These are profiles of African Upstanders who have made or are working to make a difference in their own countries. The stories come from “The Enough Moment,” and the “I Am Congo” series, and we will be adding additional stories over time.
It was at that point in time that Bigombe decided, “‘No, it can’t go on anymore. I can’t stay here anymore . . . . People are dying. Children are not going to school.’ So I decided to go right back and take it on.”
Bigombe worked tirelessly for the next eighteen months as the chief mediator between the government of Uganda and the LRA, this time as an impartial broker rather than a government minister, a post she had held twenty years before during her ﬁrst efforts at bringing an end to the LRA insurgency. She arranged the ﬁrst ever face-to-face meeting between the Ugandan government and LRA. She then helped create a multipronged peace effort that included traditional leaders, women, youth, and the international community in a dramatic push to end the twenty-year-old war. This initiative helped lay the foundation for the peace talks between the government and the LRA held in Juba, southern Sudan, that resulted in a ﬁnal proposed deal that LRA leader Joseph Kony ultimately decided not to sign. Although no peace was forged, the international community united around the understanding that military operations would have to be undertaken to stop the LRA, since Kony clearly had no interest in peace.
Bigombe has the true craft of a peacemaker, trying to walk in each side’s shoes and base negotiations on this thorough, deeper understanding. She continues to work on issues of mediation, peace building, transitional justice, and the empowerment of youth in northern Uganda, and she has provided support to the Juba peace talks. In addition, she works with international donors and local NGOs to equip the people of northern Uganda with tools for achieving sustainable peace.
When war broke out in eastern Congo in 1996, fueled by the inﬂux of ﬁghters who had crossed into Congo after carrying out the Rwandan genocide, Chouchou Namegabe was a journalist-in-training at Radio Maendeleo, a popular local community radio station in South Kivu. As violence engulfed her hometown and horriﬁc accounts of sexual violence – shared in hushed tones – became more and more frequent, Chouchou found that her microphone and skills as a fearless journalist gave her the unique ability to speak out for women silenced by the unspeakable crimes committed against them.
Chouchou earned a reputation as a journalist with expertise in women, health, and human rights, and she was offered a full-time reporting position at Radio Maendeleo in 2002. A year later, she founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists, known by its French acronym AFEM. The same conviction that had led her to radio broadcasting – that the airwaves are the most effective way to reach the masses in Congo – also provided a compelling reason for her to do outreach through the radio to women affected by sexual violence. Her words could reach them in their homes where they coped with the vivid memories and often physical scars of the violence they had endured.
Chouchou’s broadcasts have spotlighted sexual violence in Congo and empowered women to share their stories, breaking the curtain of silence that cultural norms and the interests of the perpetrators have imposed over the gruesome practice.
To further spread the message to Congolese women that “you are not alone,” AFEM now distributes handheld radios in rural areas so that women can tune in to the programs and catch news updates, connecting Congolese women to the world beyond their remote villages.
Chouchou attributes the shocking prevalence of sexual violence in Congo to the ﬁght by rebel groups and the Congolese army to exploit Congo’s mineral riches. “The rebels want to control the mines deﬁnitively,” Chouchou explains. “Why do they ﬁght on women’s bodies? Because they know that women are the heart of the community. Through these women they send a message, a strong message: Leave!” A million people in eastern Congo are currently displaced from their homes, many of whom now live in barebones camps where they are dependent on international aid to meet their basic needs.
Beyond giving voice to survivors of sexual violence, AFEM works to cultivate an active network of women journalists in Congo with the goal of increasing women’s representation in the media and mentoring female journalists who will then be able to draw attention to issues important to women through their reporting. AFEM pairs this work with outreach to men in the same communities, raising awareness about sexual violence and combating the societal belief that a woman who has been raped is somehow culpable. AFEM counters society’s damaging viewpoint about sexual violence by encouraging men to take a ﬁrm stance against the abuse of women in their communities and to provide support to women in their families who fall victim to sexual violence. AFEM’s outreach to men also focuses on challenging gender roles in Congo, emphasizing that empowering women does not destroy the household.
“I always say that change will come from women,” Chou- chou asserts. “When Congolese women have the power to make decisions in our country, we’ll see the Congo change.”
Certainly, powerful forces in Congo have an interest in silencing Chouchou and the women with whom she works. When we met with Chouchou in Congo in mid-2009, she reported that two journalists had recently been shot and that nearly all journalists who seek to expose the crime of sexual violence live with harassment and the fear that they might be abducted. Chouchou frequently receives threats from people who say they will come for her in the night, but she feels the work is too important for her to be deterred.
“What if it were me? That is a question I ask myself sometimes,” Chouchou said. “What if it were me?”
Tutu joined the Anglican priesthood in 1960. Congregations at this time were mostly white, but he was determined to speak out against the injustices faced by black Africans. Tutu became increasingly outspoken about apartheid while simultaneously pleading for reconciliation. After the end of apartheid, Tutu went on to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “The Arch,” as his friends affectionately call him, has continued to speak out forcefully against injustice throughout the world and to work for peace both as an individual and as a member of The Elders. His voice is a beacon of truth that lights a path for those working for human rights in zones of conﬂict and dictatorship around the world.
When Charles Taylor launched his assault on Liberia in 1991, Johnson Sirleaf initially supported him, a decision that would prove controversial. But she went on to oppose Taylor, and she later contested the 1997 elections, coming in second. Once he became president, Taylor charged her with treason, forcing her once again into exile. As one supporter put it to the BBC, “It would have been much easier for her to quit politics and sit at home like others have done, but she has never given up.”2
Following her own election, she pledged to bring the “motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency” needed to heal the problems that plague Liberia after years of violence and warfare.3 She has continued to ﬁght graft by ﬁring corrupt ofﬁcials and demanding transparency in contracts, and she has appointed experienced women to run the ministries of ﬁnance, justice, and commerce.
Francine (not her real name) is a beautiful young lady, with a soft-spoken voice and a shy smile, and she is from the Walungu territory in eastern Congo. When we ﬁrst met her, the only indication that something might be wrong was her noticeable limp as she walked up the stairs. She was wearing a bright colored scarf, and a yellow band in her hair.
Francine began her story by saying, “Sometimes when I think of these things, it makes me sad in my heart.” One night in 2005, Francine’s husband went to bed while she stayed up to bathe her sick baby girl – the youngest of four – when she heard a knock on the door.
She told her husband to answer the door, saying, “Your friends are here to see you.” He was tired so he told her to tell them to come back tomorrow. Without thinking, she opened the door to tell the friends to return the next day. Instead of familiar faces, there were numerous men outside. Francine screamed and tried to close the door, but she was holding the baby, and they easily forced the door open. Eight men entered with blinding ﬂashlights, and they asked where her husband was. She claimed he was traveling, but they quickly found him under the bed. They lined them up against the wall and had them remove their clothes. Then they asked her husband why he married her, and he said because he loved her. They then asked Francine why she married him, and she also said because she loved him. The invaders told the two of them to look at each other, and they said this is the last time you will ever consider her your wife because she will now become our wife. Francine’s husband begged for mercy and asked what they could give as an offering or bribe. The men said, “Give us two picks, a radio, and clothes,” and then they went through the house looting, ultimately demanding a further $100.
“We don’t have $100, only $5,” Francine told them. They told her it was not enough and asked her to lay down. She refused and her husband said he wouldn’t abandon her even if she were raped. But one of the men forced her down and raped her.
The men were speaking Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, and they took turns. Her husband protested, and they shot him, the blood spurting on her and the rapist. She cried out and they told her to be quiet. She kept crying so they shot her through both legs, multiple times.
At some point the attackers left and the children came out of hiding to get help from their neighbors, who brought Francine to a local hospital. She was later transported to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. When she ﬁnally regained consciousness, she learned that one of her legs had to be amputated and that due to the trauma to her uterus, the doctor had to abort an early-term pregnancy of which she had been unaware. Her husband had not survived. Worse still, she didn’t know where her children were. The nurse took the names, and word was put out on the radio. They found the children being protected by a Congolese priest.
When she ﬁnally left the hospital with her children, she didn’t know where to go. Panzi Hospital staff gave her money to get an apartment. The family faced difﬁcult circumstances, and they just had enough money for the house. She became a street beggar, and her children became street beggars. (She wept at this point but insisted she could go on.) It was very hard for her, and she wondered how her children would survive. She only had one leg, and she didn’t know what would happen. She started begging on the corner. She couldn’t believe that she would have to sit on the side of the road and ask people she didn’t know for help. Eventually they were kicked out of their apartment and had no money.
They went to a bad neighborhood to try to see if there was anywhere they could live. A woman had mercy on her and let the family sleep on her living room ﬂoor at night. Francine’s children were selling water. A staff person from the international organization Women for Women would regularly pass her on the road and give her small things. The staff person told her about Women for Women, and she made an appointment.
Francine enrolled, started training, and got sponsored with $20. She didn’t know what to do with the money. “Should I rent an apartment, buy clothes, food?” In Panzi, she learned small things there, like how to make dolls and puppets. So she made eight puppets with the $20. A man she met took two of the puppets to his boss, and he bought them for $40. She rented a house, and she invested the rest of the money in more material, with which Francine made more puppets. She received training from Women for Women in culinary arts and how a woman can survive and transform her life, as well as in running a small business. She learned how to budget.
Francine now makes puppets and cooks pastries. Now she has money, and she is looking for a place to live that is more permanent. She makes forty puppets per month, and the pastries sell quickly. Her children are going to school. She goes around and sells the puppets.
When asked about her dreams for her family, Francine replied, “My hope is that God will provide assistance in helping me be strong and sending me people to buy my goods so I’ll be able to send my four daughters to school and that they will be able to take care of me when I get old. And I also dream of my own house because they are always changing the rent.”
When asked about her dream for her country, she said, “We need a good president. The government is not good; Congo hasn’t changed. My dream is to ﬁnd the right leader to bring change to Congo. President Obama should talk to President Kabila and ask him to change his mind so that killing and raping will end. I want the opportunity to meet Kabila and tell him my story if it can help. I’m a widow, and I don’t have a leg, which is only because of war. We need peace, and to stop shooting and stop raping. Please talk to Kabila and to America, and tell them there are so many children living in the streets. Tell them we need peace.”
In 1994, the secretary general of the United Nations asked Machel to undertake a study of the impact of armed conﬂict on children. The Machel Report, released in 1996, concluded that the inability to defend children’s rights “represents a fundamental crisis of our civilization.” Her report proposed practical ways to stem the involvement of children in armed conﬂict. Machal is also a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders that includes her husband Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Irish president Mary Robinson, former UN Secretary General Koﬁ Annan, and Jimmy Carter. In this role, she has been involved in a number of peacemaking efforts around the world, including those in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Burma. Her latest initiative is to sponsor the education of underprivileged women in South Africa with a scholarship program. Humble as ever, she has said, “Of course, what I’m doing is only a drop in the ocean, but I feel I have to do something.”
Honorata (her real name, which she insists on using because she wants her story told) looks at us with faraway eyes, and a hard smile. She has a very expressive face and wears a beautiful leopard-print dress. She is a ﬁfty-seven-year-old woman from Shabunda province who is married with seven children. Honorata was a teacher who was paid so little that she would go to the mines in Shabunda to sell salt on the weekends to make extra money. On one fateful day in 2001, she reached the mine at around 4 p.m. There was a Rwandan FDLR militia unit there looting and shooting. The soldiers abducted her and other women and took them into the forest and made them wander for hours. The soldiers wanted the women to be confused as to where they were so they wouldn’t try to escape. The women were eventually taken to an FDLR camp in the forest. The FDLR soldiers in the camp said, “We are happy, the food has arrived.”
The food they were referring to was the women.
The soldiers said they would kiss and hug, but for them they really meant that they were going to beat the women. They beat Honorata, knocking her bottom front teeth out. After this, four men spread her out, holding her arms and legs down while a ﬁfth man raped her. When he was done, he took a gun and put material on the barrel, putting it in her vagina to “clean” it. This process was repeated by the other four soldiers as well. One of the soldiers noticed her wedding ring and cut it off, damaging her ﬁnger. He said, “Now you are not married, you are the wife of everyone, you are the food of everyone.”
She was held captive from October 2001 until January 2003 when she escaped. During captivity, Honorata and the other women would go to a new location every three months to meet new FDLR soldiers. She was raped the same way in each of these locations. She could not count the total number.
She got so angry – she was a wife, a teacher, and now she was “food.”
She felt that she could not do anything because they had guns and could do anything they wanted. Some FDLR groups were ﬁghting each other over mines, which is why Honorata and the other women moved around so much. One day during heavy ﬁghting, they decided to escape. There were women held captive for sexual slavery, but there were also men who were captured to cut ﬁrewood and perform other chores. They all ﬂed, but villagers were afraid to help them because they feared reprisals from the FDLR.
A male nurse decided to protect them. He had a small residence in the forest with a farm. He hid the twenty escapees, mostly women. During the time Honorata spent in the forest, they learned the passwords that allowed people to go safely from one area to another. If they didn’t know the passwords, they were killed. The nurse always had them go with people who knew the passwords. Sometimes they had to wait a week until they could move safely. They walked 350 kilometers in the forest to get to Bukavu, battling heat, rain, and wind. When Honorata reached Bukavu, her family refused to welcome her, rejecting her because she had had sex “with those who cannot be called human.”
Fortunately, she met a sailor who had a house in Bukavu but was traveling. She and four other women were able to stay in the house, another in a long list of kindnesses from strangers that helped keep Honorata going. In order to survive, Honorata would serve as a porter for merchants. Two of the other four women were pregnant so she had to assist them. She continued on this way until June 2004. Rwandan soldiers came to the house and broke the door in. Two of the soldiers stayed outside and ﬁve entered the house. They asked the women where their husbands were. Though the women said they had no husbands, the soldiers accused them of being the wives of mai-mai militias. They told the women that they would have many husbands. They had to take their clothes off and lay down. They said there are no old women in Congo. All seven men raped all ﬁve women. Honorata didn’t know how they had the stamina for that. She and the other women begged them not to rape the two small women who were pregnant, but they were ignored. As a result, one of the two ladies aborted her baby and the other had surgery after the rape. Because of the rape, her baby died.
Honorata spent two weeks bleeding after the rapes. A nun took her to a health center to be treated, and then she was transferred to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. She had ﬁve infectious diseases and spent three months in treatment. After her treatment, Honorata was enrolled in a small crafts course. She was physically present, but was not really there. She was utterly traumatized.
When the owner of the house returned, he kicked them out saying they brought bad luck. But Honorata had taught a man back in Shabunda who had a brother in Bukavu who gave her a room. With her ﬁrst money of sponsorship through the American nonproﬁt organization Women for Women, she started selling bananas and avocados. Her life began changing. Her son went to school as a result of the money she made, while her other children remained in Shabunda with their father.
Honorata began teaching other women in the program. She taught twenty-six topics for an entire year, two classes per month. She taught health, rights, education, and nutrition, and many others. Her son entered university and was studying agronomics and environmental science. She never returned to Shabunda, as she was too traumatized to cross the forest after what she had experienced. “They are still in the forest,” she whispered, referring to the FDLR militia.
Honorata has never spoken to her husband since the ﬁrst attack. If she went back, she is sure she would be rejected. Her husband never asked if she was alive. Now a telephone service has been connected to Shabunda, so she is going to try to talk to him. She doesn’t think that he is remarried. She is very excited by the prospect of speaking with her children. Two of her children are now in Bukavu. When she is in Bukavu, Honorata lives with her children. Otherwise, she lives in Fizi territory, working as a teacher and counselor in the Women for Women ofﬁce there. She believes she should help other survivors because they experienced the same problems as she did and she can use the training that changed her life to change others’ lives. She wants their lives to change as hers did.
When asked what gives her hope, she replied, “The work I do gives me hope, and the exchange of ideas with women gives me hope.” When asked about her dreams for Congo, she demanded, “Rape should end in Congo. It is a big disease that is devastating Congo, a calamity. I dream of peace and the development of Congo.”
Immaculée Birhaheka is a pioneering voice for women’s rights in the Congo. For many years, Immaculée has shown remarkable courage in her efforts to challenge authorities and expose human rights abuses, particularly wartime rape. She began advocating for women’s rights two decades ago, a nascent concept at the time. In 1992 she founded the organization PAIF, which stands for “promotion and support of women’s initiatives,” in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.
In the early 1990s, Immaculée became acutely aware that the perspective of women was completely absent in both the public square and in family matters. Girls were not being raised to dream big and excel. Instead, they were being raised to eventually return to the kitchen to care for the husband. Through PAIF, Immaculée organized women to start advocating for political space for women in the public sphere. They focused on educating women about the law and enabling them to confront political authorities and discuss issues. They also began sensitizing the authorities about international law and human rights. It wasn’t long before Immaculée started to see positive results from her work empowering women. After canvassing many women, Immaculée learned that the main problems women faced at the time had more to do with social rights than political rights. In particular, they complained of limited to nonexistent access to water in Goma, which meant that girls had to venture out to the lake to get water. So PAIF set out to educate and organize local women on the issue. They met with the governor, the companies that provided the utilities, as well as international NGOs, and eventually they succeeded in getting water pipes installed and local markets built for women.
Despite the increasingly insecure environment in which Immaculée was working, she continued to ﬁght relentlessly for women. Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Goma endured two violent armed invasions and became inundated with waves of displaced civilians who had been forced to ﬂee their homes. It was around this time that Immaculée started to realize just how many women had been raped in the crossﬁre of the conﬂict. And then, through the course of her work, she met a family in which the grandmother, mother, and daughter had all been raped, independently, on three separate occasions. It was this family’s story, which she still remembers to this day, that drove Immaculée to start focusing her efforts on rehabilitating rape survivors and publicly denouncing rape as a weapon of war.
Because of her outspokenness, Immaculée continues to receive death threats and has been arrested numerous times. Yet despite the risks, she is tireless in her efforts – she has held peace rallies, she has met with Congolese authorities, and she has consulted with international NGOs. She has even taken her cause to the African Union to denounce the epidemic of sexual violence. Believing that the Congolese authorities must act where the international court does not, Immaculée led a successful campaign to secure passage by the parliament of a stringent law on rape in 2006. This law not only speciﬁcally criminalized, for the ﬁrst time, acts of sexual violence, such as sexual mutilation and slavery, and introduced stiff penalties for these crimes, it also demarcated the rights of the victim. Finally, the law began to recognize that rape is a crime and that survivors are not themselves criminals or condemnable.
More recently, PAIF built a safe house for women in Goma, which provides programs speciﬁcally for severely traumatized women, many of whom have been rejected by their families, to help them get medical and psychosocial support. At the center, women also learn how to build new livelihoods, whether through sewing, cooking, or selling other goods, and they receive microcredit to help them get started.
Despite the challenges and risks that she faces on a daily basis, Immaculée still has hope for her country and its women. It’s this hope that drives her to keep pushing for peace and the empowerment of Congolese women. Even more importantly, the thousands of women who dream for a better future for themselves and their children, and whose lives she has touched, ﬁnd hope in Immaculée.
If you meet Jacob today, he seems like the most jovial, hopeful person in northern Uganda. He greets you with a wide smile, introduces you to his family of ﬁve, and tells you about how a community farming group that he manages expanded to farm thirty new acres this year. Excited about his successes, he even offers to take you to the farm on the new bicycle he just bought with his portion of the proceeds from the project. And yet behind this façade lies a deeper story that makes you wonder how anyone could live through such an experience, let alone ﬂourish the way Jacob has.
“I was eleven. The rebels came to Olwal, our village. They burned many huts, and they found me. I spent the next one and a half years with them.” Jacob was abducted by the LRA in northern Uganda.
“I fought in ﬁve major battles and had to kill many people. They thought I was strong, even though I was young. I lost three brothers to the rebels. My family had lost hope.” Then one day the rebels camped near the Paico River, and Jacob was sent to collect materials to build a shelter for the night. As he walked out into the woods, he saw a window of opportunity when no one was looking, and he took it. Jacob was ﬁnally free, and his family was ecstatic to lay eyes on him one more time.
But just a few months later, the rebels came again. This time, Jacob tried to employ skill to avoid being seen by the LRA ﬁghters. But the troops were too many, and they re-abducted him. At this point, Jacob felt as though he would never live a normal life again. But thankfully, just two days later an opening came, and Jacob managed to get out, never to return to rebel life again.
Since coming back home, Jacob has faced many challenges. His home community in Olwal turned into an enormous camp for people displaced because of the war. At the height of the war, over 25,000 people lived in the over-crowded camp, with the entire camp population sharing only three boreholes as toilets. He also got married, and taking care of his four children has been a challenge.
But Jacob wasn’t going to give up the ﬁght. Under tutelage from Tom Okello, Olwal’s inspirational camp leader, and a partnership with the NGO Grassroots Reconciliation Group,24 Jacob helped set up a group of twenty-ﬁve former child soldiers and community members to aid reconciliation in the community. “We faced a lot of stigmatization when we got back from the bush [captivity with the LRA]. It wasn’t good; people called you a mad person, and you felt bad. We wanted to do something about this, so we formed this group,” explained Jacob. He called it “Pok ki Lawoti,” or “Share with a Colleague” in the local Acholi language.
Jacob and Tom started the group out with a brick-making project, aimed at both providing income and helping the other former child soldiers better integrate with the community. “We work together every week, and the differences [between ex-combatants and local community members] become much less,” he explained. On its own initiative, the group established a microlending program with proﬁts from their projects. Along with several other group members, Jacob was able to take out a loan and set up a small retail shop that sells groceries in the community. The revenues from the shop now help him feed his family. Jacob’s group also has a contingency fund to take care of community problems. In 2008, when one of its members’ children got sick with tuberculosis, Pok ki Lawoti paid for the child’s medical treatment out of this fund. Because of the treatment, the child’s life was saved.
In 2009, Jacob talked to other fellow group members, and they decided to start a farming project. The success has been rapid. “We started with ﬁve acres with a startup from the Grassroots Group, but we then expanded the land to thirty acres and hired workers to farm it.” The group earned over $400, a substantial amount in local terms, and they reinvested it by buying goats, which they plan will in turn yield even more income for the group.
Joseph is the name this peace advocate requested as a pseudonym for his own protection. He is a very passionate and generous person, and he is a fierce advocate for peace. The seemingly unending cycle of violence in Congo has left a very personal mark on Joseph. His parents were shot and killed by soldiers during the war a decade ago. Then, three years ago, his two cousins were kidnapped as sex slaves in the forests near Walungu. When they ﬁnally escaped, he took them in to his own home in Bukavu. It was then that he saw ﬁrsthand the stigma attached to survivors of rape in Congo and the unparalleled challenges they face.
A few years ago, Joseph was working as a ﬁxer and translator for an American journalist in Congo when he got the idea to start the Kivu Sewing Workshop. No stranger to the struggles faced by orphans and survivors of sexual violence, Joseph understands ﬁrsthand the obstacles faced by all marginalized people in society. So he decided to create a program that would give some sliver of hope to people who often slip through the cracks in eastern Congo.
When he got started, Joseph rented a small shack in the middle of town and invested in a few sewing machines, all on his own meager salary as an interpreter for a humanitarian aid organization. In a small, cramped space no bigger than the size of an average walk-in closet in the United States, Joseph, his wife, and a few other trainers have been teaching women how to sew and provide a support network for people who are on the fringe of Congolese society. Since founding the workshop, Joseph has expanded his organization, Actions for the Welfare of Women and Children in Kivu, to also provide small microcredit loans to women. The organization also identiﬁes children who have dropped out of school for lack of funds or familial support, and help them reenroll in school. He speciﬁcally targets war orphans and disabled children to minimize their risk of facing discrimination. Despite the generosity of a few supporters, Joseph funds these programs mostly out of his own pocket.
Though these programs are small, they mean the world to the people Joseph helps. One such person is Justine (also a pseudonym), a widow whose husband was murdered, leaving her to care for their seven children alone. Joseph brought Justine into the workshop and gave her a microloan of $200. With this money, she has been able to sell ﬂour, beans, and palm oil. The money she has been earning is not sufﬁcient, but without it she would have nothing. Joseph’s program also helps Sara (another pseudonym), a teenage girl who was brutally gang-raped when she was only thirteen years old and has a baby boy as a result of the rape. Her parents were killed, leaving this new mother – who is still a child herself – without any support network. Sara’s child reminded her of the pain and suffering she had endured. Joseph brought her to the workshop, and thanks to the support of the workshop and the generosity of Joseph, she has begun to come alive again and care for her child. She wants to be a teacher one day and hopes that her child will have an education and a better future.
Though he has seen ethnic rivalries tear apart his country and the broader region, Joseph ﬁercely believes that nationalities and ethnicities should be able to live peacefully, and for that he has paid a steep price. When two Rwandan women were brought to his attention because they needed help, he invited them to participate in the workshop. His generosity to these Rwandan women was not viewed favorably by many Congolese, who blame Rwanda for the violence that continues to plague eastern Congo. One evening in mid-2009, Joseph, his wife, and his six children were sitting in their living room when they heard their neighbors shouting that their house was on ﬁre. They all escaped the house just before it burned to the ground, along with all their possessions and most of Joseph’s savings. The subsequent investigation indicated that his house had been ﬁrebombed, in retaliation for the generosity he had shown to the Rwandan women.
Despite the challenges he faces, Joseph continues to support his organization and the workshop, and he continues to dream of expanding his programs so that he can better support those who are most marginalized in society. He is working to build a better future for Congo, one person at a time. He has already helped so many, with so little himself.
International mediators who watched the peace deal unfold agreed that the unexpected resolution was a testament to Annan’s diplomatic skills and the respect he commands across the globe. In the summer of 2009, when the Kenyan leaders hadn’t lived up to their pledges on accountability, he presented a list of names of war crimes suspects to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, demonstrating that justice must be a part of any lasting peace.
Nonetheless, Sumbeiywo persevered, and his approach laid the groundwork for talks in Machakos, Kenya, which produced a crucial breakthrough: a single negotiating text (this was a point that Sumbeiywo learned from Jimmy Carter, who used the same approach at Camp David). The result was the Machakos Protocol signed on July 20, 2002, which granted the south the right to a referendum on self-determination following a six-year interim period, dictated that sharia law would remain in force only in the north, and provided the framework for the future ﬁnal peace deal, which was ﬁnally struck in January 2005. Sumbeiywo remains modest about his achievements and attributes much to his faith in God and what he learned from his father, a chief in the rural village of Iten in Kenya’s Rift Valley: “He used to settle a lot of conﬂict. I learnt a lot from him, not from formal teaching so much as simply watching him work.”
In February 2004, the LRA launched one its most gruesome massacres of the entire war in the northern Ugandan displaced camp called Barlonyo. Out of the camp’s population of nearly 12,000 people, the LRA killed and abducted around 700 people in one night, according to local sources. The people in the camp had expected the government to provide sufﬁcient forces to protect them in this conﬁned area, but the Ugandan army didn’t deploy and instead recruited local children to serve as “local defense forces.” Some were as young as fourteen years old. On the day of the attack, fewer than forty of these local defense forces were in the barracks. The camp was burned to the ground. LRA commander Okot Odhiambo, one of the three living LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005, led this attack.
On the day of the attack, Morris Okwera was on his way back to Barlonyo when he heard gunshots and ran into his house. A bomb landed in the compound, and Morris started feeling faint, but he didn’t know exactly where he was wounded. He ran to another camp nearby to get some medicine. He came back to Barlonyo in the morning to ﬁnd his mother had been killed and his father had been shot in the leg and was in bad condition. His sister had a bayonet wound through the temple of her head, and she died in the hospital. When he found his mother dead, it seemed as though she may have been tortured but he was not certain. “Even now,” Morris said, “I sometimes feel like somebody who doesn’t have life again.”
Morris had been in captivity for one and a half years, and he had ﬁnally escaped from the LRA and come home one week before this massacre happened.
The LRA had abducted Morris from Barlonyo camp in 2003, while he was in “senior 3,” at the age of fourteen. He was on his way back from secondary school because he didn’t have the money to pay for his school fees. He went home and heard the rebels were coming. He hid, but then he heard it was actually government soldiers, not rebels, so he returned. He went into his house, and he didn’t know the LRA had laid an ambush. His brothers started yelling that the rebels had come – Morris found them at his door with a gun. His brothers took off, but he was unable to escape. They tied up Morris along with three or four other abductees and made them carry the food, and they kept looting as they moved. As he was leaving Barlonyo camp with the LRA rebels and the new abductees, three newly abducted elders from his community were killed because they were too slow and old. This was meant as a lesson to Morris and the other child soldiers that they must behave well and be strong. In the group of LRA rebels he was with, the new abductees were each attached to a rebel, and during ambushes this made it very difﬁcult to move when shots were ﬁred, and the abductees had to struggle to keep up.
There were many rebels, and they started dividing the abductees. They wanted more abductions, and they asked their new abductees where the government soldiers were. Morris thought he knew and told them. Shortly after moving, they ran into a government ambush – and it was clearly his fault for misdirecting them. A killing spree began, and Morris was beaten and punished because the LRA was angry with him for misguiding them.
Morris and the other boys were trained as soldiers all day and were beaten frequently. The new abductees were told, “If anyone tries to escape, they’ll be shot.” When one young abductee tried to escape, he was caught and brought back to the camp and the other kids all had to join in beating him up, and then they slit his throat. All of the children had to beat him and then jump over his body. “This was part of the process of making it as a soldier—beating the dead body and then jumping over it to the ‘next level.’ ”
Morris was supposed to loot every day so he could eat during his life in captivity. He took what he could each day to survive, and he carried as much food as he could steal with him because he never knew how long a ﬁght would last and when he would be able to eat again. “Life was full of looting.” The biggest problem was the lack of water. There was no water, just muddy, stagnant water that he would try to strain through his clothes.
On many occasions, he had to kill a number of people. The young soldiers were given guns and put on the front lines, and they would shield the commanders, who stood just behind them with guns pointing at their backs. The commanders would say, “If you don’t shoot we will shoot you.” He was forced to beat and kill people his own age. But in most cases he killed elders. When any of the child soldiers tried to run away, they were all forced by the commanders to kill the escapee.
Finally, he had a chance to escape. When Morris made it back to Barlonyo, he realized the attitude of the community toward former child soldier abductees: “Formerly abducted people are useless and aggressive.” That was the stigma he felt. He wanted to be a part of his community again, and he wanted to learn about peace and development. He wanted to show that formerly abducted people like him “could do something.”
He became a community counselor with AYINET, the African Youth Initiative Network, which aims to improve relations and build trust between the community and former child soldiers. Initially, he was not trusted, but over time, as he continued to work hard, he showed them that “I am from here, and I am part of this suffering also.” As a former child soldier, he can support fellow soldiers as they also attempt to reintegrate into his community.
Nelson lived in a village near Gulu, the main town of northern Uganda. He was twelve years old at the time of his abduction by the LRA. He had heard the LRA was in his village, so he ran away and hid with his father. When they were on their way home, they ran into the rebels. He and his father were tied up. But he knew that if he admitted that he was with his father, he would be forced to kill him so he wouldn’t run away and return to his village. So he denied that his father was beside him.
They took Nelson away and told him that he must be caned so that “civilian behaviors” would be beaten out of him. The rebels brought heaps of sticks and he lay down on the ground. Five rebels caned him ferociously; his hand was so swollen that if he pressed it, it would crack. If he survived they said it meant he was very strong.
Nelson was anointed with oil to show he was now part of the LRA. He recovered from his caning and began his military training in southern Sudan. He was trained to use a gun, lay an ambush, and loot for food. Nelson was taken to a Sudanese government barracks in Juba to receive artillery training. He trained for six months and was given the rank of sergeant. He was then ordered to attack an outpost of southern Sudanese rebel soldiers and cut a male organ to prove his talent. He succeeded and this got the attention of the rebel high command. Nelson was then sent to Uganda to abduct a group of girls from a boarding school.
Nelson ﬁnally escaped from the LRA after a battle. He was too traumatized to be taken to his father, who was still alive. But a generous Frenchman provided counseling for him and helped him get treatment for a gun wound he had sustained. Nelson’s parents were very poor and could not afford an education for him. He stayed at a World Vision rehabilitation compound for nine months, and he was still wearing army combat uniforms.
One day he went to see where his mom lived, and he told her that he wanted to go to school. But he still had “rebel hair” (dreadlocks) that distinguished him from the other students. Most of the students kept away from him when he started attending the local school. The teacher at the school was so scared that she couldn’t teach – she kept repeating herself – and everyone in the classroom was looking at him, so he left the school.
After these experiences, Nelson wanted to do something to change perceptions and to support his fellow abductees. He joined with a few other former child soldiers to create the War Affected Children’s Association (WACA) to help his friends who were in captivity like him. WACA provides former child soldiers with formal and vocational education to help them reintegrate back into their home communities in northern Uganda. He hopes to help other people and his colleagues who are still there in the bush. He wants to be a good example to them.
Nelson is happy working with WACA, although he is “still traumatized” by what he experienced in the LRA. He is gradually feeling better about himself and working with WACA has helped. He is helping other former child soldiers, and he wants to be a good mentor and example to them, to assist in any way that he can. He hopes that life will get better in northern Uganda, and he wants to do what he can to help his fellow former child soldiers so that a better life can be possible for all of them.
Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Five hundred and four hours. That is how long Robert spent walking back home as a child after escaping from captivity in the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. In his seemingly endless two years with the rebels, he was forced to kill, abduct young children, and walk over 300 miles, usually in dense jungle without shoes. And yet now just three short years later, he is leading a successful community project to help his fellow former child soldiers to generate income and reintegrate back into society. “The LRA is terrible. They make you do terrible things, and then these memories stay with you,” Robert explains. Making a bad situation worse, abductees often carry a stigma when they return home, despite the fact that they were forced by the rebels to carry out crimes against their will. The home community is often angry at the former child soldiers, since some of those who were killed or maimed by the LRA often have come from the local community.
Even after his incredible journey back home, Robert also faced this stigma upon his return. It nearly broke his strength. “When I came back home, people said I had evil spirits. I felt as if I was being chased away, and people would bring back those horrible memories from the bush [from the time I spent with the LRA]. Anyone who was angry would vent his or her anger on me, because of what I was forced to do in the bush.” Approximately 66,000 youth have been abducted by the LRA over the years, and many thousands of them have expressed similar sentiments.25
But these bad experiences didn’t stop him. The situation in northern Uganda was changing at the time in 2006: the rebels were moving out of northern Uganda into the sur- rounding region, leaving Robert’s home area more stable than it had been in two decades. The peace process seemed to be moving forward, and people were starting to rebuild. Robert knew that he had to pick up the pieces and move on. He had a family to take care of – he now had three children of his own.
Not only did Robert move on, he led. “I wanted to take my bad experiences and turn them into good,” he explained. He wanted to help his family, his community in Alokolum, and the people who were abducted with him. “They don’t deserve those bad things. We need to rebuild together.”
Last year, Robert became chairman of the group “Can Bwone” (pronounced Chan Bwon-ay, meaning “Poverty requires humility”), a community group formed two years ago with the support of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group. Robert explained “Can Bwone” to us in his own words: “We have twenty-ﬁve people, and half of them are returnees [former LRA child soldiers and concubines], and we work together three times per week on a farming project. When we are working hard like that on our project, we are transforming ourselves. We sensitize the community to not stigmatize other returnees, so that they won’t call them names or bring back the bad memories.”
The new opportunity has not only changed his life but it has also transformed the community’s perception of him. “Being in this group has helped erase the bad memories from the bush, because we interact very well and socialize often. Now people don’t say that I have those evil spirits any more. They say I have a humble, good character. That is why they chose me to become a group leader.”
Robert then took initiative and went even further. “Last year I also organized our group to form a cultural drumming and dancing group, and I entered us into a regional dancing competition. The music and dancing helps our community heal, especially the returnees. We are like a family.”
Not stopping there, Robert is already making plans to help his fellow former child soldiers and his community rebuild in additional ways. “I also now started a small ﬁsh-selling business from the proﬁts we made from the farming project. This helps me support my family and pay school fees for my children. This year I want to help Can Bwone start a microﬁnance project from the proﬁts of the farming project, so I can supplement my business and help other returnees and others in the community with small businesses. We need that boost. I want to help give it.”
After seeing footage of individuals ﬁlming the war in Kosovo, Samura packed his new video camera and ﬂew to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s hot, humid capital city. “If only people could see what is happening in Sierra Leone, then they’d realize they have to do even more than what they did in Kosovo. I thought I should do something, to go back and ﬁlm.” Almost immediately after touching down, the rebels invaded Freetown, and he was trapped in a building. But he couldn’t be dissuaded from heading out to ﬁnd the facts. “I said to myself, ‘If I stay in here, I’m possibly a dead man. If I go out there, I’m possibly dead too.’ Rather than stay in the house and die here, I decided to go out.”
He started to ﬁlm killings in the street, and then he found himself in the rebel RUF camp and he managed to shoot for three days. Filming in the rebel compounds was unprecedented and extremely dangerous for Samura, but he went on. “These boys in the RUF, they were permanently drunk or on drugs. They were totally unpredictable. I walked into the middle of a humiliating rape, and they told me to clap. If I didn’t, they would have killed me. But they allowed me to ﬁlm many things which had never gotten out in the Western media.”
When Samura returned to London, media outlets didn’t want to air his tapes. The footage was too shocking for a British or American audience to bear, they said. But in the end, his message was too powerful, and CNN agreed to air his documentary Cry Freetown in February 2000. Immediately after the broadcast, Samura was invited to brief the United Nations. The United Kingdom intervened shortly thereafter with a powerful military and political presence that was a catalyst for ending the war. “I know that my footage wasn’t the only thing that led to the end of the conflict, but I hope it helped,” said Samura humbly.
“I was born and raised in northern Uganda, in the village of Abia, which is the location of one of northern Uganda’s camps for displaced people. It is also near a former command post of the LRA. On February 4, 2004, the LRA attacked Abia. Under the command of Vincent Otti and Okot Odhi- ambo, the LRA massacred hundreds of people.
“My childhood was very painful. I witnessed all sorts of human rights abuses. Together with my family, I often survived on just one meal a day and sometimes had to go without food. Education in the displaced-persons camps in which I lived was a nightmare. My brother and I burned charcoal and sold it in order to pay for our school fees. Because we chose not to pick up guns or join the army, we became targets for abduction by the LRA. Some of my classmates felt such desperation and helplessness that they deliberately allowed themselves to be abducted by the LRA.
“We suffered immeasurable burdens, miseries, and in- equalities. Sometimes I have trouble believing that I made it through all these challenges. But we remained with our loving parents and hoped that one day, the war would end and we would all be ﬁne.
“In 2003, the LRA abducted my elder brother and my cousin. I blamed myself for not learning how to shoot a gun so that I could protect them, and I contemplated picking up a gun to try to get them back. To this day, no one knows what happened to them. I have a feeling that if my brother were alive, he would have escaped and come back by now, but I still hope to see him some day.
“What has happened in northern Uganda over the last twenty years is shocking and unbelievable, but it has happened. Nothing can cool down the burning feelings of the people pained and hurt by this war. One young girl described her parents and others being killed and cooked, and other abductees were forced to eat their bodies. She told me, ‘Every time I try cooking using the pot, I see my parents inside the pot.’ She has wept too bitterly and suffered too much, and it’s sad to witness many people like her whose situation only worsens without assistance. It haunts me that I have been unable to help people like this young girl escape circumstances that leave them vulnerable.
“Today I work with the communities affected by the war. I meet and hold in-depth discussions with victims, and these help me to help them help themselves. I am the director of an organization called the African Youth Initiative Network, or AYINET. We work with the victims of the war; we deliver life-saving health assistance and help to promote tolerance, reconciliation, forgiveness, and development. AYINET strongly believes that justice for the victims is necessary to prevent new atrocities in the future.
“A year ago, I had a trying moment during an interview with a formerly abducted child. I discovered that this person was one of the ex-combatants who was ordered to tie up my brother during his abduction. To date, he doesn’t know that it was my brother whom he was talking about to me. I felt tortured, but I never told him and never will, and not even any one from my family will get to know him. It was very hard for me to concede this, but I feel that this ex-combatant is innocent since he was forced to do that.
“Given my experience working with victims from northern Uganda and at a time of crisis, I am conﬁdent that rehabilitating northern Uganda is not possible without rendering justice for those who have suffered the grave crimes committed by the LRA.”
At home, Maathai encountered increasing hostility from the Kenyan government of longtime ruler Daniel Moi:
The former Government was completely against the Green Belt Movement and our work of mobilizing women into groups that could produce seedlings and plant them. The Government was also against the idea of educating and informing women. It didn’t want citizens to know that sometimes the enemy of the forests and the environment was the Government itself, which was supposed to be protecting the environment. If citizens saw the linkages, they would put pressure on the Government to improve governance, to create democratic space, to help them protect their environment, and to be responsible managers on citizens’ behalf. When we were beaten up, it was because we were telling the Government not to interfere with the forests. We were confronted by armed police and guards who physically removed us from the forests as we sought to protect these green spaces from commercial exploitation. Sometimes in the process we got hurt, arrested or thrown into jail.
Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, Maathai has become even more directly involved in peacemaking, following the outbreak of postelection violence in Kenya in 2007, speaking out strongly on behalf of reconciliation and accountability.