Evelyn Apoko, LRA survivor bears witness
Evelyn Apoko survived the Lords Resistance Army [LRA]. Here she responds to those who are stupidly misinformed and who have criticised President Obama’s decision to deploy 100 US troops to try to end the LRA’s war and capture Joseph Kony. Whatever we may think about foreign military interventions and in this case what could turn out to be yet another US execution on foreign soil, Evelyn’s testimony and pleas for help in ending the 23 year old war in which thousands upon thousands of children have been abducted and tortured, villages ransacked and women raped and people killed, cannot and should not be ignored. The LRA’s war takes place in Uganda and crosses borders into Southern Sudan, the Central African Republic [where Kony is suspected as hiding] and the DRC. The most recent deployment of troops by Obama is not the first US involvement in the war. In 2008 the US have provided intelligence and logistical support in the DRC and though this officially ended in 2009 it is believed the support continued unofficially. Though from time to time there are short reports on the LRA the war takes place outside of the media limelight and it is hard to believe that any serious effort has ever been made on the part of Uganda, the DRC, the AU or the UN to protect civilians and put an end to the war. Increased militarisation may have some short term impact however as this statement by “Defence Professionals” shows it is doubtful that this latest US intervention will be any more successful than the last.
The task will not be easy. One of the consequences of Operation Lightning Thunder was that the LRA scattered into smaller groups, making them much more difficult to track down. Kony himself is believed to be operating in the Central African Republic. The groups have discarded any communication equipment that would allow them to be traced and instead rely on runners to relay messages. In addition, the LRA is a hardened guerilla force used to operating in difficult terrain. It has survived against the odds for a quarter of a century. U.S. policymakers and military planners emphasize that there is no quick fix to ending the scourge of the LRA and that even the death or capture of Kony and his senior commanders may not be sufficient to finish off the group unless broader efforts are made to address the grievances that caused it to form in the first place.
New strategies have to be found starting above all else with increased efforts to protect civilians and to engage more forcefully with local religious leaders, civil society organisations and traditional leaders including the voices of survivors like Evelyn Apoko.
Evelyn Apoko is 22 years old, but she was only a child when the Lord’s Resistance Army came into her home late one night and dragged her out into the jungle. The LRA, a bizarre and violent cult that emerged out of Uganda’s 1986 civil war, enslaved Evelyn as they had the 66,000 children that came before and after her.
Most children who are abducted by the LRA are forced to either fight, aid in fighting, or serve as concubines. Evelyn does not say what happened during her years of enslavement with the LRA, but, one day, a bomb went off near her during one of the battles that are a regular part of the group’s life. She attempted to protect an infant that was with the group, in the process exposing her face to the blast, which disfigured her. Denied medical care and fearing that she would be killed for her unattractive appearance, Evelyn escaped, miraculously making it through the jungle on foot and alone.
Today she is a fellow with a Liberia-based non-profit called the Strongheart Fellowship Program, which rehabilitates young people from what it calls “extremely challenging circumstances.” Last year, she was honored on the floor of the Canadian parliament for her work.