At 12, I was forced to marry into Kony’s army
When Grace Arach was 12 she was kidnapped, raped, tortured, and forced to become the wife of one of Joseph Kony’s commanders. She escaped when she was 17. Since then she’s been working to help other child soldiers. Now she’s 25 and has been living in Australia for almost a year. Her family is still in Uganda.
I was in a vehicle with five others, including a Catholic priest, when we were ambushed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. They stopped the vehicle and got us out. There were five men and me. I was a little girl, 12 years old. It was 1996.
We went to a centre where the soldiers looted food and some drinks, then the priest asked the commander that was leading the group that arrested us, he asked: “What about the little girl?”. He said: “I want to take her back to her mother”.
The answer he got was: “Have you ever seen blood flowing?”, meaning if the priest insisted they would kill me.
So we joined the gang and the war. I was made to be the wife of Kony’s deputy, Otti Lagony, and I met Kony when we went to Sudan in 1997.
Kony was a “nice guy” (he plays “good cop”). I didn’t say much when I met him, but Otti knew my Dad and told Kony whose daughter I was.
Kony wanted me to be his wife but Otti said I was already his wife because they have these rules – if one of the commanders had sex with another girl or woman, he is not allowed to be with someone else.
I was given to Otti as his wife when I was 12. I stayed with him for four years. But in December 1999, Kony ordered him to be killed with another commander because Otti was saying they should end the war – so Kony ordered him to be killed.
I stayed all that time because there were no options. There were 10 girls at Otti’s home. We walked, we carried food, we were bodyguards. They said this was how we should be trained. They just said this is the system, this is how things work. It wasn’t really easy but I had no options. If I had escaped I couldn’t go back, I would get lost or killed.
It was horrible, but you get used to it because you have nowhere to go.
Then in 2001 I was just tired of the whole system and I was sent to loot food and I was kind of sick… and I had this argument with the commander, he wanted me to carry three basins of sorghum and when we disagreed I said I’m tired of these stupid things, I want to go home.
People couldn’t believe it.
I told the other girls I was thinking of escaping and I said: ‘If I leave you behind you won’t escape”. They had children.
On the 19th of March I left.
I spent a month and a half in Khartoum under UNICEF and the UN, then in July I was taken to World Vision*. I started working for the local organisation, Children/Youth as Peacebuilders.
Then last year I came to Australia. In May I’ll have been in Australia for a year.
I’m happy now because I’m safe. But still, it is not just about me, it’s about others as well and other children are not safe.
I will go back to Uganda to visit. I will still live here but now I have permanent residency here I can go back. Sometimes I miss home. I miss home but there’s more peace of mind here than there.
It is good that now, because of Kony 2012, people all over the world know what Kony has done in Uganda, in Sudan and the Congo and the Central African Republic. It’s a good idea and it’s good that people know. Now people know who Kony is.
It might even be successful - but there are other issues. They have to address the root cause of the problem. Even if they capture Kony, it’s not just about him. He has a group of people under him. And how are they going to get him? There will be children there, children born in captivity. If they’re going to fight, how will they identify the kids?
I would like him to be brought to justice. But the inequalities in terms of wealth and power have to be addressed. The people are really poor. If they don’t address the core issue another conflict will arise.
But after 26 years of Kony’s actions, I wish them the best.
* World Vision has been working in conflict-affected areas of Northern Uganda for over 20 years. The agency’s Children of War Rehabilitation Centres in the Gulu and Pader districts of Uganda have been running since 1995.
The Gulu Children of War Rehabilitation Centre is a temporary home for former child soldiers. Staff members help children to recover from their experiences and reintegrate into their communities. The children receive counselling, food, shelter, and clothing. Since the centre opened in 1995, nearly 11,000 former abductees and their children have been helped through its services.
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