For communities in central Africa, strong connections to the world around them are vital to their safety. In this remote and isolated corner of the world, where families don’t have access to reliable communication tools, whole communities face the constant threat of armed groups that can tear families apart through violent attacks and abductions.
This year alone, our LRA Crisis Tracker has recorded almost three hundred violent incidents in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) including several cases of LRA child abductions. For these children, who have been taken away from their homes and families, connecting with the outside world is even more important and even more difficult.
This year, we’ve seen an alarming trend of LRA abductions emerge throughout central Africa. Confirmed by first hand accounts of recent LRA escapees, we know that Kony has ordered his fighters to abduct and train young boys from isolated and vulnerable communities to become a new generation of LRA child soldiers. We haven’t seen the LRA engage in large scale abductions like this in several years, and this new trend makes it clear that Kony has no intention of scaling back on violence against central African communities.
Interviews with former LRA abductees and fighters tell us that, as young boys are taken from communities, they are quickly being subjected to indoctrination tactics that the LRA has been known to use for decades. These tactics focus on isolating boys and making them feel like returning home is not an option. Using fear and violence, LRA leaders manipulate children into believing that they have no chance of escape, and even if they did, they will not be accepted back into their communities.
Now that the LRA is more actively abducting children who they plan to incorporate into fighting forces, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the bonds between LRA fighters and their families back home – whether they have been with the LRA for two days or two decades. LRA abductees must receive messages of hope that overcome the messages of fear they receive as they are incorporated into LRA ranks.
Not long ago, our team in the DRC met with one young Central African boy named Samuel who had been abducted by the LRA. After just days in captivity, Samuel was already subjected to efforts to disconnect him from the community he was taken from.
Immediately after being abducted from his home in CAR, Samuel was forced by his captors to carry food and supplies across the border into the DRC and was told that he and the other young abducted boys would later be taken to a main LRA camp to be trained as child soldiers. Within days, Samuel, confused and afraid, was cut by one of the LRA fighters with a razor and a mysterious substance was rubbed into the wound – an initiation ritual commonly used by the LRA on new recruits.
By quickly taking Samuel across the border and far from his home and by carrying out this ritual, the group was already working to make him feel isolated and disconnected from his family and his home, so that he would be too afraid to try to escape and so that, eventually, he would become loyal to the LRA.
Fortunately, before he was abducted, Samuel was an avid follower of Invisible Children’s ‘Come Home’ radio broadcasts. Although they weren’t made for him, Samuel would listen to the messages of family and former LRA fighters, encouraging their friends and loved ones still in the LRA to lay down their weapons and come home. These messages, designed to embolden LRA members to escape, let Samuel know just how possible it was to make it back home.
So, despite the efforts made to frighten Samuel, his connection to his home and family was deepened by his hope for freedom. Just two weeks after being taken from his family and miles away from his home, Samuel found an opportunity to escape and bravely took it. He made his way to safety where our Invisible Children team in DRC were able to help get him safely home.
Samuel won’t miss this holiday season with his family. But there are hundreds of others just like him who aren’t as lucky, and thousands more who live in constant fear of the same violence that took him from his family.
That’s why, at Invisible Children, we continue to use the power of connection to bring child soldiers home and to make communities safer from the violence of armed groups like the LRA. We won’t stop until every child soldier is brought safely home and families central Africa can live free from violence.
*Samuel’s name has been changed, and his image blurred to protect his identity.