Uganda Christian University alum authors book about his LRA captivity
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/12/uganda-christian-university-alum-authors-book-about-his-lra-captivity/
By Patty Huston-Holm
With large snowflakes descending on my car windshield from a spot in a Columbus, Ohio, medical center parking lot, I read about my friend, Olum Douglas, and how at age 11, he was captured by an African terrorist group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In December 2020, Douglas, now age 34, is a first-time author of “The Captive: My 240 days with the LRA rebels.”
The stories of abduction, murder and sex slavery of 30,000 children since the LRA’s start in 1987 are many. I know something about the LRA and three other main African-based terrorist groups – Al-Shabab, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. The main difference with this story, which is published in e-version and paperback on Amazon and is every bit as compelling as the other stories, is that I know Douglas personally. And I know every word of his story about his time as a child soldier is true.
I ate chicken and vegetables with his wife and children, ages 4 and 7, at their humble home in the village of Mukono, Uganda. I’ve mentored him as a journalist, reading and editing his stories about life at Uganda Christian University (UCU), where I have consulted and taught since 2012. Douglas, who is now pursuing his post-graduate degree in the Faculty of Faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication, has been a freelance contributor for the UCU Partners organization, based in Pennsylvania, for more than a year. We have shared laughter, political opinions and frustrations with life. On occasion, we agree to disagree.
I knew Douglas was working on his book before we met. On pieces of paper since 2011, he remembered and wrote while, in his words, “tears endlessly flowed out, dripping down.” As he shared some of his draft manuscript, my first question was always about how he would feel being known for the indignities he suffered. Did he want to keep remembering that horrible time over and over again as an author?
“Yes,” he repeated. He is on a mission to bring attention and elevate change about civil rights violations – not just his own but those of others.
So it was in the darkness on April 4, 1998, that the LRA kicked open the door to where Olum Douglas slept in Gulu, Uganda, and brutally forced him and other children to become followers. I had been to Gulu as recent as January 2020. I knew the area was surrounded by dense bush.
As the snow pounded on my car, waiting on my husband who had a medical appointment inside in mid-December, I thought about the heat of Gulu – 7, 400 miles away – as well as the terrain as I turned the pages of Douglas’ book. I knew that Gulu was 468 kilometers (291 miles) away from what is now called South Sudan. Some say that Joseph Kony, the ringleader of the LRA, hides out in that region just across the Ugandan border still today.
Without my frame of reference, however, I saw how my author friend enabled even the most naïve about East Africa and terrorism to visualize and agonize with the LRA’s kidnapped boys and girls. With captivating detail, Olum Douglas allows the reader to see him as a boy, hungry and wearing rain-drenched clothes, walking with bleeding, blistered bare feet and carrying on his small back the heavy supplies stolen from huts. He feared death for faltering. He was beaten, sometimes to the point of losing his eyesight, when he slowed the train of rebels and child recruits.
The LRA brainwashing starts on page 17 as the terrorist rebels convince their abductees that they will help with a mission to save the Acholi people from Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s alleged plan to wipe them out. To do this, the LRA must kill and steal from people and abduct more children. Those too weak or trying to escape from this mission as called by “the Lord” will be killed.
Throughout the book’s 120 pages of 240 days in captivity, Douglas describes how he and the other children, mostly boys, are slapped, beaten, forced to sleep in the rain and deprived of food to reinforce their submission. The two most heart-wrenching parts of the story are how Douglas witnessed the decapitation of two girls and how he participated in killing a 40-year-old man.
“If only I had a choice, I would have saved a life,” he writes in Chapter Five before describing how he and other boys were forced to bash a man’s head with logs until, under orders, the head “completely disappears into the soil.” They did. It did.
I finished the book on that snowy December Ohio afternoon. Two days later, I interviewed Douglas via Zoom. My first question was about his feelings about being party to that brutal murder.
“It was survival,” he said. “I knew many of the children captive with me, but I didn’t know the man. If I could find his family today, I would ask for forgiveness.”
My second question was about Kony.
“I never met him,” Douglas said. “He’s in his 60s now, I believe, and still alive, probably living in the Central African Republic.”
My third question was about anger. By his own admission in the book’s conclusion that follows the account of his escape (that I won’t give away), Douglas got into fights with other children.
“When I get annoyed, I don’t hit people anymore,” he said. “I just get quiet.”
In that Zoom discussion on a Saturday morning (for me in Ohio) and afternoon (eight hours later for Douglas in Uganda), my new author friend shared that he didn’t write the book just for himself. He wrote it to be the voice for those captive at his side and unable to escape and to encourage speaking out and attention to all injustices today.
“When the sun comes out, and the plant has germinated, there is nowhere to run,” he said. “There is much education and many stories to be told.”
Among those who consulted with Douglas on the story in “The Captive: My 240 days with the LRA rebels” was Peggy Noll, wife of the first UCU Vice Chancellor, Stephen Noll. To access Douglas’ book, go to https://www.amazon.com/CAPTIVE-204-days-LRA-rebels-ebook/dp/B08QJR8T1S/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+captive%3A+my+204+days+with+the+lra+rebels&qid=1608578108&sr=8-1
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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