Story

Abandoned People: Democratic Republic of Congo

September 07, 2010|

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Mbonih Ndele Mari was abducted by the LRA outside Niangara she was left for dead after they cut off her lips and her ears. She is now hospitalized in Niangara; her children are being looked after by family close by. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Teresa Bela Mbolikia, 18, was the wife of Singa Bay 20 years old who was killed by the LRA after he was forced to be a porter. She was left with 6 month old Frank and now lives with her big sister. She survives by doing a little farming and making alcohol. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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The Chief and elders of the village of Dakwa perform local rituals to exorcise the spirits from former child soldiers. The children complain of aggressive dreams and nightmares involving fantasies and killing. They want to get any help possible to stop these thoughts. The local chief and witch doctors know that stronger medicine and more effective help exists, but with no NGO workers in the area, they do what they can to help the children, themselves. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Andre Danadio Zanzia, 20, was abducted in June 2009 and escaped during an attack on the camp by the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) in February 2010. He was forced to carry equipment by the commander Uno. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Yoris Mihidie was shot by the LRA in August 2010 when he was transporting goods on a bike from the market. He lives in Gimile, north of Dungu. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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The Chief and elders of the village of Dakwa perform local rituals to exorcise the spirits from former child soldiers. The children complain of aggressive dreams and nightmares involving fantasies and killing. They want to get any help possible to stop these thoughts. The local chief and witch doctors know that stronger medicine and more effective help exists, but with no NGO workers in the area, they do what they can to help the children, themselves. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Merci Mbolingako, 14, and was taken from Lolo at 11 p.m. on the May 23, 2010. He was freed in Samongo in June 2010 after an attack on the camp by the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). It was led by another escaped LRA soldier, Olivier. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Masua Abaneru, 22, fisherman and father of three children, was abducted by the LRA and used as a porter. When he became too tired to continue, he was taken into the bush and the LRA commanders forced the children to hit him with sticks until he was dead. He woke up several days later and crawled to find help. He was found by some people coming to the village to bury the dead after they heard of the attack. He has not been able to work for over one year due to the attack. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Remy Mosolo Zanzia, 18, was abducted at the same time as his brother in June 2009. He was released during an attack on the camp by Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF). His commander was Nabir. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Dido Dunguyu, 27, was abducted in March 2009 and escaped in June 2010. He was under the command of Dominic who was responsible for some of the worst attacks on Congolese civilians. Dido's sister was killed during the final attack on the camp by the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF). His two brothers were also killed by the LRA; one was beaten to death and the other was shot as he was trying to escape. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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The Chief and elders of the village of Dakwa perform local rituals to exorcise the spirits from former child soldiers. The children complain of aggressive dreams and nightmares involving fantasies and killing. They want to get any help possible to stop these thoughts. The local chief and witch doctors know that stronger medicine and more effective help exists, but with no NGO workers in the area, they do what they can to help the children, themselves. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Daniel Kpakana, 14, was taken at PK12 (twelve kilometers from the center of town) in January 2010. He was with the LRA for three months and escaped after an attack on the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). His commander was Dix Metre. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Marcelline Namani, 15, was forced to be the wife of an LRA commander. She spent over a year with the LRA, during which time she was repeatedly raped and also had to kill children. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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The Chief and elders of the village of Dakwa perform local rituals to exorcise the spirits from former child soldiers. The children complain of aggressive dreams and nightmares involving fantasies and killing. They want to get any help possible to stop these thoughts. The local chief and witch doctors know that stronger medicine and more effective help exists, but with no NGO workers in the area, they do what they can to help the children, themselves. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Olivier Mbolifuyhe, 16, was abducted in October 2009. He came out in May 2010 and then led the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) to the LRA base at Samungu which they attacked in early June 2010. He was forced to kill children on many occasions. He recounts now his violent nature and wants help to deal with his nightmares. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Boniface Kumbo Nyeki, 14, spent 6 months as a soldier with the LRA and was released when the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) attacked their camp. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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The Chief and elders of the village of Dakwa perform local rituals to exorcise the spirits from former child soldiers. The children complain of aggressive dreams and nightmares involving fantasies and killing. They want to get any help possible to stop these thoughts. The local chief and witch doctors know that stronger medicine and more effective help exists, but with no NGO workers in the area, they do what they can to help the children, themselves. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Jean Pierre, 20 years old, spent one month as a porter for the LRA. He grew too tired to continue and so the commander broke his legs and left him to die in the bush. He crawled for 6 days to find water and help and was nursed by nomadic herders for several months before he could walk. He was then taken to local FARDC (military of the Democratic Republic of Congo) commanders who took him back to his village. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Savilia Mbwoniwia, 14 years old, was taken in June 2009 from Baloko. She was forced to be the wife of the commander Dix Metre for many months. She was his fifth wife and the youngest. She was forced to carry, beaten and raped. She was released when she was injured and could not walk. The LRA took her to a road and left her there. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Josephine Gambolipai, 13 years old, was abducted in July 2009 and escaped in December 2009 as a result of an attack by the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). She was saved as a wife for Joseph Kony and therefore only had to carry light clothes and was not forced to work. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Merci Mbolingako is 14 years old and was taken from Lolo at 11 p.m. on the May 23, 2010. He was freed in Samongo in June 2010 after an attack on the camp by the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). It was led by another escaped LRA soldier, Olivier. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

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Marcelline Namani, a 15-year-old girl who was forced to be the wife of an LRA commander. She spent over a year with the LRA, during which time she was repeatedly raped and also had to kill children. Image by Marcus Bleasdale. Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010.

The back of Masua Abaneru's skull is caved in, his scalp a mass of interlaced scars. He speaks nervously and with barely concealed frustration.

"They gave the order to those children who had not yet killed to come forward," he says in an unsteady whisper. "I remember the first blow was from a kid. If it had been an adult striking me with a machete like that, I'd be dead now."
Abaneru survived. But when he awoke in a forest clearing in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, ten from his family had been slaughtered.

Variously labeled a rebel movement, a mystical cult, or a terrorist organization - its official U.S. State Department designation - Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army has led Africa's longest-running and, arguably its most brutal, armed uprising, espousing a nebulous program to enforce the Ten Commandments as a the law of the land while waging a merciless war on civilians.

Two years ago, after the latest attempt to talk the LRA and its messianic leader, Joseph Kony, out of the bush had foundered, the U.S. military's Africa Command provided advisers, planning and logistical support to a Ugandan army strike against rebel hideouts in the Congolese jungle. The operation was meant to last three months and aimed to wipe out the LRA once and for all. Instead, poor preparation and botched execution allowed Kony to escape, his fighters launched a wave of reprisal massacres, and today the Ugandan army is still pursuing an increasingly overstretched campaign across Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.

In Congo, the hardest hit of the three countries, over two thousand villagers have been hacked or beaten to death with machetes and clubs or burned alive in their homes. Thousands more have been abducted. Schools, churches, fields and entire villages have been abandoned as a quarter million frightened civilians have flocked to the relative security of larger towns.

As its ranks have dwindled due to disease, defections, and battle losses, the LRA has become increasingly reliant upon an old practice: kidnapping. Young boys are trained as soldiers and sent into battle. Girls are distributed as rewards to commanders who have exhibited particular loyalty to Kony and are forced into a life of sexual slavery. The choice for these children is clearly spelled out by their captors: kill or be killed.

In May, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lord's Resistance Army Demobilization and Northern Uganda Reconstruction Act of 2009, the most broadly supported piece of Africa specific legislation in recent history, making it American policy to "to protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield...and to disarm and demobilize the remaining LRA fighters."

The White House must implement the law by early November, but it won't be easy. In nearly a quarter of a century, the Ugandan army, America's principal partner in the fight against the rebels, has never managed to finish them off. Central African Republic, with its tiny, poorly trained and under-equiped force, is already dealing with a number of armed rebellions of its own. And aid workers estimate that around half of all abuses against civilians reported in LRA affected areas of Congo are now committed by the Congolese troops sent to protect them.

Still, news of the new law has raised hopes in central Africa of a more robust American involvement in ridding the region of the LRA once and for all.