November is hot in Congo. Every month is hot in Congo.
So it’s likely their faces shone with sweat when the first residents of Duru, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, raced from mud hut to mud hut with a warning that sounded like, “El are ah!” That’s “LRA,” in French or the Congolese dialect Lingala.
For years, the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army has haunted northeastern Congo. Chased from neighboring Uganda in 2005 by the Ugandan army, the LRA found heavily forested, poorly governed Congo ideal for hiding and ripe for pillage. For more than two decades, the LRA had fought to establish a theocratic government based on a bizarre mix of fundamentalist Christianity and the voodoo messianic creed of founder Joseph Kony. In Congo, Kony and his few hundred surviving LRA fighters quickly lost all touch with their politics. Now they fight for no other reason than they can. What they need, and want, they simply take from Congolese villages. That includes slaves: boys to carry looted goods; girls as prizes.
It was November 2009 when the LRA came to Duru, an isolated farming town of some 5,000 residents in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, just south of the Sudanese border. Word of the rebels’ approach spread quickly. Terrified Congolese streamed onto footpaths connecting Duru to Dungu, the nearest large town, some 50 miles away. They carried what they could, usually just the simple clothes on their backs and the colorful plastic sandals on their feet. Big families divided the children between mother and father and fled in separate directions, so at least some might escape.