A man who used to record what the spirits allegedly told Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony testified for two consecutive days at the International Criminal Court last week. Jackson Acama, who was one of the people tasked with controlling battle – known as technicians – testified on October 24 and 25 for the defence in the ongoing trial of LRA commander Dominic Ongwen at the ICC. Acama was dapper in a navy blue suit, white shirt, and a golden tie, as he explained to the ICC judges that negotiations with the LRA collapsed after three months when the Uganda government ordered the rebel fighters to surrender unconditionally. Kony responded by saying that if the Uganda government wanted the LRA to go to the safe haven, then the war would resume.
Ongwen is facing 70 war crimes and crimes against humanity charges before a three-judge bench consisting of Bertram Schmitt (presiding), Raul Pangalangan and Peter Kovacs.
Acama told the court that he was selected as a ‘technician’ because of his level of education, because the LRA needed an educated person. His clerical role in recording what the spirits revealed to Joseph Kony stood him in good stead, accelerating his rise in the LRA and saw him assigned new roles when the rebel group went to Sudan. He said the spirits did not reveal themselves to him.
Here are excerpts from the exchange between Jackson Acama and the lead defence lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo:
Odongo: What were the functions of the technicians and where [would] they do it?
Acama: With the technician, you make model guns so the technicians control the fight … They also conduct prayers.
Odongo: You have [said] that when Joseph Kony is possessed he is unconscious and that you take his notes and take [them] to him. How is Joseph [Kony’s] demeanour when not possessed?
Acama: He is happy chatting with soldiers and highly cooperative but when possessed, his character changes. His eyes turn red, he never smiles and he is serious until the spirit has left him. If he is under (possessed by) the spirit, it is to say that he is under Holy Spirit, under the spirit only.
Odongo: When he is under the spell of the Holy Spirit, what languages did he speak and what voices describe [that]?
Acama: The voice of Joseph Kony changes according to the spirit’s position. If he is possessed by Mama Silindi, he speaks with a female voice … The spirits follow the protocol (of command) in the way they manifest themselves to Joseph Kony.
Odongo: Jackson, could you tell the court how long it took when he [was] under [a] spell?
Acama: The period of possession is not definite and depends on the speech the spirit was to deliver. But in the beginning, he was maybe possessed in the morning … He was maybe possessed in the evening.
Odongo: Can you tell the Court if Joseph Kony invoked them?
Acama: The spirit does not come on the will of Joseph Kony. The Holy Spirit would come and deliver a message when it is necessary for the soldiers. The spirits would first send the reporter then he would tell Kony: “The spirit wants to talk … The spirit of Mama Silindi wants to talk.” After the reporter has come the spirit of Mama Silindi will come, then the spirit operation commander and then the chairman.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: I would like to understand that you recorded this?
Odongo: This reporter how would he come? In a dream or is it required Joseph Kony to make elaborate preparation or sit down and wait?
Acama: Joseph Kony is the work house of the holy spirit. This spirit is in visibility, in vision. When they are seen. Kony sees all these spirits. Kony does not dream he has vision. These spirits talk to him face to face.
Odongo: Spirit Juma Oris came to attempt to work with Kony. Was the spirit Juma Oris there before even the actual Juma Oris died?
Acama: Juma Oris who was the foreign minister of Iddi Amin went to Kony when he was in Sudan. The spirit started possessing Kony even before he came. So it is not the spirit of Juma Oris (Laughing)
Odongo: Were you lucky enough to see these spirits in vision?
Acama: I don’t see them. They don’t manifest themselves to me but to him (Kony)
Odongo: During your operations with Kony and LRA were there things like observation post which would be understood as informers to Kony and what he claimed to be revealed by spirits were reports from information sources?
Acama: During the holy spirit forces they were no observation posts established. All information and secrets come to Kony through the spirit…All these spirits have their responsibilities. We have Solia Akob who is the finance controller and chief catechist, Major Bianca who is the commander and we have Bruce who is the support commander.
Judge Schmitt: It is amazing how the witness captures all his previous statements.
Odongo: (Perusing through a document) Jackson, explain to the court what this document contains … You need a bit of time to check?
Judge Schmitt: Can you make something out of it? The second column?
Odongo: Could you explain to the court, please?
Acama: Lugaga, that is a body egg. So what we use is chamarire — this is a kind of herb that produces a tuber-like carrot.
Judge Schmitt: What is it used for?
Acama: You mix it with the root of the Odwong tree. You then get a sharp thing and make small cuts on the area of pain then you “put” the combined drug.
Judge Schmitt: Can I say it is for medical application?
Odongo: Were these the different types of ailments and drugs used in the bush to cure them?
Acama: Yes. In the bush, we use herbs for our treatment. These herbs are revealed to Kony, especially [through] Doctor Osalan. He will show what herb can cure which disease. So this spirit controls all medical problems in the LRA.
Odongo: Jackson, could this have been part of your functions as clerk of the spirits, for you to write them down?
Acama: Yes, they are written down and then given to the technician or controller to prepare and administer.
Odongo: Pope John Paul II presided over a Mass in Gulu. Did you attend this Mass? On Boma ground?
Acama: I never attended any prayer led by a pope.
Odongo: Let’s turn to [the period] 1987 to 1994 when you moved to Sudan. As you stated, you were clerk to spirits until 1994.How did your role change in 1993 when you became the coordination secretary?
Acama: The reason I became the coordination secretary is that there was a need.
Odongo: Were there any peace talks between the LRA and Government of Uganda, and did you attend any of them?
Acama: Yes, this was in Pagek at the home of an elder called Ogole. I was there personally. We went with Colonel Joshua and a government representative. I was the one who led them to the home of Ogole.
Odongo: Did the talks start well?
Acama: The negotiations started well.
Odongo: What did the LRA want and who initiated these talks?
Acama: Actually, it was the LRA who wanted to negotiate with the government. Kony wanted to come home and begin preaching the word of God to unite with the government so that the government follows the 10 commandments. There was also need to know if the government did not [want] to negotiate, if they would have the opportunity to seek help somewhere else.
Odongo: How long did these negotiations go on and what happened? Were they successfully concluded?
Acama: These negotiations lasted for about three months. When people came to the table, the Uganda government ordered the LRA to surrender unconditionally and that was the cause of the breakdown of the cease-fire and peace talks.
Odongo: I am sure when there is an arranged peace talk negotiation there is a set agenda. Was it the case that you failed to agree [which] caused the government to give an ultimatum?
Acama: Those items listed … the government refused. The government only wanted the LRA to surrender without any conditions made; that is why the LRA refused. They said: “They have created a corridor to a safe haven where LRA will go and assemble then put down their arms so they are demobilized.
Judge Schmitt: Did you mean a safe passage or heaven in the spirit you understand?
Acama: It is a key area.
Odongo: Who sent this message and what was the particular message relayed?
Acama: I was not the one told personally but high-ranking politicians involved (in the process) were the ones who got the message to Kony. So when this message reached Kony, he said that he had not contacted the government for LRA to surrender. If the government wants the LRA to go to the safe haven then the war resumes. This is what ended the peace talks. Immediately after the collapse of the cease-fire, Kony ordered the LRA to go to Sudan. So that very day at night, the LRA began the journey to Sudan.
On Thursday, the prosecution’s senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert and the legal representative for victims Joseph Manoba cross-examined Acama. Here are excerpts from their exchange:
Gumpert: The lower ranks had programs to listen to programs such as Dock Pacho but the senior commanders would hear. Is that right?
Gumpert: You happened to be in an interview at Dock Pacho (Passage being played to the Court) In this podcast, you were not speaking of killing soldiers but killing civilians in cold blood.
Acama: The place I can cite is Barlonyo.
Judge Schmitt: Mr Manoba …
Manoba: Before you joined the UPDA and LRA, you were a teacher. Do you have knowledge on whether the other children that came from the bush are educated?
Acama: Yes. They are getting education. Some are being paid for by their parents, others being sponsored.
Manoba: In the morning, you told us that when you left the LRA you were captured by the Sudanese government.
Acama: I was captured by the Sudanese government [and] taken to Unicef then to Uganda. But the message in the talk show says I surrendered to [allow] others to come from the bush. This is to let others come out and receive amnesty.
Manoba: What was the atmosphere when you surrendered and how were you taken to the radio show?
Acama: I was free to walk; there was no problem. But on the radio, it was mobilization so that others can come out for amnesty.
Acama wound up his testimony and Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt adjourned the trial to Monday, October 29, 2018 when a new witness will take the stand.