In an extract from her book A Moonless, Starless Sky, Alexis Okeowo tells the story of a child soldier and a kidnapped schoolgirl in Uganda – and, below, talks about changing perceptions of Africa
The moonless, starless sky was bright the evening Eunice met Bosco in the forests of southern Sudan. The year was 1996, and Eunice had been kidnapped two weeks earlier from a school in a town called Aboke, in northern Uganda, by men who called themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army. Founded by a young man named Joseph Kony in 1987, the LRA was raiding villages in Uganda’s north and abducting children while routing the Ugandan army. Eunice was a thoughtful girl of 15 with inquisitive eyes and closely cropped hair, and she had been visiting her older sister at a girls’ boarding school when rebels surrounded the building. The men, who were really boys if you looked at them closely, tied the girls together with rope and forced them to trek through the forests of northern Uganda, on the way to Sudan, for over a week while they cooked, did laundry, and fetched water for them. Eunice was frightened and exhausted. She was still wearing the blue cotton skirt, her best one, and the matching blouse that she had thought would impress her sister’s friends. Eunice wanted to attend their school one day, too, be among these accomplished girls, and she had hoped to show them that she could fit in, be smart and interesting, dress like they did.
The girls eventually crossed into Sudan and stopped in an area of tall grass and thick, looming trees. More men emerged, including Kony. Rebels began plucking girls from the group, choosing the prettiest ones first. Eunice watched with a swelling sense of dread. There was nowhere to run. They were everywhere. A boy named Bosco, who looked like he was no older than 17, appeared in front of her. He was wearing rain boots, a green military uniform that slouched on his thin frame, and a matching cap over bushy hair. Another rebel, who seemed like he was one of the men in charge, nudged Bosco closer toward Eunice and told him, “This will be your wife.”