KAMPALA, Uganda — Jenifer Atim refused to watch “Kony 2012.” She could not watch a film about what she already knows, rather, experienced.
At 19, Atim is already a mother of four. Rebels belonging to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fathered her children while she was in captivity.
When she was abducted from her village of Lakwana in Omoro County, northern Uganda, with eight other girls, 12 boys and six adult men, she witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of the rebels. She was 9 years old. The rebels were just as old as she was — very young. But they were armed and brutal.
She recalls how they chopped her mother into pieces and ordered her to pack the dismembered body into a sisal sack. That was in 2003.
“I was handed over to an old man for a wife. He was a big man in the rebel camp. The day I was handed over to him, he raped me that night and I bled for nearly a month,” she said. “Other rebels laughed at me, saying I was just a foolish girl. There were other young girls we found in the camp who were also wives of
All the abducted girls are sex slaves; some have children fathered by Kony himself. And few, like Atim, managed to escape and return home. Several have lost their lives in the attempt.
Atim's story is one shared by many children born and raised in northern Uganda in the past three decades. Scars of conflict are written on their faces, and sorrow is felt as she narrates her life story. She hopes it was well represented in the Kony 2012 film.
Ironically, the name Kony means “help” in his native Acholi language, the largest ethnic group in Northern Uganda. But, the mention of “Kony” sends quivers down the spine of people like Atim who have witnessed his brutality.
Kony's shadow reached the world, thanks to the Invisible Children's Kony 2012 video. Now, the world knows what Ugandans have been “accustomed to” for the last 26 years since LRA started its insurgency.
In recent years, people in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic have shared this gruesome nightmare, even when Kony was running away from the Ugandan army after his defeat. He has left behind a trail of death, rape, kidnap, kids turned into terror machines and property looted.
For all his heinous crimes with his bundle of little soldiers, Kony — who was born in 1962, the same year Uganda got its independence from the British — has been the most hated Ugandan alive, even before the film that has turned him into a global icon was made.
In a local daily newspaper, The New Vision, the man who was indicted by the International Court of Justice in 2006 has been the undisputed Most Hated person of the year, voted every year by Ugandans in an opinion poll that comes out at the beginning of the year.
It is this brutality that years ago caught the attention of a few good men of different walks of life — Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children, the charity that made Kony 2012.
They had one thing in common: They had encountered the story of
U.S., Oklahoma ties
Colonel Felix Kulaigye, spokesman for Ugandan People's Defence Force, says, the effort of senators like Inhofe has helped galvanize the regional work of organizations such as the African Union and now aims to deal with Kony as a continental problem. In fact, the African Union recently cleared 5,000 troops to pursue the rebels wherever they are hiding.
Kulaigye added that the 100 military advisers sent by U.S. President Barack Obama have been of logistical help and handy in
The Ugandan army has also killed or captured several commanders, and rescued over 800 children, Kulaigye said.
Norbert Mao, one of the most outstanding political leaders from Acholi, now the president of the Democratic Party in Uganda, said he has met Inhofe on three occasions and has seen the works of Invisible Children charity on the ground.
Mao, who until last year was the chairman of Gulu district, the area most tormented by Kony's LRA, says Inhofe is “a compassionate man” who was already pushing the government of President George W. Bush to appoint a U.S. envoy to address the atrocities of warlords in Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bush indeed appointed a special envoy, Tim Shortley, to spearhead the peace process.
Despite the backlash of Kony 2012 failing to bring out the two sides of the problem, Mao said Inhofe identified long ago that the Kony problem was not a Ugandan problem alone.
“His approach was regional, involving both Sudan and DR Congo, the escape routes of the warlord,” Mao said.
But it was the passing of the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act that made a difference to win official U.S. backing. And it is paying dividends, Kulaigye said.
Ugandans, however, want Kony arrested, not killed.
“I prefer Kony taken alive rather than dead, lest we succeed in dancing on his grave but fail to learn anything useful,” said Charles Mulekwa, a local Kampala citizen.
“It is Jenifer Atim's prayer, too — to see Kony and his men face trial for ruining her life.”