Outside their small village in South Sudan, a brother and sister, aged 12 and 13, were eating mangoes in the bush when the bogeyman snuck up behind them. In central Africa, the bogeyman is real, and takes the form of Joseph Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, a terrifying cult of guerrilla fighters who, since the late 1980s, have been kidnapping children and moulding them into child soldiers and sex slaves. That day the LRA surprised the kids eating mangoes, they ran. “We fell,” the boy recalls. “They caught me and my sister and took us to the main road. They tied ropes around our necks. My sister screamed and they hit us with a machete.”
But this story ended differently than most: the villagers struck back. “We waited until dark,” says the father of the abducted kids, “then ambushed the LRA at midnight. We shot at them. Some ran away. Others died. I was overjoyed because I thought I’d never see my children again.” The father and his children tell their story in a new Canadian documentary called Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, based on the 2010 book by Canadian senator and retired general Roméo Dallaire. And their posse is an example of villagers in South Sudan forming ragtag bands to defend their villages against kidnappers—like bush versions of a neighbourhood watch. Often armed with little more than bows, arrows, spears and machetes, they have been dubbed the “Arrow Boys.”
Patrick Reid, the film’s director, followed Dallaire through Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan on a mission to investigate the use of child soldiers. Dallaire, forever haunted by his role heading the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda that bore witness to the genocide, has made the issue his personal crusade. Joining Dallaire in Africa was photographer Peter Bregg, who also worked on the 2007 documentary Shake Hands With the Devil, based on Dallaire’s previous book. Bregg’s images offer a rare glimpse into the world of the Arrow Boys.
“What caught us by surprise,” says Dallaire, “is that villagers are actually recruiting kids. They’re fearful of their children being abducted, but the force used against [the abductors] is made up of child soldiers. Why? The answer we got is that they’re the most willing.”