Photography by Brian Moody
In July 2002, Odongtoo Jimmy was abducted by the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Two years later he escaped. The LRA, led by the fanatical Joseph Kony, had abducted 25,000 children. In his army, boys were given a choice: kill or be killed, while girls were used as sex slaves.
The rebels came in the night to the village where I lived with my grandmother. They took me from my bed, just as they had done with so many other children. For the first two days I had my hands tightly bound, but as we approached the Sudanese border they loosened my hands and gave me bags to carry. All the time I kept my eyes down – I was terrified. I knew that I would soon be given my first ‘assignment’.
I didn’t have to wait long. When the LRA see someone riding a bicycle, they have a policy of killing them. People on bicycles pose a threat, as they can ride to the next village and raise the alarm. We came across a man on a bike and I was told to beat him to death with a piece of wood. I didn’t hesitate, because to do so would have meant sacrificing my own life. Boys who are unable to kill (and there are many) are subsequently killed themselves.
After several months I was given a gun. They told me to smear shea butter over my hands, feet and forehead. This, the rebels said, would give me the courage to kill, but it would also make me fall to the ground should I try to escape. I believed them.
I don’t know how many people I killed while I was in the bush. I would use my gun and fire indiscriminately into the crowds as we raided villages for food and children. Many people died because of my actions.
Finally, after two years, I began to doubt the rebels. Myself and another boy decided to escape. During the next attack on a village we took our chance; we ran and ran until after two days we found ourselves at the government barracks. They interrogated us and sent us to a returnees’ rehabilitation project supported by Oxfam.
My conscience is not clear, and will never be.
The nightmares haven’t started yet, but I can’t stop thinking about what happened in the bush. I’ve written to my grandmother to ask her to take me back, but have not yet heard from her. Perhaps she doesn’t want to see me because of what I’ve done.
I know that because I’ve committed atrocities people may see me as a perpetrator, but I’m also a victim because I did not choose to kill.