Almost single handed, he has challenged the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony which has plagued a vast area of Central Africa – from Uganda through South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and into the Central African Republic.
The record of the LRA is well known. Over more than two decades it has killed, kidnapped, raped and mutilated its victims. Human Rights Watch, which is awarding the Abbe the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, estimates that Since 2008, the LRA has killed nearly 3,000 civilians and abducted more than 4,000 others.
Problems with the army
As if the people of Dungu, a remote town in the far north of Congo did not have enough problems to cope with, they also have to deal with the DR Congo’s undisciplined army.
“Our army is not professional, Abbe Kinalegu said during a visit to London. “They create insecurities of their own – sometimes pretending to be from the LRA.”
The Abbe says the troops dress in tatty civilian clothes, friz their hair into Rasta locks, dirty their bodies and then set up roadblocks, at which they extort money and goods from local people.
“We have to train the villagers to recognise who is LRA and who is our army,” the Abbe explains.
“For example, we tell people to listen to what language they speak, what their hair looks like, whether they really look dirty enough to have lived for years in the bush.”
There are other signs too. The LRA don’t drink alcohol, so they won’t steal it, while the Congolese army will. The LRA does not rape women, says the Abbe, they abduct young girls to become sex-slaves.
It is a sad day when villagers have to learn how to distinguish between their government’s own troops and the LRA, but that is – says the Abbe – what it has come to.
Early warning and rehabilitation
Most of the Abbe’s time is not dealing with the army, it is maintaining the high-frequency radio network that he has established, so that villagers can warn each other about the presence of the LRA.
Then there is the £1.2 million dollar rehabilitation centre to run. operated by 35 staff it can give physical, psychological and educational help to 150 children at a time.
“One of our biggest problems is what to do with adults who defect from the LRA,” says the Abbe. “At least in the bush they can kill game for meat or grow food. We need to give them an alternative once they leave Kony.”
It is all part of the ongoing battle against the LRA. Yet despite the burdens he bears Abbe Benoit Kinalegu is one of the most cheerful, open people you could ever meet.