Today there are at least 200 people who are still held captive by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). For these men, women, and children, escape is the only way out — but, without help, it’s incredibly difficult and dangerous.
Thankfully, there are dozens of brave Central Africans who are taking bold self-sacrificing steps to help bring captives home and make their communities safer.
The story below is a first-hand account of Michael’s* experience in LRA captivity. Thanks to the courage of another captive, Michael was able to escape after about 6 months with the LRA.
When I was sixteen years old violence erupted in my community as Seleka rebels came to the capital, Bangui, to overthrow the government. When the Seleka rebels came, we left our village to go seek refuge in the bush. We lived in the bush for a few months before the LRA ambushed us and kidnapped 11 children, including me.
My brother and I were the first ones captured. My little sister cried out when the LRA took us and they shot in the air. Then they went after others. Nobody was killed in the attack, but the villagers chased after us, hoping to set us free and a young man who had followed us was killed by the LRA.
They tied us up and beat us on the way for two days. If you tried to resist you were attacked and beaten. The small ones were beaten with a whip. After a few days, they decided we were no longer being followed and they allowed us to rest.
That is when I counted them. I counted 33 people in the LRA group that took us. They spoke to us via a man named Jean* who was also from the Central African Republic (CAR) and who had been held captive by the group for a long time. He was about 25 years old and could speak their language so he would translate what they had to tell us. He would come and tell us not to try to run away. He would say, “You will become soldiers. Once you are in the army you do not have any need for your family.” But later, when we were alone he would say, “That is a lie. Since I have been with them [the LRA] I have not been well.”
The commander of the group would often threaten us. We were all terrified of the commander and of what he told us he would do if any of us tried to escape. He would tell us, “The person who tries to flee will be killed and if he succeeds we will kill the others.”
But when the commander was not around, Jean encouraged us children. He would tell me, “Michael, try not to show you are scared. You are the oldest, do not make it look like you are going to flee, but you must get away.” I was very afraid, but I tried not to show it.
In May, after I had been with the group for five months, we crossed a river and arrived close to a village and the LRA were distracted. Jean said, “if you are going to run, do it tonight.” So I ran away in the night in the rain.
I ran until I reached the nearby village and told a leader there what had happened to me and how I had escaped. When the LRA commander came looking for me in the village, the leader lied and said that I was not there. Later, after the LRA had gone, the village leader put me on a truck with a note explaining who I was and I was brought back home.
After I escaped, I heard that some of the other children escaped, including my younger brother, who I had been kidnapped with. He told me later that after I escaped, the others had been beaten but that my escape had encouraged them. Not long after, my brother and three others found an opportunity to get away and they were helped by some hunters who brought them to Obo where they stayed with an old woman for some time before coming home.
If it had not been for Jean, I would not have had the courage to escape when I did. If not for him, I do not know if my brother and I would ever have returned home.
Today, Michael and his brother have been reunited. While they were in captivity, Jean risked his own life to help them find the courage and opportunity to escape. We don’t know what happened to Jean, or if he continues to help other children like Michael and his brother.
Jean is one of many kind and courageous central Africans who work every day to help bring LRA captives home and make their communities safer. With your support, we can help advance their work so that, children like Michael won’t have to live in fear of abduction.
*Michael and Jean’s names have been changed to protect their identities.