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The inspiring life story of a former child soldier from northern Uganda

Boy Soldier: Memoirs of a Child Soldier From Northern Uganda tells the harrowing, moving and inspiring life of Norman Okello, a young man who grew up in northern Uganda under the shadow of war. At the age of twelve, he was abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel army that mixed religious mysticism with extreme brutality to extreme effect. In captivity, he was subjected to a ruthless training regime aimed at removing his humanity and turning him into a soldier and killing machine free from conscience and fear.

This book tells a true story of epic proportions, about severe hardships and extreme strength in events that happened not long ago in a strange but real world. It narrates how one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world changed the life of one individual irreversibly. This book reveals the complex society that exists within the Lord’s Resistance Army. There’s a murderous, superstitious cult aspect to the LRA which makes them such a formidable force and Norman’s story attests to how fearless military strength can be when combined with religious mysticism. The book shows how a young child was able to coop in this hostile environment and navigate through all the hardships. It shows the constant struggles that Norman had with himself trying to keep his humanity and stay alive, while all the odds were against him.

This book tells the tale of Norman’s life and the extraordinary events in which he was directly involved. From his idyllic early childhood which reveals this part of Africa in its full beauty, to his combat, abduction and punishment missions which can be added to the darkest pages of human history to his eventual escape and the enormous difficulties he faced to reintegrate back into a society which feared him and despised him for what he did and represents. Norman’s story is harrowing, moving and inspiring all at once. It is a story about human survival in the world’s most dangerous environment that begs to be told.

Norman says: "My story is extraordinary. I want the world to learn my story so that my story will not be repeated any time or anywhere. I want the world to learn what war does to a person, but I also want the world to learn that we can overcome hatred, we can forgo past trauma and we can move on with our lives. Please help us to make this book a reality to bring better understanding of conflict so maybe one day we will learn our mistake and we will not repeat it again."

Norman Okello is a former child soldier from northern Uganda, abducted at the age of 12 and forced to become a soldier in what was one of the most notoriously violent rebel forces in the world. Norman suffered unimaginable hardships both during his abduction in the LRA but also after he escaped, trying to reintegrate into a society hostile towards him. He is now a family man who owns his own farm, rears cattle and other livestock and serves the public as a civil servant. Throughout his life, Norman was forced to make brave and difficult choices that not only kept him alive, but also made him a role model to mankind on the ability to overcome hardship, overcome hatred, and live a fulfilling life centered on helping others and serving his community. His extraordinary story will undoubtedly inspire people and begs to be told.

Dr Theo Hollander is a peacebuilding professional with over 10 years of professional experience working on child soldiers, reintegration of combatants, peacebuilding, transitional justice and security. From 2006 to 2011, Theo spend many months in Uganda working on Nelson’s story amongst other things. From 2011 to 2014, Theo was the research coordinator of a war documentation center based in Kitgum, northern Uganda where he documented hundreds of life stories of people affected by armed conflict. Currently, Theo lives and works in Myanmar, first as a peacebuilding adviser for the UK embassy, and currently as the Justice and Security adviser for the UK peacebuilding organization Saferworld.

I remember my early childhood as a happy time. Although the rebellion started not long after my birth, the first few years of the war were not too bad for us. We heard stories about terrible violence that was committed by the government soldiers under our new president Yoweri Museveni. My dad sometimes talked with his neighbors about the terrible acts of slaughter that occurred in Namakora and many other places. We also heard about the many acts of theft, arrests and public torture. Because of this, my father warned me to stay far away from any men carrying guns or dressed in uniforms. However, while this violence was unfolding in other parts in Acholi, none of it reached our village in the first few years of the war. The battles were often located far away from us, even up to Jinja near the capital Kampala, and the rebel armies of that time didn’t terrorize the local population that much. Life pretty much proceeded the way it had for hundreds of years in these regions.

As my family worked on the fields, I was mostly preoccupied with babysitting and playing games with my friends. We used to play all kind of games. One of these games involved making music together. The percussion was always my favorite instrument. We often went swimming together. Not that there was a river nearby. The stream was too small the swim in, but there was a pond where we would let our cattle drink. I went to this place very often to swim with my friends. The game that I played most, however, was football. We always made a football out of garbage and banana leaves, and we improvised a goal. When this was done all the children of my village would be divided in two teams and then we started to play. There was nothing organized about these games, no set lines, no timeframe, and the teams were rarely equal. Often it was impossible to tell which team had won, because all the kids, including me, constantly shifted to the team that had the ball. Yet, on the few occasions that we could decide who the winning team was, I was extremely delighted if I belonged to it.

Another thing that I liked very much was hunting birds and edible rats. We made our own slingshots and catapults, which we used to kill our prey. The interesting thing about hunting was that you never knew what the day would bring. You never knew what you would catch, if you would catch something or if you would come home empty handed. Sometimes we would take the dog with us. We had one dog in our home, both for hunting and protection; although for the latter he was not very good. When the dog saw a squirrel he would hunt after it, and we would run after the dog. For hunting the birds, we mainly used the slingers and catapults, but for the edible rats, we also used spears and bows and arrows.

Still, the memories that I cherish most were the times that I went with my father to herd the cows. Whenever I grew tired of walking, my father would put me on the back of one of his cows. These were truly happy times. On the back of the cow I felt like a god, overlooking the bush on a mighty animal. Nowadays you see them again, the cows, but for a long time these cows were absent from northern Uganda because of the war. It was mostly the government and raiders from neighboring Karamojong who took them. The cows took a central place in the Acholi culture, and they were almost like what currency is today. Whenever there was a conflict, a council of village elders would take the two conflicting sides together and in case of a fine, the loser had to pay it in cows. Also the dowries were paid with cows and goats. Without the cows, there would be no marriages and no new generations of Acholi youth. Cows were also the primary means of trade. Yet as the war progressed, the cows slowly disappeared from the northern landscape due to cow raids. With their disappearance, many aspects of Acholi culture dissolved, as people could no longer marry, settle disputes or trade in our traditional ways. I had the feeling that with the disappearance of the cows from the northern landscapes, our natural Acholi happiness also disappeared.

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