As South Sudan continues to make timid strides as an independent country, it has to deal with a wide array of difficulties. Its dispute with Sudan, the country from which it broke away last year, remains hot, and tribal violence has plagued the new government as it struggles to maintain order. Like other nations in the region, it also has to contend with the dreaded Lord’s Resistance Army.
Since its founding in Northern Uganda in 1987, the LRA has terrorized the people of Central Africa, abducting and impressing as many as 100,000 child soldiers, and displacing as many as 2 million people. Recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and many other governments, the LRA has worked in the vast lawless swathes of Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, as well as South Sudan.
Left in the wake of the LRA’s terror are civilians, many of whom are left brutalized and traumatized by their experiences. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) organizes camps in South Sudan and other countries, which give the LRA’s victims the chance to readjust to normal life, and make positive contributions to their societies.
In Yambio, near the South Sudan-DRC border, lies Makpandu, one such camp. Here, those who have seen the horrors of the LRA firsthand, some of them shockingly young, learn how to recover from their injuries, both physical and psychological.
“He told us when going to fight one should always be focused and not think about other things,” Mborifue Dieudonne said of Kony. “Always think about your business and what you are going for.”
Another camp reside, who goes by “Anna,” described Kony’s cultish rituals designed to tie victims into his world. One of them was applying a special oil to the faces of children abducted, which apparently was supposed to make children forget their desires to run away and go home. Anna, who found her parents shortly after coming to Makpandu, was grateful for the camp, and glad that the horrors she experienced at the hands of the LRA have come to an end.
International attention was brought to the LRA through a video produced by Invisible Children, an American NGO, that sought to bring infamy to Joseph Kony, the group’s leader and mobilize action against him. The video went viral and became a small sensation in the west, though tracking down Kony and his people have proved difficult. Though still dangerous, the LRA’s numbers and capacity have dwindled in recent years. Some suspect that Kony now commands as few as 200 men, down from about 3,000 in 2007.
UNHCR’s work aims to rid South Sudan of the horrors of LRA, and ensure that the children affected by its wrongdoings get as good a chance at normal life as possible. If this issue is solved, it will fix one of South Sudan’s many pressing issues, and allow the country to continue to grow.