A history of violence in Northern Uganda

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I have re-blogged this from the ActionAid website. As a young woman from Northern Uganda, I have had the unfortunate experience of violence. Let’s share this woman’s story so that we can shine light on this decadent vice eating up our community and removing the dignity of women. Do what you can to stop violence against women.

by Søren Bjerregaard

Aciro Joyce walks with blistering pace, never looking back as she performs her daily chores at a homestead outside Amuru, Northern Uganda. Her eyes are fixed on the future; the last 20 years has been a history of violence that began when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted her at the age of 14, continued with two violent husbands, and ended when she walked into the ActionAid Women Protection Centre (WPC).

“I am safe right now, but I have had enough. I don’t think I can take being beaten until I see only darkness again – and I am sure I will not allow it to happen,” says Aciro, in a low voice.

File 27740Photo by Jakob Dall / ActionAid

At her uncle’s homestead – 20 huts scattered throughout a perfectly maintained compound, surrounded by fields of green crops and vegetables – where she now lives, the well-fed dogs are not barking, and even the chickens seem at peace. Having given birth to 5 children, Aciro sees a lot of hard work ahead, but nothing that could compare to the cruelty of her past.

Abducted by the LRA

Aciro had a normal childhood until 1992, when she was abducted by rebels from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the early 90s, the Government attempted to destroy the LRA, and Kony responded with further brutality – kidnapping innocent citizens.

“I was 14 years old when LRA took me and my younger brother. He tried to run away from the camp the first day, but the rebels caught him. They tied his hands and feet and told other kids to beat him to death. They did that in front of all of us – the abducted children. In the beginning he was screaming, then he went silent, and then he was dead. Another girl told me to stop screaming as I watched, or else I could be next. I stopped,” Aciro narrates with averted eyes. “What happened to my brother became an everyday thing. They asked the abducted boys to kill someone to see if they were ‘cowards or soldiers’.”

Throughout the following weeks, the nightmare continued for Aciro and the 70 other abducted children in her group. During the daytime, she carried supplies for the hundred rebels in the battalion. Children who broke down were beaten to death in the same manner as her brother.

“In the evenings, the rebels abused us young girls sexually. Sometimes, several soldiers raped me before I could try to get some sleep. I was not myself; it was nothing but pain, and survival.”

After several weeks, Aciro escaped while the rebels were fighting Government soldiers. She went to her mother’s place in Gulu – the biggest town in Northern Uganda. Eight months later she gave birth to a daughter, conceived during the sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her abductors.

From Iron Fist to iron fist

File 27742Photo: Jakob Dall / ActionAid

After her abduction, Aciro lived a quiet life in her mother’s house, mending her wounds and looking after her daughter. In 1996, she met her first husband, with whom she would go on to have 3 children. The LRA was still active in Northern Uganda, but the area was relatively peaceful – until 2002, when the Ugandan military launched a massive military offensive dubbed Iron Fist. The LRA responded by abducting hundreds, possibly even thousands, of people in Northern Uganda. Tension was high, and more than 1.5 million people fled to camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs).“I started to fear for my life and my children, so we moved to an IDP camp in 2003. In the camp, my husband started to drink heavily and to stay out late at nights. When he came home, he would beat me for no reason. It was a big relief when we separated in 2005. He later died from AIDS, but without having infected me.”

She left the IDP camp in 2006 and moved to Gulu, where a preacher helped her to recover. The preacher soon developed feelings for Aciro, and asked her to become his second wife.

“I did not accept until after a year had passed. Then the drama began. His first wife accused me of having HIV, although I was negative. She also called me a prostitute, and my husband chased me away several times. He would use a spear or a stick to beat me, so I ran as fast as I could. This kept happening, and I escaped here, to my Uncle’s homestead, each time.”

Things went from bad to worse when she gave birth to a son, and her husband continued to favour the first wife and her children. After a while, Aciro convinced him to seek counselling at a Government office. Nothing was resolved at the meeting, so she decided to walk to her uncle’s home with their one-year-old son.

“As I was walking with our baby along the river, he suddenly came and attacked me with a heavy stick. He also hit my son’s head by mistake. My son and I both lost consciousness and he ran away, thinking he had killed us. You can see wounds from the attack even today.”

The way forward

File 27741Photo by Jakob Dall / ActionAid

After the attack, ActionAid’s Women Protection Centre (WPC) in Amuru took on the case and helped Aciro to get to a health clinic.

“After some days of intense counselling, they advised me to move permanently to my uncle’s homestead. They also brought our two families together to find a way forward. The Centre sorted everything out for me and they are the reason I now see a future for myself and our son.”

Aciro decided not to press charges against her husband, so he got away with 30 days of community service. After a month, she was discharged from the hospital, only to find that her son was being mistreated in her husband’s home..

“We frequently go to counselling at the Women Protection Centre, and it has helped a lot. My husband has stopped drinking and accepted that I take care of our son. We have agreed to wait another year before we can move back in with him. I have to feel secure before we can be together.”

In the meantime, Aciro is farming her own piece of land at her uncle’s place – using the skills and seeds she has been given by ActionAid.

“I now grow my own vegetables and grain and I am more independent. That is a big step forward. For the first time in many years, I can look at the future and smile.”

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