Obo, Central African Republic — When Jeanne Boliza looks at her 3-year-old child, she remembers.
He is the product of her ordeal as a sex slave for a soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal militia led by a self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Kony. Boliza, who was a child when she was raped, named her son Dieu Donné, “God Given.” But her neighbors refer to him by a different name.
“They call him ‘Son of Tonga Tonga,’ ” said Boliza, now 17. It means “Son of the LRA.”
In the jungles of this vast region of central Africa, villagers are grappling with the emotional and psychological scars left by Kony’s militia. The LRA has abducted tens of thousands of children over nearly three decades, forcing them to become sex slaves or soldiers, mutilate victims and even kill family members.
The LRA today is thought to be greatly diminished, with no more than a few hundred fighters. But it remains a threat, and villagers live in constant fear, even as Ugandan and U.S. troops pursue Kony for his alleged crimes. The LRA carried out 11 attacks this year in this country and 13 in neighboring Congo, according to the United Nations and local military officials.
“People will literally pick up their belongings and go sleep in the bush if they believe the LRA are close,” said Lucie Koboura Morgode, a social worker with Mercy Corps, a Portland, Ore.-based aid agency that assists victims. “The trauma can remain with them their entire lives.”