Uncertain Future for Former Rebel Wives

Shunned by their communities, a group of women forced to marry LRA men now face eviction.

Uncertain Future for Former Rebel Wives

Shunned by their communities, a group of women forced to marry LRA men now face eviction.

After eight years in captivity, Florence Ayot, 28, a former wife of top rebel commander Dominic Ongwen, is looking for a place for her small family to live.

Ayot must move, she says, because the plot of public land on which she and six other former rebel wives reside is to be planted with trees by the Uganda National Forest Authority.

“It’s very sad to leave this place,” she said.

Ayot is among the thousands of young girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, during the region’s 20-year war and handed over to rebel commanders as camp cooks and so-called child brides.

Many escaped the LRA with young children, only to return home to face rejection by their former communities.

“Both of my parents are dead and no one cares about me. Life is very miserable. Any time now, we are going to be evicted from this piece of land,” Ayot told IWPR.

“My relatives do not want me because they think I killed people and I would pose a danger to them.

“So, together with other wives of LRA commanders, we were given this place to settle in by the local council.”

But Ayot must now move, according to forest authority official Firefax Mutungi. She and the women were ordered to do so three months ago, he says, after the government hired contractors to plant trees.

“You should stop erecting more huts and planting crops,” said Mutungi, in an official order.

But Ayot said that transferring her children in the middle of a school term will harm their studies.

She wants more time to find a new home, and thinks the government should help her and the other former LRA wives facing eviction.

Ayot was abducted in 1999 at the age of 13 and given to a rebel commander to whom she bore a child, she says.

“One day, I was at [another] camp, when Dominic Ongwen asked me to be his wife and I could not refuse,” she said.

Ongwen is one of the top LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in 2005. He – along with Kony and his deputy Okot Odhiambo – is still at large and thought to be in the jungles of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

Memories of her time in the bush haunt Ayot – particularly the moment she lost her first child during a rebel clash with the Ugandan army.

“[A] bomb went off and my child ran after his father Dominic,” she said. “I have never seen him since that day.”

After her return, Ayot tried to settle down with another man. But after giving birth to two more children, she said the man stole the goats that she had purchased with the money she’d made from selling homemade beer.

“My goats started disappearing one by one, until I lost all of them. [I learned] that my husband was the one stealing and selling [them]. Even the bicycle I bought, he stole and sold it,” said Ayot.

“He used to call me and other returnees killers and rebels.”

Another former rebel wife facing eviction is Mary Akello, now a secondary school student in Gulu.

She was abducted at the age of nine in 1998, she says, and after being taught how to handle a gun at the age of 16, she was forced to marry a commander. But when the man was killed by Kony for attempting to defect, she said she was given to another senior rebel.

When she refused to become the man’s wife, she said she was forced to carry heavy ammunition, and considered suicide.

She eventually escaped the LRA by forging a note from a commander permitting her to leave the camp to collect water and firewood, she says.

Akello says she has only vague memories of her time in the bush.

“I fought, but I’m not sure if I killed anyone,” she told IWPR. “But what I will never forget is the child I conceived through forced marriage. It’s so painful now.”

Since she escaped in 2002 and received an amnesty, she, like the other former LRA wives, has been unable to get back together with her family and relatives.

“I’m staying with my aunt, but my uncle hates my child,” she said. “Once he beat her [so hard] she was admitted to hospital for two weeks.”

Akello says she is treated poorly at school.

“If they come to know that you [were an LRA captive], then they call you all sorts of names,” Akello said.

Jacqueline Abonyo, 32, a further ex-LRA wife expecting to be evicted, told IWPR she spent two years in captivity and also trained as a fighter. She said she escaped from the LRA in 1999 while in South Sudan.

According to Abonyo, she was forced to kill abducted child soldiers who attempted to escape the LRA.

However, she said she preferred not to dwell on those events.

“Life is not about lamenting the past,” she said. “What I have seen may harm my attempts to put things right for my future.”

Abonyo says she now sells homemade gin.

“I get at least 100,000 shillings (500 US dollars) a month which enables me to make as living,” she said. “I do not beg any more.”

However, she has also had problems reintegrating.

“Some people, especially drunkards, insult me saying, ‘I feel like hitting you with an iron bar as you did [to others] in the bush,’” she said.

Gloria Aciro Laker is an IWPR contributor.
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