My name is Dembe. I live in Uganda.
When I was fifteen years old, rebels in the Lord’s Resistance Army came to our village. I ran away and hid, but they followed me. When I crouched under bushes, they found me. One twisted my arm behind my back until I screamed. Then he made me take off my shirt and beat my chest and back with the butt end of his gun until I could hardly breathe.
We went to a building where there were other boys, some as young as eight. All of us were bruised and bleeding, and some could no longer stand. Several died that night, probably from internal injuries. I heard them moan, but couldn’t do anything to help for fear of more beatings.
We were tied together with thick rope and had to march for several days to a rebel base camp. Some of the younger ones died along the way. If a child fell behind or tried to escape, a rebel officer commanded one of us to kill that child under threat of losing our own life.
This happened to me. One night when the ropes were untied a boy tried to sneak away, but was caught. The rebels tied his hands so he couldn’t defend himself. I was forced at gunpoint to beat him with clubs – over and over and over. Once he was dead they made me spread his blood all over my arms. The rebels told me this way I wouldn’t be afraid of death.
I was given a gun and taught how to use it against the Uganda army soldiers, or anyone else who fought against us. Soon after I was fighting for my life on the front line.
The rebels tried to destroy my conscience. There was so much violence and blood around me every day. I saw people mutilated with big knives (pangas, those big curved knives that are used to clear brush). I never cried, for those who cried only died.
They also taught me to violate humanity in every way; to see life as cheap. I often woke in the midst of sleep because of nightmarish dreams. I never cried out because if I did, I could be tortured.
Once for almost a solid day and night we fought a brigade of soldiers. We’d been untied in order to move around and fight guerilla-style. All during the night, shells flew all around me. I was shot in the leg. It was terrifying.
In a moment of panic, I plunged into the bush. Then I ran and ran through the darkness, limping because of my wound while running for my life. I thought it was worth the chance. I would rather die than live that way.
I made it to a village, but some of the people there were afraid to help me – they thought the rebels might come after them if they got involved. Eventually I was taken to a camp for children abducted by the LRA. My leg wound was treated and I stayed there for several days.
Word got back to my parents that I was still alive. In several months we were together again. I was relieved rebels had not abducted my two younger brothers. At dusk everyday, I began joining everyone in our village to sleep on the mezzanine floor of the hospital – the only place safe from rebel attack and abduction. Everyone lay down in long lines until the concrete floor was completely covered with bodies, head-to-toe. Some of us had mats or blankets; others had nothing. In the morning everyone got up and left for the day, but returned again every night.
LRA rebels were driven out of Uganda several years ago, but they’ve invaded Congo, where boys and girls are still being abducted. I hope for the overthrow of Joseph Kony and all his LRA forces, and for an end to terrorism that manipulates innocent children. I long for justice and peace in Africa.
I’m married now, and I have a baby daughter. I work hard on a farm. But I cannot forget. I want to, but the memories won’t go away. I feel stained inside. I don’t know what to do. Only one other person who was abducted with me survived and returned. He and I talk sometimes; it helps to know we share the same pain. Please pray for me to be healed.
Author’s note: Dembe is a fictional character whose profile reflects that typical of children abducted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). This rebel group is headed by a man named Joseph Kony who claims to be led by the Holy Spirit to commit heinous acts of murder and plunder. Kony’s officers are served by abducted children slaves; his troops are comprised of abducted children fighters. The LRA killed and maimed thousands of people (and drove about two million into protected camps) in northern Uganda until the rebels were finally driven out in 2005. In June of 2008, Congo and Sudan military forces agreed to coordinate in order to squelch the 20-year-old LRA rebellion once and for all. However, there continues to be some doubt that these armies can overcome Kony’s guerillas. Currently the LRA continues to raid Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic from bases in Congo’s Garamba national park. As late as December and January of 2009 the LRA butchered, bludgeoned, and burned their way across northeastern Congo killing more than 900 people – many of whom were hacked to death with machetes or beaten with clubs.
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