Wojciech Jagielski, author of The Night Wanderers, discusses his new book on the story of child solderies of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda in hopes of it serving as a warning against indifference:
My book started with my years’ long fascination with Uganda, one that made me visit Uganda on several occasions and to think a lot about its recent history. The reign of Idi Amin and then the bloody civil wars destroying the country afterwards became, in my mind, the symbol of the “Heart of Darkness” of our time, where one can observe, or maybe even understand, the essence of evil that under certain circumstances becomes a part of human nature.
Initially, my idea was to tell the story of the child soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a macabre rebel group commanded by Joseph Kony, a person who, by his own description, was possessed by ghosts. I always perceived him more as a leader of some gloomy religious sect than a guerilla leader. My last two research journeys, dedicated exclusively to interviewing child soldiers, made me realize how hard it is to communicate with them. All the more difficult, then, to attempt to understand their life experiences.
Night Wanderers tells a story about Uganda and how its ghosts are interfering in the lives of people, about children forced to play adults, and adults seeing children as their worst threat, as monsters bringing death and pain. It tells a story about the limits of our understanding when it comes to learning about a world far different from the one we know.
As adults who are still fairly young—who are relatively free of the heavy experiences of past decades, who don’t yet know the measure of evil or the depths of human tragedy, who enter a world of extreme ideologies, in many cases ones that may seem totally alien—my hope is that this book can help students to understand the ways in which this foreign-seeming world is only apparently remote. I hope the book will help them understand many different kinds of occurrences, including ones for which 9/11 was a warning sign. Maybe by seeing children as murderers as well as victims students will be more willing to reflect on the complexity of human nature. I wanted to show the dangers of easy categorization, of condemning certain people as criminals, and also how difficult the path to becoming human again can be for such people.
Finally, Night Wanderers is my search for hope and humanity in all participants in the drama that is Africa today. I want the book to serve as a warning against indifference toward evil in the world, especially the evil that takes place out of our sight. The evil might be closer than we think.
—Wojciech Jagielski, journalist and author of Night Wanderers and Towers of Stone, September 12, 2011