Rebel leader Joseph Kony hand-picked the young girls he and his coterie of trusted soldiers called their “wives”.
Polline was a 14-year-old schoolgirl who dreamed of becoming a reporter when two young men approached her in her village one Friday morning as she hung out her washing in 2002. Her mother was not at home when they questioned her about being married, but her instincts told her to lie so she told them her husband was at the market. She looked young, they didn’t buy her story, and instead brought out the guns concealed under their shirts, beat her, then marched her into the bush to join a large group of rebels and other abducted children.
“Most girls are given to men to serve as housewives, cooking and cleaning, and most are not allowed to fight. Their work is to carry heavy luggage” says Polline.
Polline was a hard worker, focused and clever. These qualities brought her to the attention of Joseph Kony and his commanders and would later save her life, but not before surviving seven long years of war. “The worst part was when were in Soroti (north-eastern Uganda) and many people were killed. My best friend was shot in front of me and it was so painful. The hardest thing was seeing innocent people killed for no reason. If you fail to walk long distances you are killed for no reason.”
For four years her life was a series of long treks through the bush, fighting government forces, enduring attacks, abducting more children and being subjected to sexual violence on a daily basis. “We were always moving, from six in the morning to six at night, mothers with children on their backs, carrying heavy luggage, just like the slave trade.”
Then in 2006, when Joseph Kony and the LRA leaders were forced back into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Polline was with them. “I knew Joseph Kony. We were together, we moved together, did everything together. He was the type of person to give orders. He didn’t do things himself. He could send soldiers out and tell them “when you see people, just kill them.’”
“He could know anything before it happens. When we were about to reach fighters in the bush, or when the UDPF soldiers from Uganda were coming, he would know it before. People in Uganda thought he had special power. I don’t think he has special power.”
The retreat into dense jungle in the Congo meant a more settled life for Polline and the other young women, many of whom had one or more children to the soldiers. Being smart, Polline had stepped into a leadership role within that harsh world. She still dreamed of school and learning, but was losing hope of a life beyond the camp and taking care of the physical needs of her “husband”. Once, she tried to escape but she was beaten with 80 lashes and forced to keep fighting. After that she lost the heart to try again.
After the LRA retreated to the Congo in 2006, Polline fell pregnant to the commander and as she went into labour found herself alone and frightened in the camp while others were away fighting. Two women stayed with her, but when the labour stretched on, day after painful day, they grew tired and left her. She knew nothing of what to expect. There was no mother or sister to prepare or comfort her. After two weeks and two days she could not stand it.