In Kony's Shadow: New exhibition tells story of Uganda's child soldiers

Norman was abducted into the LRA aged just 12, and taught to murder and commit horrific crimes. He managed to escape, and now wants to ensure that other children don't have to suffer the same atrocities in the future.

Christian Aid has produced an exhibition to share the stories of some of the survivors of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.

Led by fanatical military leader Joseph Kony, the LRA is known largely for its practice of encouraging the abduction of children for use as soldiers during a bloody war in Uganda, which was brought to light most notably by Invisible Children's viral Stop Kony 2012 campaign.

Kony operated in Uganda between 1987 and 2006, pursuing a vision for the nation which he believed to combine the Ten Commandments with local Acholi traditions. The LRA was initially set up to counter the National Resistance Army in Uganda, and used mutilation, rape and torture to terrorise the population into submission.

Though Kony is now believed to be in hiding in the Central African Republic and no longer operates in Uganda, he was once responsible for the abduction of at least 20,000 children to become child soldiers – one of whom was Norman Okello, who is at the heart of the new exhibition.

Aged just 12, Norman was captured by rebel soldiers and forced to join the LRA. "I was a very innocent child. I lived an ordinary life. A village child," he says.

"After being abducted, they transformed me to be a fighter and to be a real killer."

Maracillina Amee, 68, is also featured in the exhibition. The LRA attacked her village in the early 1990s, abducted two villagers, killed her 10 year old daughter and cut off her nose with a knife. She is scheduled to receive plastic surgery through the Refugee Law Project.

Norman explains that the LRA used children because they are easy to train and manipulate: "They say 'If you don't kill this person, I will kill you.'"

He was eventually able to escape back to his home, but his brutal treatment and intense trauma made it difficult for the community to accept him.

"People were not pleased to see me, because they regarded me as a rebel, as a killer, as a fighter. I was not the Norman of before I was abducted. It was not easy to be transformed from being a rebel, a fighter, to a civilian," he says.

"All your pain comes out as aggression, rage and frustration. Sometimes as a human being, you have been pushed too far."

Entitled 'In Kony's Shadow', the exhibition also features Norman's parents, who struggled to cope with the return of their son, and the testimonies of other civilians who witnessed horrendous atrocities during the war. Martin Olanya, 72, had to watch as 17 of his family members were murdered by LRA forces in an attack that saw over 100 killed, including several newborn babies.

Dorina Adjero's husband and youngest son were bludgeoned to death in the same attack. "The rebels were singing while they killed my family," she remembers.

"One even smiled at me – they seemed to enjoy what they were doing. They wanted to destroy everything.

"Some [were] very young, very thin boys."

In the wake of such extreme tragedy, the reconciliation work is ongoing in Uganda in an effort to bring hope and peace to a land fractured by violence and war. Christian Aid funds the Refugee Law Project, which gives survivors the opportunity to share their stories in the hopes of securing a better and brighter future through the National Peace and Memory Documentation Centre.

"Until today, nobody has ever come to write my story down. It helps for someone to listen – that way my family members are not forgotten," says Martin.

'In Kony's Shadow' will show at the Oxo Tower in March, not long after the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers on 12 February. Otherwise known as Red Hand Day, it is used by NGOs and charities to urge political leaders to end the practice of child conscription.

The multimedia exhibition features the work of photographer Will Storr and filmmaker Tom Pietrasik, and can be found online at www.christianaid.org.uk/in-konys-shadow or at gallery@oxo on Southbank between 5and 16 March.

The video trailer contains content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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