Shortly, Dominic Ongwen will be the first commander of an internationally listed terrorist organization to give acte de presence at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Coming from the ‘bush’, he arrives in gloomy and wintery The Hague, almost a decade after the world’s permanent atrocity court dispensed arrest warrants for him and four fellow rebellious leaders of the sectarian Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Infamously guided by the schizophrenic self-proclaimed spokesperson of God, Joseph Kony, the mob brutalised the people it claimed to be fighting for: the Acholi in northern Uganda. Instead of fulfilling its dream to fashion a theocracy based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments and Acholi folklore, the LRA embarked on a crusade of terror.
Emblematically, the LRA’s ghastly initiation rituals notoriously encompassed cutting of limbs, lips and ears of civilians, kidnapping and indoctrinating thousands of kids to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. Ongwen was himself captured and whipped as a poor child. Ironically, it is now he, himself, who faces allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, perpetrated when he was grown man.
And the charges are no child’s play: murder, enslavement, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, attacking civilians and pillaging. A complicated challenge surfaces for current Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who co-signed the warrants when she was still a deputy. In the eyes of public opinion on the troubled ICC, it is far from a comfortable case, which comes at an inconvenient time. Brushing off the dust of a dormant criminal file with a former child soldier turned ‘terrorist’ in the dock is perhaps not the desired ‘easy catch’ the war crimes court is after. And where to hold the hearings, if it comes to trial?
Born at the time of the white ant
At some point in the wet season of 1980, Alexy Acayo and Ronald Owiya, two schoolteachers living in Paibona, fêted the birth of their fourth child: Dominic Okumu Savio. Times were tough. When Dominic was five or six years old, Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) overthrew the short-lived military junta of Tito Okello, who hailed from Dominic’s home region, Acholiland. Okello’s forces repelled and a protracted bloody bush war was soon to dominate the youngster’s life, living in fear of NRA midnight marauds, killings and rapes. But danger lingered everywhere. Forced recruitment by rebel-turned Acholi combatants also loomed, at a time when the spiritual leader Alice Auma’s (a.k.a. Lakwena) Holy Spirit Movement and her Holy Mobile Force morphed the skirmishes into a quasi-sectarian feud.
When Lakwena was defeated and exiled in 1988, her relative and former choirboy Joseph Kony – known to be haunted by spirits – withdrew from the Holy Spirit remnants and reconstituted them into what became the LRA. Now dreading snatching and