Africa

Profile: Dominic Ongwen of Uganda's LRA

Dominic Ongwen (2008 file image) Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Mr Ongwen is said to have had a volatile relationship with LRA leader Joseph Kony

Known as the White Ant, Dominic Ongwen was a 10-year-old boy walking to school in northern Uganda when he was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel movement (LRA) and turned into one of its most ruthless commanders, according to campaign group LRA Crisis Tracker.

"It is a story of a child, like many in the LRA, forced to grow up in the image of their oppressors," it says.

After his abduction in 1990, Mr Ongwen - whose surname means "born at the time of the white ant" - rose rapidly in rebel ranks, becoming a major at the age of 18 and a brigadier by his late 20s after winning the confidence of LRA leader Joseph Kony, LRA Crisis Tracker adds.

Claiming to fight for a biblical state, the LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and kidnapped more than 60,000 children during the three decade-long conflict which has spread to several of Uganda's neighbours.

'Daring missions'

The Enough Project, another campaign group, says that on Mr Kony's orders, Mr Ongwen executed the LRA's military offensives in 2002 and 2003 in several districts in northern Uganda.

"[He] earned the reputation of being able to emerge from the bloodiest of battles with few casualties among his fighters," it says.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The LRA is notorious for cutting off the lips, noses and ears of civilians
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many villages have been destroyed in the conflict

But Mr Ongwen also had a volatile relationship with Mr Kony, opposing the execution of deputy LRA chief Vincent Otti in 2007 after the two fell out.

"LRA defectors report that Ongwen was the only commander who pleaded with Kony to spare Otti's life, a move that weakened his influence within the LRA," says LRA Crisis Tracker.

"However, Kony spared Ongwen from the subsequent purge of Otti loyalists due to Ongwen's value to the LRA, particularly his ability to lead troops on daring missions."


Dominic Ongwen at a glance:

  • Said to have been abducted by LRA, aged 10
  • Rose to become a top commander
  • Accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including enslavement
  • ICC issued arrest warrant in 2005
  • Rumoured to have been killed in the same year
  • US offered $5m (£3.3m) reward for information leading to his arrest in 2013

With his trademark dreadlocks and boyish looks, he became the youngest person to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005 on three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes, including enslavement, murder and pillaging.

'Abused'

For some - including his "bush wife", Florence Ayot - this was an injustice.

"Dominic used to tell us he was abducted when he was very young. Everything he did was in the name of Kony, so he's innocent," she told the BBC in 2008.

Granted amnesty after escaping from the LRA in 2005, she had been abducted as a nine-year-old and first became the "wife" of LRA commander Obwong Kijura.

Image copyright AP
Image caption African and US forces are involved in a joint operation against the LRA

"He abused and used me as a sex slave for all the four to five years I was with him. He impregnated me. Unfortunately my child died after I gave birth. After Kijura was killed in a fierce battle with Ugandan soldiers in 1993, I was transferred to Dominic as his second wife," Ms Ayot told Irin news agency in 2012.

However, she says little changed with Mr Ongwen:

"The suffering continued. A year later, I gave birth to his son, whom he named Lagony, meaning 'back to God'. I produced another three children with him while still in the bush, two girls and one boy."

'Captured by Seleka rebels'

In 2013, the US - which had joined the hunt for LRA commanders - offered a $5m (£3.3m) reward for information leading to Mr Ongwen's capture.

"Ongwen is a major general and senior commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has committed numerous atrocities against civilians across Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan," the US State Department said.

With reports of his killing in 2007 proving to be untrue, Mr Ongwen remained on the run before being reportedly captured on 5 January this year by the Seleka rebel group in CAR near the eastern town of Obo.

He was then handed over to the US forces working with African Union troops in the region, before being transferred to the ICC.

The US has described his arrest as a "historic blow" to the LRA, leaving only two of the commanders on the ICC's wanted list - Joseph Kony and Okot Odhiambo - still at large.

"Dominic Ongwen now needs to be held to account for the numerous charges he faces of murder, mutilation, forced recruitment of child soldiers and use of sex slaves - crimes he allegedly committed when he was a senior commander of the LRA," said rights group Amnesty International.

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