On March 16th, 2012, 13WMAZ brought you a story about Macon activists inspired by the viral Kony 2012 video about human rights violations in Uganda.
One key point, involves rebel leader, Joseph Kony's use of child soldiers against the Ugandan government.
When we spoke to Mercer University Professor Chester Fontenot, he condemned Kony, but said he's not the only one in the region who used child soldiers.
"Ugandan government and the Ugandan military have used child soldiers," said Fontenot. "And then comes Joseph Kony and he uses child soldiers as well and here comes a foreigner and says child soldiers this is horrible, you're right child soldiers is horrible, but the government itself used them."
Fontenot says the NRA, the revolutionary group that seized control of the government in the 1980s, did use child soldiers and UPDF, the official government army, may have used them well into the 1990s.
After that story, former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis contacted our station. Ellis is an honorary consul for Uganda, he's an official spokesman for the nation's government. He said Fontenot is just wrong.
"I don't want anyone to be mistaken that the Ugandan army as a professional army, now or have ever had in its ranks, children, 14, 15 year old children with guns, killing people maybe in the defense, the militia in those communities, those villages perhaps, but not in the regular army," said Ellis.
After hearing from Ellis, 13WMAZ contacted international groups. Those we talked to say that this is a complicated topic, but all the evidence shows that the current Ugandan government does not use child soldiers, but probably have in the past.
Jo Becker, in the Children's Rights Division of the group Human Rights Watch, wrote "There has been ample documentation of Museveni's use of child soldiers in the NRA in the 1980s. The UPDF also used children as recently as 2003. A colleague and I documented the recruitment of children into local defense units and the recruitment of former LRA abductees into the UPDE during a 2003 investigation in Northern Uganda. In both cases, the children were used to fight against the LRA (Kony's Lord's Resistance Army)."
But she did reiterate that there is no evidence that the current Ugandan government uses child soldiers now.
We also looked at a 2004 report by Child Soldiers International. In this report it said in one training center, they found 120 recruits under the age of 18 out of 1200. The government denied that it recruited child soldiers and said their parents lied about the children's age. The report said children who escaped from Kony's rebel army were sometimes recruited into the government's armed forces.
And Suzanne Trimel, media relations director for Amnesty International, released this statement:
"Though the Ugandan government may not officially support the use of child soldiers, nor do they officially enlist child soldiers, Uganda has a history of using child soldiers in combat situations. It is in these combat situation in which captured child rebel combatants and children "recruited" from the conflict region are used to fight with government soldiers. The conflict in northern Uganda is one in which AI (Amnesty International) has documented the use of child soldiers by the Ugandan government."
13WMAZ contacted Professor Fontenot who stood by his earlier statements which he says was based on research from international groups and conversations with Ugandans that are now in America.
Here is his full statement:
"Apparently my sound bites on WMAZ concerning the problem of Joseph Kony's use of child soldiers in Uganda were either misrepresented or former Mayor C. Jack Ellis misheard my analysis. I am a specialist in African Studies, and have been for nearly 40 years. And I have traveled widely in Africa including Uganda. While the current Ugandan government has vowed not to use child soldiers in its military as combatants, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Child Soldiers International, the African Studies Association, and the African Union have reported that it as well as a number of other African countries have used child soldiers in the past. And it is this past use of child soldiers to which I was referring when I said the Ugandan government and military itself have used child soldiers in the past, and I emphasized "have used...in the past". The problem with Joseph Kony's use of child soldiers is not only ruining the lives of thousands of children over the past 28 years, but also forcing young girls into sexual slavery, and young boys into killing their parents, and committing other horrendous acts of violence and murder. I should add that the use of child soldiers in general is not exclusive to Africa, but Child Soldiers International reports that 25 counties around the world use children as war combatants. As a specialist in African and African American Studies with a national and international reputation, I make sure that any comments I make or analysis I present are accurate and supported by thorough research."