The Congo was full of natural dangers and the Belgians stationed around Casement had alreadydemonstrated that they were more than comfortable with causing mayhem and murder. Casement must have feared for his own life on many occasions. But in a heroic effort he pushed on and in 1904 submitted his final report which confirmed Morel’s accusations and further inflamed an already exasperated population  of sympathizers in the United States and Europe.

The entire summary was about forty pages long.  He added another twenty pages to the report filled with first-hand testimonials describing in great detail the murders, mutilations, kidnappings, and beatings of the villagers by the Force Publique in their attempt to enforce the policies established by Leopold and his colonial regulators. After the British Parliament received his original report a copy was sent to the Belgian Parliament and to the other 12 nations who were the original signatories at the Berlin Agreement of 1885. The British Parliament along with the United States of America demanded another meeting of the 14 signatory powers right away in order to review the original Berlin Agreement. When the report was made public, the Congo Reform Association headed by Morel and vigorously supported by Casement demanded that the Belgian government take legal action at once. The Belgian officials complied by forcing an outraged Leopold to establish a Belgian Committee of Inquiry. While the world waited this commission reviewed all of the evidence and ultimately agreed with Casement’s findings. In 1905 they ordered the immediate arrest and imprisonment of the colonial official who had been convicted of murdering hundreds of native workers during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903.

Despite the 1904 report and the subsequent investigation in 1905, Leopold retained official control of his Congo Free State for three more years. It took until November 15,1908 for the Parliament of Belgium to annex Leopold’s Congo Free State and assume legal responsibility for all administrative services. Leopold II, King of Belgium died in December of 1909. Several of his household staff testified that he refused to let go of the anger he felt at being made to “give away” his personal property and that he showed no remorse for his actions. Whatever the reason, the man  who had personally engineered the death of so many finally joined the ranks of his victims and by 1912 the members of the Congo Reform Association were able to disband once and for all.

In spite of or maybe because of his humanitarian efforts, Sir Roger Casement, who had been knighted by the King of England for his noble actions on behalf of the Congolese people, was hanged for sabotage and espionage against the Crown on August 3rd, 1916. It was proven  that the Irish Nationalist had met with German officials to elicit their support in a rebellion against the British government in order to free Ireland. The plot behind the revolution called the  Easter Rising was uncovered by British agents in Dublin and Casement was captured then quickly jailed.  He was subsequently tried and convicted of treason. And the British parliament who had so highly praised his actions in the service of humanity branded him a “dirty homosexual” and purposefully released his diaries. Today these are known as  the Black Diaries. Discrete entries from his diaries were released during the trial by British authorities who deliberately used them to seal his fate and ensure that he would receive the death penalty for his crimes. The mercy and respect for all human beings that Casement had worked so hard to establish during his lifetime was withheld from him by the very country he had once served so well.  And in the end Roger Casement, human rights activist,  hung from a rope on the gallows in Pentonville prison for intefering with the course of British rule while Leopold of Belgium, murderer of millions died  peacefully in his bed.

Kat Nickerson   Kingston    USA


Nodding Disease: One More Blow!

22 Apr

Just when it seemed like the families in northern Uganda could rest somewhat easier because their children were no longer being victimized by the combatants in a brutal civil war another serious danger has emerged to take its place. It’s called The Nodding Sickness by the villagers who named it based on the physical symptom of uncontrolled nodding displayed at the onset of this disease in both male and female children. The World Health Organization (2012) estimates that about 4,000 children have already been infected with this disease and that the infection rate among the children in northern Uganda and South Sudan is increasing rapidly.

The disease seems to only affect children and young people between 1 and 19 years of age, with the worst of the symptoms occurring between the ages of 3 and 11. This data had been already gathered by health workers in this region. It begins in children at about 4 or 5 years of age with the initial symptom described as staggered bouts of uncontrolled and constant nodding of the head; sometimes this action continues uninterrupted for several hours. At about eight or nine years of age more severe seizures commence. These fits begin to resemble epileptic seizures and can be triggered by a host of different things which can vary from child to child. In some children the seizures are brought on by subjecting them to different things such as new foods to eat or when the weather abruptly changes like right before an afternoon thunder storm. In some the seizures occur without any reasonable explanations at all.

As they age these children seem to fade away and are made physically and mentally weaker with every fit they must endure. Over time they become incapable of feeding or washing themselves and are more and more dependent on their families for support as if “they had become babies all over again”. Over time their unique personalities vanish and they take on zombie-like demeanors. Little by little they descend into their own painfully, private worlds, many simply lying down stretched across floor mats or upon the ground for hours, incapable of speaking or of communicating beyond simple grunts and moans. This progressive and debilitating disease leaves them talentless, with only the shells of their former bodies left to attest to their once vital lives. In the end it destroys any chance they once had of becoming productive members of their family, their village, their tribe,their country.

Many children have died from disease- related accidents such as infections from first degree burns as a result of falling into campfires and cooking fires or from trumatic brain injuries caused by blows to the head or fatal falls. As the disease progresses these children simply do not have the fine or gross muscle cordination to move themselves away from dangerous situations. Some children have wandered off alone into the bush and eventually died  from severe dehydration or starvation. Others have been eaten by wild animals expecially the ever-vigilant baboons while most villagers have heard the moving accounts reported on the local radio broadcasts about courageous village dogs who have gone out and found these children only to drag their limp bodies all the way back to their compounds in order to drop them at the entrance to their front doors. 

It has been named Nodding Disease by the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) located in Atlanta, Georgia. The organization was petitioned by both the governments of Uganda and South Sudan to come and help out in any way it could. It has already sent out several teams of researchers and physicians into the region between Northern Uganda and South Sudan to help find the cause and a possible cure for this disease. As of April 2012, no one knows just what is causing this disease, what medications are needed to cure it, what medications are needed to successfully treat it, or how to prevent infections in other children. The cause of this disease has been blamed on viruses, pesticides, fungi, vitamin deficiency, monkey meat, and parasites but none of these have been decisively proven to bring on the illness. Medical doctors in the area have currently started prescribing drugs used to control epilepsy to treat the illness with limited success; these medications only slow down the progression of the symptoms, they do not halt the natural course of the disease.

Right now the front-runners favored by the scientific investigators are:

1.)  Onchocerca volvulus, a  parasitic worm carried by the Black Fly and also known to cause Onchocercias, (Robles’ Disease) or what the locals refer to as “ River Blindness”. If left untreated the parasite can cause blindness in adults and children. The worm is commonly found throughout Northern Uganda and South Sudan and is commonly found in the bodies of adults and children in this area. World Health Organization officials say 93% of cases of The Nodding Disease are found in areas where this particular parasitic worm and the Black Fly are found. But the research teams have also discovered that children can be infected with Nodding Disease when there is no evidence of this parasite in their bodies or in their spinal and brain fluids. “A 2008 study found, for example, that out of 51 patients with head nodding (some with just nodding, others with more advanced seizures), 43 had traces of O. volvulvus in their bodies, but none of them had evidence of it in their spinal or brain fluid”.

2.)  A possible Vitamin B-6 deficiency, some people who have a genetic mutation within their bodies that reduces B-6 uptake have been known to suffer from severe epilepsy. Currently the teams have established that the children diagnosed with Nodding Disease that were used in their studies did not have the extremely low levels of Vitamin B-6 needed to cause such severe seizures. The CDC teams do intend to include B6 supplements and anti-seizure medications in their next set of research trials though.

The disease has also taken its toll on the adult members residing in the cities and villages. Many families have had to stop farming their fields at the edge of the compounds in order to provide constant care for their children. If they cannot farm they will in turn have very little to eat. Some families have been ostracized by other villagers who now fear the disease and the infected children especially now that the American doctors have said that they can do nothing to cure it. Other residents think that Nodding Sickness is the new “AIDS” and feel that maybe the disease came out of the Displacement Camps in which they were made to live during the civil war. By the year 2004, at the height of the civil war 90% of the population, nearly 2 million people in Northern Uganda were living in one of 180 different “Internal Displacement Camps”(IDC). Others think that the disease was caused by an evil spell cast upon the people of this area by a vengeful Kony because they “turned their backs on him”. Still others think that it might be a plague like Ebola but “a plague that’s just for children” and that maybe their children can catch it from the ones who have already gotten sick.

In a heroic effort the CDC researchers have publically stated that they intend to continue on with their investigative research until the cause and cure of this disease has been found especially now that the infection rate seems to be on the rise. They have also agreed to collaborate on “new and more successful courses of treatment” with health workers in clinics and hospitals around the area. The government of Uganda has promised to provide adequate quantities of anti-seizure medications and has pledged their continued support until the origin of this mysterious illness has been discovered.

Scared people become mean people and the transition takes place real fast. They hide their fear behind outbursts of righteous anger and look for something or more likely, someone to blame. Rather than bring the villagers together, this mysterious disease may be driving them further apart at a time when they desperately need to work as one in order to improve their lives, re-establish their tribal cultures, create a new sense of community beyond “the displacement camp mentality”, and design a meaningful course of action for the entire region no longer dominated by the dictates of well-meaning NGO’s and the orders of armed government troops. I will visit Gulu and Lira while in Uganda this June of 2012 and will be sure to keep you informed about this more recent crisis in the north.  

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI          USA

If you are interested in this topic read the most current report about the CDC in the latest issue of Science Magazine or watch this video.

Science13 April 2012:
Vol. 336 no. 6078 pp. 144-146
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6078.144

A Legacy of Pain: King Leopold II

15 Apr



 Ntaganda Update: President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has announced that General Bosco Ntaganda should be arrested and face a military tribunal in the DRCongo instead being made to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.  (Washington Post, 4/11/2012)

The term, “colonialism” means “domination of a superior power over a weaker one” and suitably describes the exploitation and indoctrination that occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1885 until World War II. Most of the civil wars that continue to plague East Africa as well the systemized rape of women, torture, and dismemberment regularly practiced by rebel militia groups and even the standing armies in the DR Congo today were initially introduced as effective domination strategies by the most powerful countries in Europe beginning in the late 1900’s as a way to “introduce and maintain order”.

It all began with the birth of “African Colonialism” at the Berlin Conference of 1885.  At this formal gathering, representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, as well the small country of Belgium sat down together to divide up and section off all of the land south of Sub-Saharan Africa except for the lands previously awarded to the countries of Ethiopia and Liberia. Belgium was a relatively new monarchy at the time having only just established its independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830. Great Britain and France clearly were in need of raw materials and trade alliances with which to support their countries’ growing domestic industries while Italy had joined together with Germany in 1871 forming an imposing alliance.

The “Congo Conference” was hosted by Germany and the resulting General Act of the Berlin Conference was established to regulate trade and settlement practices within the colonies. In order to do this a committee of European  leaders agreed to impose new borders onto existing tribal kingdoms – many times separating centuries- old ethnic groups in the process and distorting territorial boundaries that had previously served to divide feuding clans. Each country pledged to launch immediate settlement plans, man and staff their colonial governments, and headed out to take control of their new possessions; completing this task in 10 short years between 1880 and 1890. And as for the claims and the rights of the peoples and ethnic groups already living on these lands, you ask?  Well their rights and claims were never considered at all. The residents of these lands were deemed to be incapable of ruling themselves and so as part of the colonization agreement each nation pledged to “end the slave trade, bring God to the local residents, and establish order throughout the colonies” but it was clear as one Ugandan colleague so eloquently stated that their purpose in coming was “not to elevate but to dominate”.

And no one person managed to do so with as much cruelty or avarice as King Leopold II of Belgium. It is important that the reader understand that by the conclusion of the Berlin Conference Leopold had been granted exclusive rights to the region of the world now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo- not his country, his government, nor his people. The Congo Free State as he called it belonged to him and him alone. He set to work organizing his colony for one purpose only – to  increase his personal wealth. He hired the services of none other than Henry Morton Stanley of, “Dr. Livingston, I presume” to sign treaties with the kings of the most important tribes in the Congo in order to present undeniable evidence that they had accepted his sovereign authority over them and their people.

He then concentrated on building a private army that would enforce his rules throughout the Congo Free State which he named the Force Publique.  He presented commissions to a wide range veteran officers and mercenaries from around the world. His officers had to be white Europeans while his enlisted men, dressed in blue uniforms and red fezzes were selected from among other African tribal groups in North Congo, Zanzibar, and other countries around West Africa like Ghana and Cameroon. Leopold only hired seasoned military officers, who had actually fought in battle and he assembled a force of war- hardened troops accustomed to killing and punishing to accomplish their goals. The Force Publique resurrected a well- known set of military strategies based on the art of intimidation and subjugation. These procedures had been commonly used in European warfare when a smaller force sought to intimidate civilians living in the area into submission in order to eliminate the possibility of a whole -scale rebellion against them. The smaller force deliberately employed terrifying procedures and specific forms of psychological torture known to be so repugnant to their enemies that they would immediately “cease and desist” preventing any further threat of retaliation.

These soldiers were deliberately trained to carry out the most atrocious acts imaginable towards the Congolese people  in order to remove any semblance of self-efficacy or control and to destroy any confidence the villagers’ once had in their ability to strike back.  Lastly, the Force Publique used what was most valuable to their victims such as the threat of harm to wives and children to further control Leopold’s workers. These strategies had first been designed for use in European conflicts where troops had found themselves outnumbered in enemy territory but now they would be customized and reworked by the Force Public in order to allow them to effectively manage large groups of enslaved laborers.

“Colonial regulations” were applied with impunity against a people whom the soldiers had already determined were inferior and replaceable. Despite all of their advanced weaponry and superior military strength the Force Publique did not have the tactical advantage and they knew it. They were a small number of men residing in a foreign country surrounded by a superior force of combatants capable of waging war on them at any time. They had heard reports that some of the villages in the outer bush practiced  Cannibalism and that information further intiminated them. So they took the offense and systematically broke the “spirit of the people” around them in order to protect themselves from the threat of rebellion and to ensure that Leopold’s obsessive demands would be carried out to the letter.

Do these tactics sound familiar then? They should. These are the same techniques used by any number of rebel militia forces in the Ugandan Civil War, the First and Second Congo Wars, Darfur, and in the War for Independence in Rwanda.  Kony and his Lords Liberation Army did not create these methods but they certainly have applied them successfully.  All of East Africa has mastered subjugation procedures especially well and use them whenever they need to render a group of civilians submissive and compliant. Congolese warlords use them  as effectively today as the Force Publique did over a century ago.

Leopold’s first economic endeavor was the accumulation of ivory. His marksmen, in their quest for wealth, slaughtered thousands of male and female elephants just to hack off their tusks. The ivory itself would be eventually fashioned into jewelry and other decorative objects such as pipes, billiard balls, and piano keys. There are reports that his hunters trapped and slaughtered upwards of two hundred elephants at a time leaving their carcasses to swell and rot in the intense, tropical sun.  The train that Stanley had built had not been completed so Leopold needed a way to transport his ivory tusks to the coast. He began using local tribesmen as porters to hand-carry these tusks along dangerous pathways that had been cut through the thick rain forests in order to deliver them to his seaport where they would be loaded on ships and taken back to Belgium.  If a man became sick or overcome with exhaustion on the trip he would be left to die on the path while his friends were forced to move on without him. Leopold demanded that his ivory shipments be transported in the dry and wet seasons causing his porters to die from a host of life-threatening maladies such as mud slides, snake bites, malaria, blood infections, and wild animal attacks.

 At the dawn of the 20th century the vulcanization of rubber helped establish the bicycle and automobile industry. There was an immense need for raw rubber from which to make things such as tires, hot water bottles, and rain coats. Leopold intended to capitalize on his second opportunity to increase his wealth.

As enormous region of the Congo Free State was covered by a vast tropical rainforest that contained rubber trees. These trees could be harvested by laborers for the sap they contained.  Leopold found himself doubly blessed with an unlimited supply of raw rubber to export and an enormous work force  of tribesmen that could be used to collect the sap.  He ordered his native populations into the rain forests and if they objected he killed them and/or maimed their wives and children sometimes putting entire villages to the torch. Within a decade Leopold’s rubber extraction operation became a especially lucrative business so much so that the French in their colonies in the northwest Congo, the Portuguese in Angola, and the Germans in Cameroon developed similar rubber extraction enterprises based on Leopold’s use of enslaved labor.

Leopold was such a severe taskmaster that even his own troops were subject to stringent quota systems.  Each soldier was made to account for the use of every bullet fired by submitting one hand from the villager he had killed as proof. Many soldiers were unable to account for all of their spent bullets and so feared that their salaries would be docked for these omissions. They solved this problem by cutting off the hands of live villagers instead then turning those in to balance their accounts. Over time mutilations became the accepted mode of punishment for even minor infractions. Hands and feet were cut off in retribution for real as well as imagined offenses or because the workers had not met their rubber quotas for the month. One of the most painful photographs I have ever seen from that period was of a Congolese worker who sits looking down at five hands that have been laid out in front of him, one hand had been amputated from each one of his five daughters as punishment for not meeting his rubber quota.  

One of the reasons the Force Publique became so outrageous in the number of people it killed was the fact that it never lacked for more laborers; if one man died, another could replace him. It has been reported that when Leopold was finally made to sell the Congo Free State  to the Belgium government, a mere 10 years later between 10 and 13 million people were dead from murder, mutilation, starvation, exhaustion, or disease. 

The deliberate use of mutilation to subdue a larger group should also sound familiar. The use of torture, mutilation and rape  is currently being used by rebel armies, guerillas, and terrorists throughout East Africa. “There is nothing that crushes the human spirit so irrevocably as having to endure a piece of your body being hacked off,” stated one of my dear Ugandan friends. “I would like to see just how well Mandela (referring to Nelson Mandela) would have carried on after they hacked his nose and lips off! These are primal fears that overwhelm the simple people who have have been subjected to such atrocities. Things like that change you forever and you would do anything at all to stop it. Those soldiers know this and still they do it to innocent men, women, and children. Damn them! May they never be forgiven!”

And as one of my other sources confided, “What better way to crush a woman for good than to impregnate her with the enemy’s child?”

What should scare us even more is the reason these atrocities were committed in the first place. If I could get Kony to speak truthfully about why he harms the people of his Acholi villages, I am sure that he would not mention emotions such as hatred or revenge- he only ever acted out of fear. He struck first just as the Force Publique did a century ago.  He knows that he does not have a sufficient number of men to fend off an attack by all of the people living in an area at once so he prevents that from happening by systematically crushing them before the group realizes that it had the power to retaliate all along. But the subjugation techniques so well developed and applied  by the Force Publique never really went away.  They were perserved in detailed accounts passed down from grandfather to son to grandson around the village campfires in the evening. The horrendous tortures and brutal massacres of the Congolese people were never really forgotten and eventually were remembered best by the young men; the ones who most recently ressurected the violence and intimidation in order to wage their own unique brand of  civil war. 

I truly wish I could reassure you that once King Leopold II had been removed from power and the Belgium government took control conditions improved for the people of the Belgian Congo but that did not happen. Although the name of the colony changed- the lives of the people did not. But that explanation will have to wait until my next post

Kat Nickerson    Kingston       RI       USA

For those of you who would like to know more about this topic read  

King Leopold’s Ghost: a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa

By  Adam Hochschild, ©1998,  Pan MacMillian    ISBN – 0-330-49233-0


There Are No Good Guys Here: Bosco Ntaganda

8 Apr

When I told you in my previous post that Kony’s tactics although vicious were not unusual I meant it. On March 14, 2012 Thomas Lubangu Dyilo, leader of rebel militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots ( UPC) during the Second War in the Congo, was convicted by a three- judge panel at the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands for war crimes against children during the years 2002-2003. The charges levied against him were: 1.) abducting children against their will. 2.) enlisting children to serve as soldiers in a rebel militia. and  3.) requiring children to fight in combat. Lubangu was arrested and sent to the Hague in 2005 and if given 30 years, the maximimu sentence, could spend the rest of  his life behind bars. This is the first trial ever conducted by the ICC although it has served as an established court for ten years.

Reaction to his sentence the next day was subdued around his District of Ituri, located in the northeast section of the DRC especially among his Hema supporters. Most consider him a hero, who saved them from the wrath of the Lendu. The villagers did not believe that there would be a conviction, so are still trying to make sense of the news after hearing it on a local radio broadcast yesterday. Many residents insist that he will not spend time in jail adding that if he were sentenced to prison then other  militia leaders known for their abuse of children should be arrested and made to stand trial too.  Still others think that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over events in the DR Congo and should leave them alone. A few feel betrayed even angry about the verdict claiming – “He didn’t do anything worse than other rebel commanders had done.”  No riots or violent outbreaks have erupted around the district as of yet, but a general sense of uneasiness and caution permeates the local  markets and cafes.

And Lubangu was not the only one who had war-related warrants issued against him by the ICC. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are Lendu commanders who have been charged with crimes against children, mass murder, rape, and sexual enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the Hema population, pillaging, and destruction of property in the village of Bogoro, Ituri district in the eastern DRC from January to March 2003.  Katanga is the proclaimed leader of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo is the leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) at the time of the charges although as part of the peace agreement at the end of the Second Congo War both were integrated into the National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (NADRC) and held the rank  of general in this army until the time of their arrest.

 Katanga was arrested by DCR troops, surrendered to United Nations officials, then sent to the ICC in October of 2007. Ngudjolo was also surrendered by DRC officials and sent to the Hague a year later. In March 2008 the court decided to join the Katanga and the Ngudjolo Chui cases together because the two defendants would be prosecuted for the same crimes.

In 2008 the court accepted all but three of the charges against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui both Generals in the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC). They listed seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity. They found that there was insufficient evidence to try Katanga and Ngudjolo for inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and inhumane acts.

On March 25, 2012 Jerome Kakwavu, another militia leader was indicted by the DRC military court accused of raping two women, the youngest of whom was thirteen years old at the time.. From 1998 until 2006 during the Second Congo War Kakwavu led the rebel militia group known as the UDC/FAPC.  He was also absorbed into the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC)  at the end of this conflict and was serving as a general in this army at the time of his arrest. 

And now that leaves Bosco Ntaganda, an infamous figure in Central African politics who by all accounts is one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and as far as my sources can tell is undoubtedly the wealthiest. General Ntaganda was also indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for enlistment and use of child soldiers in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in north-eastern DR Congo but has not, as of yet, been arrested and turned over to the United Nations Authorities in Kinshasa like his former compatriots. President Kabila has made no move to arrest Ntaganda and although he has cooperated with ICC in the past by arresting and packing off Generals Lubanga, Ngudjolo, and Katanga everyone on the ground in the DRC  understands that Ntaganda may be too closely connected to the Rwandan government for President Kabila to detain him without jeopardizing his presidency or possibly causing a military coup in which Ntaganda will surely challenge him for the leadership of the DRC.

 In a most tactful response President Joseph Kabila alluded to this possibility during a news conference in October of 2011 when under criticism from several International Human Rights groups for not going after Ntaganda, he answerd, “peace outweighs all other considerations.”

In a state visit to the DRC last week, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didieu Reyenders warned President Kabila that his creditability was being called into question by members of the international community because of his failure to arrest General Ntaganda. This warning was particularly insensitive and outrageously hypocritical considering it came from a country that refused to censure its own king, Leopold for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Congolese people of the DRC when he personally owned this country in the late 1900’s.  

Bosco Ntaganda is a 39 year old Rwandan, who has alligned himself with the Hema in the East Congo conflicts.  He ia a Rwandan Tutsi, and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army who fought for the overthrow of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. He is something of a flamboyant character, always impeccably dressed, and known to enjoy the finer things in life such as haute cuisine eaten in the finest hotels. It is commonly known that he was first invited into the DR Congo to hunt down and kill the remaining Hutu who had fled into the DRC and taken refuge there after the Rwandan War ended. Eventually he joined the Union of Congolese patriots (UPC) –  Lubangu’s boys, and became its chief of military operations. It is common knowledge in Ituri that he distinguished himself by engaging in several massacres of Lendu civilians and by developing training programs for child recruits

He has very close ties to officials in the present Rwandan government and has continued to reside in Goma, near enough to the Rwandan border to cross whenever he chooses. He visits Rwanda  frequently and has been allowed to pass back and forth even though the United Nations Security Council declared him “a sanctioned individual” subject to a travel ban and to having all of his  assets frozen. Obviously this international censure has not affected his movements nor his wallet. 

By 2005 he had left the UPC and joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP)  where he served as its chief of staff. He  fought throughout the Second Congo War in this position. When the war ended in 2006 he was inducted into the DR Congolese army as a  general even though he was already wanted by the ICC. And now my story will morph into something more like a cheap “B” movie rather than a serious post about human rights violations

 About a year ago Ntaganda’s story became outrageously fantastical and would not have been believable except that the entire account was officially recorded in a report issued by a United Nations investigation team. A retired NBA basketball player, born in the DR Congo, persuaded an American oil executive and a few other investors to hand over 10 million dollars to gold traders in Kenya and DR Congo in order to purchase 4.5 tons of pure gold ingots that would be worth 30 million US dollars if sold on the world market. Several Americans representing the oil executive’s interests would eventually hand over 5 million dollars to two bogus gold traders in Nairobi who would then con them into leasing a jet in order to fly to Kinshasa where they would be forced to hand over another 3 million dollars US  to – wait for it- none other than General Bosco Ntaganda.

 And the story gets even better. As soon as the plane landed it was met by soldiers in the Congoloese Army who took the Americans’ passports and confiscated the plane. The Americans were brought to a hotel to meet Ntaganda where he told one of them to return to the plane and bring 3 million US dollars back with him. Once the money’s had been brought back and handed to Ntaganda it suddenly disappeared. Everyone in the airport was in on this scam except for one lowly customs agent who demanded that the passengers who had just disembarked from the plane  open up their luggage for inspection. Imagine his dismay when he caught sight of the remaining two million dollars in cash that had been left on the plane. For a man who will probably earn less than $300 US dollars for the entire year it must have been a incomprehensible sight.

The next day the Congolese government seized the plane, arrested all passengers and crew, and removed the two million dollars US.  Then in a dramatic about-face the Congolese government dropped all criminal charges against the Americans. When the United Nations team interviewed Ntaganda he informed them that he had been working with Kabila’s government all along to bring these criminals to justice and that he was the one who had uncovered this gold smuggling operation. He reminded them that he was only doing his civic duty to his country. When asked to produce the 3 million dollars US that he had requested be brought to him he handed over a large satchel with 3 million dollars of poorly counterfeited bills  inside.

Word on the streets of Kinshasa confirmed that Ntaganda was now the proud owner of 3 million dollars US and that he had masterminded the entire deal.  It was also common knowledge that he had been given the lion’s share of the other five million US dollars turned over to the bogus gold traders in Nairobi. Everyone was aware that Ntaganda was several million dollars richer in a country where anyone can have another person murdered for a five dollar bill. So now Ntaganda had a lot more money to add to his war funds. Everyone knows that no deals take place in the eastern Congo unless Ntaganda is given his fair share.

Will Ntaganda finance his own rebellion now or has he already made a deal with the Kabila government by funneling the two million US dollars their way to overlook the arrest warrants issued on him by the ICC? If you’re looking for good guys in this story, there aren’t any -accept for the customs agent- maybe. The opportunity to amass personal fortunes worth millions of dollars seems too overpowering a motive  for men to continue to act morally or decently especially in a country where the average person make less than $2.00 US a day.

I had started this post on Ntaganda on Monday of last week but by Thursday, April 6th there was more interesting news. For some reason Ntaganda left Kinshasa and headed back to Goma where he barricaded himself away in the ex-CNDP Head Quarters in Runyoni and Mushaki taking one month’s worth of pay destined for the FARDC regiment in Lubero with him.  

Then several commanders in the Congolese army (FRDC) defected and around 300 of his most loyal troops about 35% of the troops formerly militia under his CNDP command went with him taking their guns and ammunition with them.. They have regrouped in  Mushaki,  Runyoni, in the Virunga National Park, Bunagana/Rutshuru  near the Ugandan border; and Katale. They have set up roadblocks where they continue to extort money from vehicles using the local roads. Ntaganda has reason to be nervous especially after he heard that his former boss Thomas Lubanga had been convicted by the ICC on March 14.  It has been estimated that about 2,000 soldiers currently serving in the DAR Congo Army (FRDC) could follow him having already served under him in the powerful Rwandan –supported rebel militia named the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) during the Second War in the Congo. According to current reports, more CNDP rebels have left their current FRDC units.

More Congolese troops situated in the northeast might join him just because they have gone for months now without being paid fair wages by the Kabila government or because have been reassigned to new regiments without confirmation of their previous ranks. They know from word on the street that Ntaganda has a lot of money and they know from experience that he has the organizational skills to effectively lead them. Kabila’s government in a move to stop the rebel skirmishes in the northeast and end the conflict for good in 2009 integrated the former rebels into the main Congolese army including Ntaganda. Some say that this was a very foolish move on Kabila’s part that will eventually lead to Ntaganda taking control of the entire army then the government much like the dictator Idi Amin did in Uganda.

This situation will get very interesting in the next few weeks and may ultimately decide the fate of the Congolese people. Ntaganda must have heard something  that troubled him or he wouldn’t have left his current location in such a hurry and if he’s moving to an old militia headquarters he may be looking for a fight. Will Rwanda continue to stand by Ntaganda or will they silence him in order to avoid being exposed for their dealings in “conflict minerals”? If the International Criminal Court tries him, he might just tell all that he knows about the intrusive and corrupt business practices conducted by the other countries that border the Congo. I can see this ending one of four  ways: 1.) Ntaganda will make his move ( with the support of Rwanda) and stage a military coup in which Ituri and the rest of the Northeast region will secede from the DRC. 2.) Ntaganda will suddenly disappear because Rwanda will see to it that Ntaganda never makes it to The Hague to stand trial.  3.) Kabila will give in to the commanders’ demands and continue to protect Ntaganda from the ICC and the United Nations.  or 4.) The ICC will get its way because Kabila will follow through and Ntaganda will be removed from the Democractic Republic of the Congo once and for all. Whatever happens I have a feeling it will all end in one very dramatic conclusion!

A dear friend once compared the current situation in the northeast Congo, one of the most violent places on Earth right now, to the famous “bar” scene in the movie “Stars Wars™”.  He cautioned, “”You know that someone is about to  make a move  but you’re just not sure which killer will strike first.”       Heads-up Ntaganda!

Kat Nickerson   Kingston        RI     USA

 For those of you who want to read the entire story about the NBA basketball player and Congolese gold I have included the link.

Kony’s War: Part Three

1 Apr

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If you listen carefully to the barely audible voices engaged in nervous conversations throughout Limayi, Haut-U`ele district in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) these days, you are bound to hear the words, “les spiritueaux gris” whispered in the Congolese French spoken by the citizens of the DRC. “Ou sont les spiritueaux gris?” is a question bantered back and forth among villagers which roughly translated means, “Where are the grey spirits?” But there is far more to this question than the simplicity of the request implies. This is the special name given to the soldiers in Kony’s Lords Liberation Army. The villagers use this euphemism when referring to Kony and his troops rather than say his name or the name of his army out loud because they fear if they do, Kony will hear them even from afar and curse them causing their luck to “turn bad.” The people of the eastern Congo have been so traumatized by Kony’s relentless attacks and abductions that they have become obsessed with news of his whereabouts and rightly so. For several years once the heavy rains stopped and the land became somewhat passable Kony’s men have headed down from their larger camps in the Central African Republic ( CAR)  and Southern Sudan to the Haut-U`ele district to pillage and plunder the local villages for food, household goods, and clothing for their women and children. Then they abduct villagers as porters and young boys and girls as new recruits for their army. In December 2007 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) officially reported that the LRA had killed around 2,000 people and abducted another 2,600 more just in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC) alone.

The villagers in this area have aptly chosen the name grey “spirit” or “ghost” to refer to these rebels based on their ability to rise up out of the morning mist without any observable movement or sound. The threat of never knowing when or if they will come torments the villagers most of all. Men and women who  have managed to escape from the LRA remark on how the soldiers suddenly appeared out of nowhere and describe how quickly they were moved along sometimes only feet away from armed Congolese or UN troops stationed in the immediate area. The choice of the term “spirit” is also a subtle reference to Kony’s skills as a juju man or witch doctor and confirms their belief in the power of East African voodoo. Most of the villagers will proudly relay stories about how Kony cast spells on his men so that they cannot be killed by bullets and about how each soldier can make himself invisible at will.. He is still regarded as a man/god by many especially by those he has harmed or abducted even though they are no longer with him. As evidence of his power people smugly attest to the fact that in over twenty –five years Kony has avoided being captured and that in the past decade he, himself  has not been sighted, not once, even though he has been hunted by larger and better equipped troops. In their minds, how else could one man and his small army evade the clutches of such superior forces including those from the great United States of America?

And they have a point.  In January 2006 eight Guatemalan soldiers serving with the United Nations Mission in the Congo were ambushed and killed by LRA troops. In December 2008 The LRA was attacked by the united efforts of the Ugandan, Congolese, and Sudanese forces along with American advisors near their headquarters in  Garamba National Park an area of savannahs and dense tropical forests located near the Sudan border. It was called “Project Lightning Thunder”. The military strike was not a success and no senior officers were captured. The LRA troops immediately retaliated.  They divided into smaller groups then fled into the bush but remained in the area until Christmas Eve when the people of the surrounding villages came together for their annual Christmas Eve celebrations. Reports have confirmed that the LRA believed that the villagers had told the Ugandan troops about the location of their headquarters and wanted to punish the villagers for their actions and terrorize them into keeping quiet about the LRA’s movements in the area. Several LRA groups launched similar surprise attacks on different villages only this time instead of guns they used clubs, machetes, and mallets. They literally hacked people to death and others they burned to death locking them within churches, community centers, and their own homes. It was reported that 800 men and women died as a result of this atrocity and that another 60 children were abducted. The LRA returned again in December of 2009 and committed more brutal murders. This time 300 villagers were killed in these attacks. By December of 2010 the government took measures to protect the residents of the villages in Haut-U`ele district as Christmas approached. This time the LRA moved its assault to the CAR and four days before Christmas near the village of Mboroko they killed 2 people, injured 4 adults, and abducted 50 children. These attacks have come to be known as the “Christmas Massacres.”

Since 2008 there had been a unified effort among United Nations, Congolese, Ugandan, and American forces but this has not been an easy assignment to coordinate.  It is a not a simple “seek and destroy” mission. There are also political complexities that prevent the armies from pursuing Kony as persistently as they are prepared to do. These forces are dealing with a range of problems from their ability to instantaneously cross borders to the protocol required for notification of government officials.. These troops must move between three countries in order to catch the LRA but even though the three countries have been cooperative in the past they still require the troops to formally apply for permission to cross through different borders.

The tentative conditions imposed by the three countries are based on past relationships with one another and the country of Uganda. There is a history of distrust among each of these countries especially between the DRC and Uganda. Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and then again in 1998 in order to help themselves to the rich mineral resources there. Nearly six million people in the eastern region of the DRC were killed as a result of this conflict. In 2005 the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands ordered Uganda to compensate the DRC for human rights abuse and for plundering their natural resources. Although a sum of 10 million dollars was quoted by the international press Uganda has yet to hand over any money to the DRC. Many citizens of the Congo are wary of allowing Ugandan troops to settle in their country. They remember a time when Ugandan troops were not thought of as” good” guys but as marauders who killed anyone who opposed them. But most admit that in order to stop Kony the Ugandan troops are their best bet. And the Ugandan troops that have entered the Congo beginning in 2006 have performed their duties with honor and dignity this time around. This is a new, more professional army better equipped and far more organized than the Congolese army. But old memories die hard and in November 2011, the Ugandan troops were asked to leave the DRC by President Joseph Kabila although he subsequently allowed them to return.  

According to US Deputy Secretary for African Affairs Karl Wycoff, the United States has given more than 25 million dollars in logistical supplies and intelligence support to the Uganda army since 2008. The latest tactical supplies will come in the form of spy planes, US C-12 reconnaissance aircraft codenamed Tusker –Sand and high frequency radios. In February 2011 the Ugandan troops assigned to the DRC left their base of operations and returned to the capital city of Uganda, Kampala in order to assist with security during the general elections that were being held there.  They have since returned. Some of the United Nations troops left the DRC as well and were redeployed to the country of Somalia to deal with the excessive violence there caused by the massive drought and the killing of civilians by African Union troops.  But the effort to catch Kony and his army although weakened for a time has been renewed. In March 23, 2012 the African Union announced that it would send 5,000 soldiers to continue the hunt for Kony and his senior officers. This operation will be launched from South Sudan.

By all accounts Kony has a small core group of 100 committed soldiers left out of an army of about 300 but it is that small core group that he relies on the most because they are intensely loyal to him. We may object to his methods, abducting young boys into his army but many of these same boys chose to remain with him and have grown into remarkable guerilla strategists. His army has more than proven that it is superior in employing a diverse range of guerilla tactics so much so that as an entire group, it has avoided capture for many years. Although many of his major officers are dead he has managed to replace them and also leads a fairly large secondary force composed of wives, young children, and camp followers. There have been no mass surrenders among his troops after major battles. Kony has managed to build a highly organized army capable of dispersing and reorganizing while on the move. His bush soldiers have learned to migrate between three different borders, strike fast, and move through a region about the size of California. They have come to know every inch of this terrain intimately and can move purposefully under dire circumstances such as intense heat, the highest humidity, or torrential rain.

Kony’s methods may be vicious and atrocious but they are not exceptional. East African tribal systems are still very much intact although now they have access to twenty-first century technology and tools. Making war, abducting children, taking prisoners as slaves, the dismemberment of body parts, and mutilations are not new occurrences in the history of East or Central African tribes. What is new in the development of tribal warfare though, is the use of automatic weapons and a myriad of electronic devices that have allowed these tribes to war against each other much more effectively and to inflict a greater level of damage than ever before. Kony has added  his own version of emotional cruelty by waging a mental war of terror and submission on the common people living around him in order to steal their food and abduct their children.

During the course of his war Kony has lost many of his initial senior officers and chief advisors. It has been reported that Kony had Vincent Otti assassinated because he feared that Otti, a very popular LRA leader, who was helping to negotiate the Juba Peace Talks, would convince Kony’s soldiers to surrender. Rasha Lukwiya was killed by Ugandan troops in 2006. By 2009 it was reported by  Ugandan troops that one to two mid to senior level LRA commanders were being captured or killed each month. In January 2010 Bok Abudema, a senior commander was killed in a skirmish with local CAR troops.

Then in March of 2011 things dramatically changed- the LRA were on the offensive again. They intensified their attacks in the northeastern region of the Congo. It became evident that Kony had found a way to access large amounts of money once more and had purchased more technologically advanced weapons and supplies from international arms dealers.-the same ones who equipped the Congolese warlords and other rebel groups in the Congo. Abductees who had successfully escaped attested to the fact that his soldiers now carried recoilless rifles, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, VHF radios, and satellite phones. Kony had even purchased new uniforms for his troops which was a sign that Kony had more than an ample supply of funds. Had he found a way to tap into the minerals found in the eastern region and had he found buyers for these materials on the world market? The DRC has a wealth of minerals especially deposits of gold, diamonds, coltan, copper, cobalt, uranium, and tin. The fight for these valuable resources is now known as the “Congo Conflict”.   

During January and February of 2011 the LRA began robbing and killing merchants traveling from DRC to the CAR to sell their wares. Several skirmishes ensued with the Congolese army but only after many merchants had been robbed and killed by the lRA. In March 2011 the LRA attacked Congolese soldiers in Banda near the border of DRC and the CAR. Three Congolese soldiers and five LRA were killed during this battle.

Kony’s troops operate in some of the most difficult mountainous regions imaginable as they climb steep mountain passes and encounter few passable roads during their missions. They sleep and eat in the bush much the same way their Acholi ancestors did. They eat what they can find around them or on what they are able to steal from local villages and fields.. Despite their motivation and brutality Kony’s troops fight well and they fight with conviction.  They are a nimble, ruthless, an elusive bunch. No matter what his power over them he could not make them fight as intensely as they did unless they were personally committed to his cause. The reason these soldiers continue to fight is not known but it must be something intensely meaningful for them to risk life and limb and that of their families as they have done for so long. The Ugandan boys he took into the bush with him are now grown men who could have deserted long ago but enough of them stayed behind that it should make us wonder. Why do they continue on without any modern comforts or medical care? Is there nothing for them back in northern Uganda? Is there no longer any way to live the life of an Acholi warrior in Gulu and the surrounding districts? Understanding the reasons why these young men fight and proposing resolutions that they will accept is the real key to ending Kony’s Acholi war because if we don’t, it will only be a matter of time before another civil war in the north takes its place.

But wait! The ideology behind Kony’s war has changed dramatically in the past six years. He is no longer fighting for freedom for the Acholi people or for the birth of a new Uganda. His die-hard Ugandan soldiers do not seem to be as committed to this new and improved version of “Konyism” and have been defecting at a higher rate than ever before. He currently fills his army with young boys and girls from the DRC, the CAR, and Southern Sudan. What is it he preaches to them now or has he resorted to using the same psychological terror tactics on them that he continues to use on the villagers? What is it that he fights for now? This stopped being a Ugandan Civil War when he left in 2006- he has not attacked a Ugandan village since nor been sighted in the area. Somewhere in his move from Uganda into the DRC he stopped acting like a patriot and morphed into the terrorist many believed he had been all along.  

It is now March, 2012 and the dry season has commenced.  The LRA has consistently carried out strikes on the residents of Lamayi this time of year. The villagers are terrified that the LRA are on their way to the village. Many of the residents refuse to tend the fields located the furthest distance from the village because of this threat. This means that the villagers will have less food to eat during the rest of the year but no one cares about that problem at the moment. Five women and an elderly gentleman come together at the end of a narrow, dirt lane. The tallest of the sisters looks over her shoulder briefly then turns back to face her neighbors once again. Her movements cause the group to huddle closer together prompting the old man to ask in a hushed whisper, “Ou sont les spiritueaux gris?” 

Kat Nickerson,         Kingston,      RI         USA