Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kony Wife Recounts Dramatic Escape

Catherine Ajok dodged bombs and lions to get away from the man who held her captive for over a decade.
By Julius Ocen
When Catherine Ajok, one of the so-called Aboke girls, returned home late one night recently, the people of the Apac lined the road holding candles in her honour.



A chorus of women’s voices rose in ululations as she passed.



Catherine had been held captive for 13 years by the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, whose leader Joseph Kony had taken her as one of his many wives, she told IWPR.



On the night of October 9, 1996, Catherine was among 139 girls kidnapped by the LRA in a raid on St Mary’s College, a girl’s school in the town of Aboke about 30 kilometres from Lira.



A fearless nun named Sister Rachele went after the girls, and secured the release of 109 after negotiating with the LRA unit commander. The 30 she was unable to get back became known as the Aboke girls.



Of the 30, two died in captivity and 28 managed to escape. Catherine was the last to do so.



“The return of my daughter is the best news of the year,” said Catherine’s father, Alfred Alayi, who said he agonised over occasional rumors of his daughter’s escape. Until now, they were false.



Alayi is one of the Concerned Parents Association that formed after the abduction and who appealed to Kony to release their daughters. Numerous attempts to free the girls, which included efforts by United Nations representatives, failed.



“I wrote to Kony to release my daughter with others, but he turned deaf a ear. As [an association] parent, we went through mental torture as a result of our daughter being in the bush,” he said.



Catherine, now 26, returned with a 22-month-old son, named Happy, who she said was fathered by Kony. The child has been baptised and given the name Deogracious, or God’s gift, and a Luo name, Apunyu.



“I thank you so much,” Catherine told the crowd that had gathered at her home. “May God bless you abundantly.”



In an interview with IWPR, she talked about her life with the LRA and her harrowing escape.



“[The night of the abduction], they forced us to start the long journey,” she said. “All along the way, the [Ugandan army] attacked our positions.”



The rebels were constantly on the run, she said, and fled to Sudan.



“We were divided. Some Aboke girls remained in Uganda. I was among those who went to Sudan. Four of us [Aboke girls] were living in Kony’s house,” she said.



She confirmed that Vincent Otti, the LRA’s former second-in-command who pushed for a peace agreement with Uganda, was killed in 2007, reportedly on Kony’s orders. Those in the LRA camp were not allowed to talk about it, she said.



During a 2002 Ugandan military operation, known as Operation Iron Fist, the LRA were forced to flee their bases in South Sudan, relocating in the remote Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC, where Kony set up camp.



Catherine lived there amongst the rebels for nearly three years until mid-December, when the Ugandan army struck again in a coordinated offensive with Congolese and South Sudanese forces.



She remembers well the day when the Ugandan army bombarded Kony’s camp.



“On that day of 14 December, the planes started to bomb our positions,” she explained. “We were told a day before to leave the camp. The planes started to bomb few minutes [after] people had started to leave the camp.”



She said she didn’t move quickly enough, however.



“The planes caught me shortly after I had left my house to pick up [my belongings]. Bombs dropped near me. Kony had already left. He left few minutes before,” she said.



“We who remained behind were caught by the planes.”



Kony and his remaining two top commanders were indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005 in connection with atrocities committed during the LRA insurgency in northern Uganda. The all remain at large.



In the confusion of the attack on the LRA camp, Catherine managed to get away from him her captors, narrowly escaping another bombing raid.



She was hiding under a tree with her child when a bomb detonated nearby shattering almost all the branches.

Catherine said she decided to keep on moving, “I used to walk from morning up to mid-day, then I would rest.”



Though free of the LRA, she encountered other dangers as she wandered through the jungle. “One day, in the bright day light, an angry lion in a tree roared at me,” she said.



Catherine survived on peanuts, she said, and when they were gone, she came across an abandoned dwelling with food where she stayed for several days.



Fearing she would be found and killed, she moved on, until she came across some Congolese soldiers.



“When they saw me with my baby, they came closer to me, asking me in Swahili who I am,” she said. “I told them I am a former abducted Aboke girl. Do not shoot me.



“They searched the area before they took me to their commander suspecting there were more enemies around.



“The commander then took me to [a Ugandan army] soldier who later handed me over to [the] commander, who gave me a suitcase, clothing for my baby and 20,000 shillings (20 US dollars),” she said. “Later on I was put on plane which took me to Uganda.”



Godfrey Okello, the director of Concerned Parents Association, said many in the community were grateful that Catherine had returned.



“She survived being eaten up by wild animals. God is great. Our prayer has been answered.”



Julius Ocen is an IWPR trainee and a Ugandan television correspondent.