‘I have seen the light’: With Pact’s help, a Ugandan fighter puts down his weapons

November 8, 2016

Peter Acia’s eyes, once angry and vacant, now carry youthful hope. Conversations with the 31-year-old reformed warrior used to be one-sided. Now he asks questions. He wants to understand.

He cares about his future – something he rarely used to think about.

At 19, Acia joined the dreaded karachunas, or “warriors,” in northeastern Uganda. Rising through his battalion’s ranks, he became the owner of a dozen guns and earned a reputation as a skilled sharp shooter who always avenged his enemies. Among the nicknames he adopted were Lokowumoi, the one who targets the head, and Loperitimoi, the one who finds his enemies while they sleep.

To escape a military-led disarmament, Acia and other karachunas eventually fled to southern Sudan, where for years they launched cattle raids and other violent attacks.

Last year, though, Acia decided he’d had enough. He knew death was all that laid ahead of him if he didn’t stop. He became remorseful.

He wanted to go home.

“I had hurt so many people,” Acia laments. “The police and the army were looking for me.”

That’s when an old friend offered to help. He was with the Kaabong Peace Ambassadors, a support group for reformed warriors that is supported by Pact’s PEACE III project. Funded by USAID, PEACE III works along the Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia borders to build peace and stem conflict. In addition to strengthening local conflict-management systems and institutions, PEACE III works to rehabilitate fighters, to combat violent extremism and to resolve disputes that underlie conflict. The project conducts trauma healing; helps communities to hold peace dialogues and rallies and enforce peace agreements; and constructs “peace dividends,” such as livestock markets and communal health and water facilities, to increase positive interaction among divided groups.

With Pact’s help, Acia surrendered his dozen guns and was granted amnesty. Soon he joined the Kaabong Peace Ambassadors, who helped him reimagine his future and access critical rehabilitation services. 

He has benefitted from trauma healing sessions and trainings on peace building, entrepreneurship and life skills. He takes part in the trauma healing with a small group of other former fighters, all of whom are also participating in a Village Savings and Loan Association. Through the association, they are able to save money, access loans and start small businesses.

At their meetings, members of the Kaabong Peace Ambassadors talk about their experiences, heal from past trauma and learn about breaking cycles of violence.

Today, the once-dreaded Loperitimoi owns a small shop in Kaabong. He’ll also soon begin working as a community animal health worker and poultry vaccinator. Along with other reformed fighters, he’s receiving training for the job through PEACE III. When their lessons are done they’ll be given vaccination kits and data collection forms so they can help their neighbors to protect their livestock and poultry from disease.

Acia now uses earnings from his shop to support his mother and help other relatives and friends.

Acia at his shop.

“I am so happy I have been given an opportunity to change my life and lives in my community,” he says.

“I have seen the light.”

Photos by Susan Liebold for Pact.