Arrow Boys Hit Back at LRA

South Sudan militias repel deadly attacks by rampaging Ugandan rebels.

Arrow Boys Hit Back at LRA

South Sudan militias repel deadly attacks by rampaging Ugandan rebels.

Villagers across western South Sudan are striking back against the Ugandan rebel force the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, which has mounted a series of bloody raids in the region in recent weeks.

Called the Arrow Boys, the community defenders wield any available weapon, they say, including clubs, spears, bows and arrows and knives.

The Arrow Boys militias have sprung up across Western Equatoria, officials say, but are concentrated in areas most affected by LRA attacks in recent months. These include Maridi, Mundri, Ezo and Ibba counties.

Raphael Monuku, head of the Arrow Boys in Manikakara Payam, a region in Ibba county, Western Equatoria, says people in the region are furious with the LRA, which have been camped nearby since 2006 when peace talks began in Juba between the LRA and Uganda.

When LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to sign the negotiated deal for the third time in late November, the Ugandan army attacked Kony’s camps in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, which were not far from the South Sudan border.

The Ugandans were joined in the December 14 strike by forces from DRC and South Sudan, which said it would secure the border against rebel attacks.

Kony and two of the LRA’s top commanders thought still to be alive are wanted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the LRA’s 20-year war in northern Uganda. They remain at large in DRC.

After the mid-December strike against the LRA, the rebel units scattered and killed an estimated 900 people, largely Congolese, but also some South Sudanese, according to the United Nations.

“The citizens of Western Equatoria, especially in the LRA-affected areas, don't sleep anymore in their houses,” Monuku said, so they can be “ready for any surprise attacks … by the LRA bandits”.

In late February, LRA fighters attacked the western Sudan town of Manikakara, burning houses, killing civilians with machetes, looting food, and raping women, Monuku said.

"[The] LRA guerrilla movement appears to be a defeated movement,” he said.

“They have no access to ammunition [or guns]. That’s why they’re resorting to pangas (machetes), axes, knives….to kill the innocent civilians of the Western Equatoria.”

The Arrow Boys militias are now fighting back with some recent successes.

LRA attacks in February in Ibba and Maridi counties were repulsed by Arrow Boys, according to state officials.

One eyewitness, who asked not to be identified, told IWPR, "One LRA bandit was killed by the Arrow Boys. They dragged his body to the police station, cut it into pieces, and danced raucously.”

Tens of thousands of Western Equatoria civilians have been displaced by the fighting, creating a humanitarian crisis, officials say.

Meanwhile, women in the affected communities are also joining the fight against the LRA.

Joyce Bakosom, from Manikakara Payam, who described herself as an Arrow Lady, said the Ugandan rebels are desperate, which is why their attacks are so vicious.

"The LRA lack food at the moment,” Bakosom said. “Life in the murky jungles of Garamba [where they used to be based] has become hell for them. That is why they do [these] things…."

Bakosom said her father's leg was cut off by the LRA during an attack in Ibba county, which prompted her to join the Sudanese militia.

“We the ladies and daughters of Western Equatoria need to wake up and support our boys at this bad moment,” she told IWPR. “Let's pick [up] our arrows and spears and join our strong brothers in the bush in the fight [against] the LRA.

“The authorities of Maridi and Ibba are cooperating seriously with the Arrow Boys about how they can protect themselves and defend [against] any barbaric attack by the LRA.”

The authorities, she says, have urged the local militia to be aggressive and not simply defend themselves, “We shall keep our promise and defeat the LRA.”

Monuku said residents have tolerated the LRA for far too long.

The LRA has gone beyond the bounds of humanity, he said, and the “Arrow Boys will work together and [drive] the LRA out of Maridi, Ibba and Western Equatoria”.

Modest Kizito Oketa is an IWPR-trained reporter.
Support our journalists