“They call him ‘Son of Tonga Tonga,’ ” said Boliza, now 17. It means “Son of the LRA.”
In the jungles of this vast region of central Africa, villagers are grappling with the emotional and psychological scars left by Kony’s militia. The LRA has abducted tens of thousands of children over nearly three decades, forcing them to become sex slaves or soldiers, mutilate victims and even kill family members.
The LRA today is thought to be greatly diminished, with no more than a few hundred fighters. But it remains a threat, and villagers live in constant fear, even as Ugandan and U.S. troops pursue Kony for his alleged crimes. The LRA carried out 11 attacks this year in this country and 13 in neighboring Congo, according to the United Nations and local military officials.
“People will literally pick up their belongings and go sleep in the bush if they believe the LRA are close,” said Lucie Koboura Morgode, a social worker with Mercy Corps, a Portland, Ore.-based aid agency that assists victims. “The trauma can remain with them their entire lives.”
In Obo, a quiet hamlet in southeastern Central African Republic, the fear can be heard in the voice of Germaine Guinikpara, who says she was repeatedly raped by Kony and forced to club adults and children to death. It can be seen in the scars of Guy Roger Mongozimbale, who says he was abducted at 14 and ordered to fight after being given “magic” potions.
The trauma is also apparent in Emmanuel Dada’s bouts of anger and loneliness. He says an LRA soldier forced him to bash a baby against a wall and then stomp the child to death. But the memory of that incident is not the one that wakes him up some nights, the one he can still see “like a film.”
“It was burning the church down on Christmas Day,” Dada said, his voice lowering to a whisper. “So many Christians died that day.”
Despite being mostly quiet for the past year, Kony has gained fresh attention through videos recently released by the advocacy group Invisible Children, the first of which focused primarily on the LRA’s attacks in neighboring Uganda, where the militia was founded.
But Kony and the LRA left Uganda years ago. Since then, they have targeted villagers in a triangle of forests straddling the Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan.
Since 2008, when the militia arrived in this region, it has killed more than 2,400 people and kidnapped at least 3,400, according to the United Nations. Last year alone, the LRA displaced 466,000 people.
The victims’ accounts could not be independently verified, but human rights groups have widely documented the LRA’s violence.
Around Obo, entire villages, many burned to the ground by the militia, remain empty.