- - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

GULU, Uganda — Not a day passes that Patricia Akello Wamoyi doesn’t relive the violence inflicted on her family and community by Joseph Kony and his militant cult, the Lord’s Resistance Army, 13 years ago.

Her husband’s spirit doesn’t let her forget.

“They were child soldiers, people I knew very well,” said Mrs. Wamoyi, 45. “They raped me three times, slaughtered my husband — his vengeful spirit has been haunting me.”

The 53-year-old Kony hasn’t attracted much attention since a documentary about his war crimes went viral on the Internet in 2012, instantly making him one of the most well-known fugitives in the world. But as the hunt closes in on the warlord — a United Nations Security Council report earlier this year said African Union troops are predicting Kony’s capture soon — that is cold comfort to Mrs. Wamoyi and her neighbors in Lango, a village around 200 miles north of the capital of Kampala.

“Even though the civil war has ended, the fighting between the rebels and the Ugandan soldiers left deep wounds in the society of northern Uganda,” said Annabelle Ogwang Okot, country manager of Diakonia, a Swedish human rights organization working in the area.

The Security Council report said Kony is becoming increasingly isolated as he hides in disputed territory on the borders of Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Congo. It noted that the rebel leader’s second-in-command, Okot Odhiambo, reportedly died in a skirmish last year, another Lord’s Resistance commander, Charles Okello, was captured in April, and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army were increasingly deserting.

But catching Kony, even with the dispatch of U.S. Special Forces by President Obama in 2012 to aid in the search, has proven a frustrating mission. Some of those in the rebel forces say they haven’t heard from their leader for nearly a decade.

“I have not seen or communicated with our leader since 2008,” said Tom Ogola, a senior rebel commander who defected in August. “We believe that [Kony] exists, but we have not seen him for a long time.”

Since the 1990s Kony is estimated to have killed and abducted thousands, including around 30,000 children who were forced, often under the threat of dismemberment or death, to join the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The fighters have been battling the Ugandan government in an attempt to establish a new state ruled by a mix of Christian fundamentalism and local African mysticism. In 2005 the International Criminal Court indicted Kony for a host of war crimes.

Today, African Union troops, with the help of the United States, have dispersed much of the Lord’s Resistance Army — though they remain at large and occasionally attack villages in the region — and launched a massive dragnet to find the elusive leader.

The Obama administration is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the warlord’s arrest. Earlier this year President Obama sent an additional contingent of military advisers and aircraft to help the search.

“The citizens of northern Uganda are hoping that the intervention of the U.S. government to send more troops and aircraft in the region will bear fruit and bring justice,” said Ms. Okot. “These people still live in fear of attack.”

Searing memories

In Lango and other villages in Uganda’s Gulu District, where Kony was born and launched his insurgency, everybody can easily summon up tales of kidnapped children, rape, murder, cut-off limbs, noses, ears and lips as well as the diseases spread by hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting between Kony’s forces and government troops.

Lord’s Resistance Army fighters cut off Mrs. Wamoyi’s husband’s arms and genitals as she watched. “He was brave, and he told me it would be OK. He said things would be all right,” she said.

She now suffers from a survivor’s sense of guilt mixed with local religious beliefs that her husband is haunting her from beyond the grave.

“His vengeful spirits whisper to me: ‘You left me to die, you left me to die. We would have fought this war together and departed in one spirit,’” she said.

Francis Mugoya, a Lango village elder, said Mrs. Wamoyi’s despair is common in the region.

“As a community, we believe that it’s the work of revengeful spirits that haunt them at midnight,” he said. “Sometimes they strip off all their clothes and run like mad people. The other day my neighbor woke up at midnight shouting the name of her late husband — ‘Opiyo, Opiyo, Opiyo’ — as she ran toward the valley. This is the work of vengeful spirits.”

Others are coping with more tangible scars.

“I am sick with AIDS. I was infected by rebels after they raped me,” said Alice Nekesa. “They turned me into a sex slave for several weeks before I managed to escape. Remembering drives me crazy.”

Gulu Mayor George Labeja said his biggest challenge was handling residents returning to the region after living in refugee camps. Kony decimated the region’s government and the traditional systems of regulating society, he said.

At the same time, the region has grown as Gulu has become an important trading hub due to its proximity to the border with South Sudan, which became an independent country in 2011.

“The guns are now silent, but the real issues are post-conflict ones such as land disputes, poor integration of child-mothers and children born in captivity,” he said. “We are also trying to tackle issues of land and gender-based conflicts, coupled with a breakdown of the traditional mechanisms for resolving clan conflicts.”

Sadly, Mrs. Wamoyi didn’t think solving those problems would help her overcome her grief or silence her late husband’s spirit, with the man responsible still unpunished for their crimes.

“It was a state of anarchy then,” said Mrs. Wamoyi. “And it will still haunt me.”

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