Veteran journalist Eichstaedt (If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans, 1994) blows the lid off atrocities in East Africa involving alarmingly young war recruits.
After working with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in the Hague to successfully establish an independent news agency in Afghanistan, the author in 2005 went to Uganda to do the same. The nation had been racked by civil war for 20 years, and nearly 95 percent of its citizens lived in refugee camps. But the desperate situation received little international media coverage. Eichstaedt’s attention soon focused on Uganda’s northern region, ravaged by the Lord’s Resistance Army. This guerrilla group, formed in rebellion against the government, was comprised mainly of children. The author personally interviewed eyewitnesses to the LRA’s slaughter of Ugandan citizens, its own high-ranking officers and the child soldiers themselves. Their tales of savagery repulsed him. “That humans were capable of doing such things for years on end was hard to fathom,” he writes. Dense, in-depth reporting showcases LRA leader Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed witch doctor and prophet whose adoption of the name Lord’s Resistance, and of the Ten Commandments as a “moral guide,” was bitterly ironic in light of his tactics. The LRA kidnapped thousands of young male soldiers and child “brides,” forcing them into military service and sexual servitude. The young soldiers’ first assignment was often to kill their family members. Interviews with former LRA members give an intimate spin to this concentrated narrative; those who managed to escape frequently returned home to find themselves ostracized by their families for the violence they had done. A shaky truce has been established between warring factions, Eichstaedt writes, but the LRA and the elusive Kony remain formidable obstacles to lasting peace.
A chillingly lucid report on a terminally tragic catastrophe.