Congo Watch: Peter Eichstaedt's book on the LRA, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Friday, January 09, 2009

Peter Eichstaedt's book on the LRA, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army

A few days ago, an anonymous reader going by the name of Steve sent me the following comment at a recent Sudan Watch post (LRA's Kony is in the fringes of Garamba, North of Maridi but in the Sudan territory)
January 07, 2009
Steve said...
Ingrid: Any thoughts on the LRA's predilection for massacre of civilians? I understand the murder of noncombatants has become a hallmark of low-intensity warfare, particularly in Africa, but I was hoping to get some feedback on the LRA's strategic logic in pursuing such vile tactics. Simply, WHY?
Yesterday I replied, saying this:
January 08, 2009
Steve: Mind altering substances? Not knowing or trusting who is who, uniformed or not? How to identify who is a civilian or not? Psychos pretending to be LRA so that the LRA are blamed? Are the LRA disciplined enough to use strategic logic? Voodoo? brainwashing? I really have no idea. The savagery is beyond my comprehension.
What do you think?
In the report posted here, Joseph Bangakya said. "Most were killed with machetes. (The LRA) are trying to save their ammunition."
Soon I shall be publishing here an exclusive 2,000 word report by Rob Crilly (a British freelance journalist writing about Africa for The Times) that helps shed more light on the LRA. Meanwhile, if any readers here have any thoughts on the LRA, please do share in a blog post or in the commenting facility here at Congo Watch - or email me. Thanks.

Note: Peter Eichstaedt recently posted a comment here at Congo Watch with information of a book he had written on the LRA entitled: First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

After publishing this post, I shall respond to Peter's comment with a link to this post in the hope that he might enlighten us as to why the LRA have a predilection for the massacring of civilians.

Sorry for the delay in responding to comments. Google's Blogger email notification of comments is not working so it takes a day or two or longer if I don't visit my Dashboard.

"First Kill Your Family"

See Peter Eichstaedt's blog at

Peter's book is available at:

Here are some reviews and photos extracted from those websites:


“Richard Opio has neither the look of a cold-blooded killer nor the heart of one. Yet as his mother and father lay on the ground with their hands tied, Richard used the blunt end of an ax to crush their skulls.  He was ordered to do this by a unit commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that has terrorized northern Uganda for twenty years. The memory racks Richard’s slender body as he wipes away tears.”
For more than twenty years, beginning in the mid-1980s, the Lord’s Resistance Army has ravaged northern Uganda. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered, and thousands more mutilated and traumatized. At least 1.5 million people have been driven from a pastoral existence into the squalor of refugee camps.
The leader of the rebel army is the rarely seen Joseph Kony, a former witchdoctor and self-professed spirit medium who continues to evade justice and wield power from somewhere near the Congo~Sudan border. Kony claims he not only can predict the future but also can control the minds of his fighters. And control them he does: the Lord’s Resistance Army consists of children who are abducted from their homes under cover of night. As initiation, the boys are forced to commit atrocities—murdering their parents, friends, and relatives—and the kidnapped girls are forced into lives of sexual slavery and labor.
In First Kill Your Family, veteran journalist Peter Eichstaedt goes into the war-torn villages and refugee camps, talking to former child soldiers, child “brides,” and other victims. He examines the cultlike convictions of the army; how a pervasive belief in witchcraft, the spirit world, and the supernatural gave rise to this and other deadly movements; and what the global community can do to bring peace and justice to the region. This insightful analysis delves into the war’s foundations and argues that, much like Rwanda’s genocide, international intervention is needed to stop Africa’s virulent cycle of violence.

"First Kill Your Family"

Publishers Weekly

Eichstaedt (If You Poison Us) offers a heartfelt if sometimes lopsided look at the consequences of prolonged civil war. Northern Uganda has been under siege by the rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, for 20 years, leading to death tolls rivaling those in Darfur, Sudan, which has garnered considerably more media attention. The LRA is known for employing brutal techniques, including mutilating community members who inform on them, kidnapping children to serve as male child soldiers or female "brides," sex slaves for rebel soldiers.

Interviewing victims of these crimes, as well as perpetrators, government officials and non-governmental actors, Eichstaedt weaves a story of a decimated culture caught between merciless violence and the chaos of refugee camps. The result is a close analysis of this underreported crisis, which has only recently shown signs of abating. However, some of Eichstaedt's conclusions seem uninformed at best, including his one-sided look at religious views in Uganda, which prompt his remark, "There is no moral center of gravity here, no spiritual compass that one can hold against the horizon to escape the clamor and chaos."

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Peter Eichstaedt is the Africa editor for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in The Hague. He is a veteran journalist who has reported from locations worldwide, including Slovenia, Moldova, Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, and Uganda, and a former senior editor for Uganda Radio Network. He is the author of If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans.

Kirkus Reviews

Veteran journalist Eichstaedt (If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans, 1994) blows the lid off atrocities in East Africa involving alarmingly young war recruits. After working with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in the Hague to successfully establish an independent news agency in Afghanistan, the author in 2005 went to Uganda to do the same. The nation had been racked by civil war for 20 years, and nearly 95 percent of its citizens lived in refugee camps. But the desperate situation received little international media coverage.

Eichstaedt's attention soon focused on Uganda's northern region, ravaged by the Lord's Resistance Army. This guerrilla group, formed in rebellion against the government, was comprised mainly of children. The author personally interviewed eyewitnesses to the LRA's slaughter of Ugandan citizens, its own high-ranking officers and the child soldiers themselves.
Their tales of savagery repulsed him. "That humans were capable of doing such things for years on end was hard to fathom," he writes.

Dense, in-depth reporting showcases LRA leader Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed witch doctor and prophet whose adoption of the name Lord's Resistance, and of the Ten Commandments as a "moral guide," was bitterly ironic in light of his tactics. The LRA kidnapped thousands of young male soldiers and child "brides," forcing them into military service and sexual servitude.

The young soldiers' first assignment was often to kill their family members. Interviews with former LRA members give an intimate spin to this concentrated narrative; those who managed to escape frequently returned home to find themselves ostracized by their families for the violence they had done. A shaky truce has been established between warring factions, Eichstaedt writes, but the LRA and the elusive Kony remain formidable obstacles to lasting peace. A chillingly lucid report on a terminally tragic catastrophe. Agent: Michele Rubin/Writers House

"First Kill Your Family"

What People Are Saying

Desmond Tutu
You must read this powerful book. Peter Eichstaedt has given voice to the victims of the largely unheard-of tragedy of Uganda. This story calls out to our very humanity.

Mac Maharaj
A book filled with haunting images that leave one groping for answers. (Mac Maharaj, South African author and activist)

Douglas Farah
This fine firsthand account should be read by anyone seeking to grapple with the challenges of war and peace in coming decades. (Douglas Farah, author, Merchant of Death and Blood from Stones)

John Dau
This book is a call to action to help our brothers and sisters in Africa that we can no longer ignore. (John Dau, president, John Dau Sudan Foundation, and coauthor, God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir)

"First Kill Your Family"

Some Customer Reviews

December 28, 2008
For two decades, a bizarre guerrilla movement called the "Lord's Resistance Army" - part Christian-animist cult, part ethnic uprising, part simple banditry - has plagued northern Uganda and the adjoining areas of Sudan and the Congo. Its chieftain, Joseph Kony, is a former witch doctor who claims to be "fighting for the Ten Commandments". Its principal method of recruitment is the abduction of pre-teenagers, who are compelled to serve as porters, concubines and soldiers. Its trademark atrocity is cutting off the lips and noses of captives who are not pressed into service. Though its numbers have never been large, it has disrupted life throughout its area of operations. Casualties are estimated at 100,000 dead and nearly two million displaced into refugee camps.

Journalist Peter Eichstaedt's account of this long conflict is disjointed, pedestrian and overloaded with platitudes, but not ineffective. Interviews with memorable figures, ranging from former boy soldiers to Catholic missionaries to rebel and government leaders, are interspersed with the author's travelogue through a desperate land. The montage manages to convey the horror and hardship suffered by the war's victims, both those killed, maimed or abducted by the LRA and those forced into overcrowded, unhealthy and ill-defended camps by the dubiously competent Ugandan government. (Many refugees believe that the southern-dominated regime welcomes the excuse to debilitate traditionally hostile northern tribes, a view whose merits the author has trouble evaluating.)

As the book proceeds, the prospect nears of a happy ending. Community militias organize an effective resistance to the LRA. It loses the tacit backing of the Sudanese junta and is forced back to an enclave in the Congo. Peace talks begin. They never quite reach fruition, however. Again and again, the sides reach ostensible agreement, Kony announces that he will appear to sign the final accords, and then he reneges at the last minute. (Another round of this fandango took place after the book went to press, leading to a joint Ugandan-Sudanese-Congolese offensive that may (emphasize "may") be on the verge of dismantling the LRA at long last.)

A couple of morals are quite plain, though the author not only doesn't see, but actively denies, them: First, in dealing with enemies on the fringes of rationality, an ounce of military effort is worth many pounds of peace-making initiatives overseen by cosmopolitan do-gooders. Second, the International Criminal Court, which has brought formal charges against Kony and several of his top lieutenants (its very first indictments, in fact), can accomplish nothing. In this case, it may be hindering the attainment of peace, since the LRA's commanders are, not too surprisingly, unwilling to give themselves up for trial and have demanded the quashing of the indictments as a condition for signing peace terms. Useless at best and counterproductive at worst, the ICC nonetheless has Mr. Eichstaedt's whole-hearted support, perhaps because, as he reveals in a throwaway paragraph, he hopes to see American leaders someday facing "justice" before it.

Americans pay far too little attention to Africa. Therefore, books like this one can be commended to the importance of their subject and the excellence of their intentions, if not for the quality of their execution.
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December 24, 2008
This is a chilling book about the strife in Africa. I couldnt put this book down. Parts of it made me ill, seeing the souls of the worst people that have ever existed in history. A hundred thousand little Stalins and a bad idea. It sent chills up my spine knowing some of these murderers have immigrated.
- - -

December 18, 2008
This courageous book is dedicated to the people of northern Uganda who lost their lives or suffered at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army. Peter Eichstaedt has given voice to the child soldiers and other victims of the largely unheard-of tragedy of Uganda. We rarely hear about this on the evening news!

I highly recommend this firsthand account of events that are taking place in our lifetime for anyone seeking to understand the state of the world. We are all connected. "First Kill Your Family" should be read by the young people of our country as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the content, so that they can begin to understand the challenges humanity is faced with.

The book opens with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.:

"Man's inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad, it is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good."

--Suza Francina, yoga teacher, author, activist and volunteer with Global Resource Alliance (GRA),an organization based in Ojai, California, that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.
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December 18, 2008
 "First Kill Your Family" is the story of one reporter's journey to Uganda and examination of the "Lord's Resistance Army" or the LRA. The author goes to different parts of Uganda to find out the effects of the long war that the LRA has waged in northern Uganda. It is fascinating reporting - but each chapter is a story in and of itself. The next chapter is usually only tangentially related to the previous one. The only common theme is the effects of the LRA on Uganda.

While a similar subject, "A Long Way Gone" is much more readable because it is the story of one captured boy soldier and his experiences as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone. It is still worth a read if you are interested in this particular war, but it reads much better if you think of it as a collection of news reports from the battlefield in Uganda.
- - -

Product Details
ISBN: 1556527993
ISBN-13: 9781556527999
Format: Hardcover, 336pp
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Pub. Date: February 2009

Afterthought - 5 minutes after publishing this post: What is this about I wonder? (I have highlighted it in red): "Many refugees believe that the southern-dominated regime welcomes the excuse to debilitate traditionally hostile northern tribes"
Note to self to find out more.

(Partial copy cross posted today at Sudan Watch and Uganda Watch)


Anonymous Peter Eichstaedt said...

I will address this issue on why the LRA kills innocent civilians in blog posting. Briefly, the approach is like most terror organizations, which is striking soft targets. By terrorizing civilians, such groups as the LRA or the Taliban can establish safe havens, and thus survive by looting and abducting. In the DRC, much like the LRA did in northern Uganda, villagers were "punished" for cooperating with the government and/or not supporting the LRA. In the DRC, it's because locals have cooperated with the UN forces in the region against the LRA, and more immediately, because the combined forces of Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo attacked LRA camps on Dec. 14.

Friday, January 09, 2009  

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