Gulu. The music break of on FM radio. The background sounds of a flute. A young girl sings: "We the children have suffered too much. We sleep in the bushes; cold catch up with us. We walk on paths; landmines blast us. Our elders have wronged, but it's we the children suffering the consequences. Joseph Kony, come back home and reconcile with the people. Government officials, listen to our cries, we want peace and rest from war."
Perhaps a certain Abola, an IDP camp leader, had heard these words, and shivered at the thought of his 13-year-old abducted daughter, Akello, and Odongkara, his nine-year-old abducted son. These are just two of the 'scenes" that feature in In the Name of the Ten Commandments, by Patrick Oringa.
This short book is based on his four-year experience working with formerly abducted children in GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization), an indigenous NGO in Gulu district. Most of the information is firsthand from children and communities. Molly (not real name) was just 15 when the rebels took her as a fighter and a "sex slave". "After one month in the bush," she says, "you feel like killing because the rebels will have made you kill, especially the children who tried to escape but were caught."
In simple, brutal language she describes her ordeal: "I was ordered to get out of the house and I did. I was told to join the long line of captives and I did. I was forced to kill a child who tried to escape and I did. I was ordered to cut the neck and carry the head while looking into the face and I did. I was ordered to smear my face with the blood of the slain child and I did. I was then beaten 250 strokes as punishment for refusing to become a wife to a rebel commander. I was left with nothing to think for myself. The only option was to give in for everything."
This was a war of particular savagery. The LRA focused its military effort on soft, civilian targets - and still does. They rape and loot; they burn down houses and indulge in wanton, gratuitous acts of cruelty before they kill their victims, often with their families looking on. Are these soldiers, rapists, looters and murderers? They are children, almost all, the author reminds us. Ten, eleven, twelve and fifteen years old, barely taller than the automatic weapons they haul along.
The LRA has systematically undermined trust in the original society to which the children belong. Together with the gradual binding of the children to evil, and with death threats, rituals and reward, they have been taken into the LRA system and mindset; their young minds bent and warped to serve a diabolical ideology. What values can they hope to transmit to their offspring?
A moving account, enriched by drawings the children made, terrifying in their candour.
Book: In the Name of the Ten Commandments
Author: Patrick Oringa
Volume: 84 pages
Cost: Shs 3,000
Available from St Paul's Bookshop