Jackson Acama joined the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 24 and served as a soldier for 17 years. Formed in 1987, the LRA is a Ugandan rebel paramilitary group that has been engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government for nearly 20 years. It has been accused of widespread human-rights violations, mainly in the north of the country, including the abduction of children, who have been forced to serve as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. The conflict has caused some 1.6 million people to flee their villages to live in camps for the displaced. QUESTION: How did you become a member of the LRA?
Jackson Acama, former volunteer soldier in the LRA.
ANSWER: I joined the LRA voluntarily, in 1987, and was in the rebel ranks for 17 years. I was formerly with the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), but after the conflict [resulting from President Yoweri Museveni’s coup in 1986] people divided and some joined the LRA.
Most people were abducted in 1987 – that was a year of mass abductions. People were very scared at that time. Rebel operations paralysed the north completely. If you escaped abduction, your home was destroyed. There was no schooling – in fact, almost all of the schools in the area were closed from 1987 to 1990. Q: What supplies, including arms, were provided, and how did you obtain the supplies you needed?
A: In the beginning, we were not provided with arms. From when I joined the insurgents in 1987 until 1994, which is when the Sudanese government began to provide arms, we had no weapons. After 1994, we used AK-47s, and the officers used pistols. SPG9 Kopye guns were also provided, but certainly most weapons currently used are AK-47s. Initially, guns were solely used for fighting and not for food raids.
However, when the Sudanese government was put under pressure by the international community in 1999 to stop supplying the LRA, we felt that we should instead rely on the community for food. The LRA did plant sorghum, but when there was no food, operations teams used the power of the gun to raid villages.
During the Iron Fist operation in 2002 [when the UPDF was allowed to cross into southern Sudan to root out the LRA from its bases there] the LRA was entirely dependent on food raids. They would pick family members to go on the raids, and if one person from a family was sent for food, they were expected to bring back enough food for the entire family, as well as a bundle of food to be distributed to the sick or disabled.
Ammunition was also provided by the Sudanese government, up until 2002. There is ammunition hidden underground in very many places in northern Ugandan and southern Sudan. In addition, they supplied medication. There were people in the LRA trained to use western methods of treatment, but we also used traditional methods. If a person suffered from a bullet wound, honey or python oil would be used to heal them.Q: What effects did the presence of weapons have on life in the LRA?
A: If you have a gun, those below you will see you as a superior. It is very rare if a subordinate disobeys you.
There were some unarmed soldiers in the LRA, but they never went to the frontline. Abductees would not be given weapons until they had gone through the standard training.
However, an abduction cannot take place without arms. There would be fewer abductions if there were fewer guns. The mass abductions started when Sudan started supplying us with weapons.
Mostly the men were provided with arms. In Sudan, females were fully trained but were not active in combat – their role was to have children and maintain families, and before this to care for the wounded. The commander was the head of the family, then came the military escorts, and then the women. There is no limitation to the number of wives or children that a man can have. I came out of the LRA with five wives and nine children, all of whom are with me now.
When women were abducted, you were not permitted to sleep with them. They were first taken to Kony [Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, who claims to be a mystic and a prophet] for screening, and then he distributed them. Some commanders did sleep with women before they were screened by Kony – I mean, if a commander asks a woman to sleep with him, she will, even if he does not have a gun.
If you abducted a person and that person escaped, then they were supposed to be shot. Escapees were killed in front of everyone – I sometimes saw child escapees who were between 14 and 16 years old. If you escaped successfully, they would find your family and kill them. Most abductees were afraid of trying to escape.Q: How did you leave the LRA? How did your community respond?
A: I made contact with the Sudanese government and left the LRA on 22 June 2004. If the [Ugandan] government had not declared an amnesty, I would still be in the bush. I heard about the amnesty on the radio.
I had been in the casualty unit, after suffering a serious injury in a heavy ambush in July 1994. I was shot in the knee, and then the whole lower leg began to rot and the skin fell off. I was carried from the battlefield to Kilak [in Gulu district in northern Uganda], and in 1997, I was carried to southern Sudan. My leg was amputated in Khartoum. Most casualties went to Sudan, and all of the unit’s guns were collected there.
There was no stigmatisation when I returned home. Such a response will depend on how you operated in your home area. If you have been cruel and behaved badly, then you will definitely be stigmatised by your community.