By: Jodie Rogge

Katanga child soldier

In late 1980, Milton Obote returned to power in Uganda. After he left in 1971, Uganda had been stuck with several weak governments that did not help stabilize the country. Soon after he was reinstated, Yoweri Museveni formed the National Resistance Army. With 26 other men he marched into the bush and declared war on Obote and the UNLA (Uganda National Liberation Army). As the NRA continued to gain support, Obote decided to conduct a major counterinsurgency campaign. This resulted in 200,00 deaths, 150,000 administered into UNLA camps, and another 150,000 misplaced. Homes and communities were destroyed which left many children orphaned and homeless. The social order had collapsed.

The children who were orphaned and left alone were starving and dying. The NRA saw this and decided to step in. With no strong social order the children were vulnerable. The NRA “adopted” the refugee kids and gave them food, shelter, and clothing. As the UNLA operations became more threatening the NRA also gave the children self defense lessons. Soon enough the children became loyal members of the NRA. They escorted officers, cooked, cleaned, ran errands, and carried weapons. The children were filled with revenge against the UNLA for destroying their homes that they became motivated, reliable, and dedicated to the NRA. In late 1985 the NRA was stretched pretty thin and sent child soldiers into action. As the fighting near Kampala continued more and more child soldiers began to show up. After Kampala fell to the NRA, the child soldiers were written about as young liberators. The child soldiers at roadblocks or in the streets were seen as reliable and trustworthy. They all carried a gun with pride and skill and never abused its power.

The social structure of Uganda was weak and almost nonexistent after Obote returned to power and began fighting the NRA. With no parents and no where to go, the NRA was a place to call home. As refugees, the NRA provided a place where children could feel safe. They also, however, taught them to be soldiers. With no where else to go, the children became loyal and diligent soldiers who resented the UNLA for the destruction they caused. The collapse of the social order took away their childhood and thrust them into a war. Children soldiers is not part of Ugandan culture, they were operating outside of social order.