To Stop a Warlord: My Story of Justice, Grace, and the Fight for Peace

To Stop a Warlord: My Story of Justice, Grace, and the Fight for Peace


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One woman’s inspiring true story of an unlikely alliance to stop the atrocities of a warlord, proving that there is no limit to what we can do, even in the face of unspeakable injustice and impossible odds

“This compelling and inspiring book beautifully moves each of us to take action to help the most vulnerable among us.”—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu 

Late one night in the summer of 2010, Shannon Sedgwick Davis, a lawyer, human rights advocate, and Texas mom to two young boys, first met a Ugandan general to discuss an unconventional plan to stop Joseph Kony, a murderous warlord who’d terrorized communities in four countries across Central and East Africa. 

For twenty-five years, Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army had killed over a hundred thousand people, displaced millions, and abducted tens of thousands of children, forcing them to become child soldiers. After Sedgwick Davis met with survivors and community leaders, aid workers and lawmakers, it was clear that the current international systems were failing to protect the most vulnerable. Guided by the strength of her beliefs and convictions, Sedgwick Davis knew she had to help other parents to have the same right she had—to go to sleep each night knowing that their children were safe.

But Sedgwick Davis had no roadmap for how to stop a violent armed group. She would soon step far outside the bounds of traditional philanthropy and activism and partner her human rights organization, the Bridgeway Foundation, with a South African private military contractor and a specialized unit within the Ugandan army. The experience would bring her to question everything she had previously believed about her role as a humanitarian, about the meaning of justice, and about the very nature of good and evil.

In To Stop a Warlord, Shannon Sedgwick Davis tells the story, for the first time, of the unprecedented collaboration she helped build with the aim of finally ending Joseph Kony’s war—and the unforgettable journey on an unexpected path to peace. A powerful memoir that reads like a thriller, this is a story that asks us just how hard we would fight for what we believe in.

100 percent of the author’s net proceeds from this book will go to organizations seeking justice and protection for civilians in conflict zones.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812995923
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,185,926
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Shannon Sedgwick Davis is the CEO of the Bridgeway Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to stopping mass atrocities, and an award-winning advocate for social justice and international human rights. She previously served as the vice president of Geneva Global and director of public affairs at the International Justice Mission. She is an Advisory Council member of The Elders, the group of global statesmen founded by Nelson Mandela, and a board member of several organizations, including Humanity United and charity: water. She lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

It was long after midnight in San Antonio, Texas, when the phone rang. Brody, my four-year-old, had crawled in beside me an hour or two before and was taking up most of the bed. I never sleep deeply anymore, even at home, even in the middle of the night. When I heard my cellphone ring I was quick, pulling on my robe, heading for the back porch where I took my early morning calls from the field. The alarm on the back door beeped as I crossed into the night. Steps away from my sleeping husband and sons, I suddenly felt as distant from them as I did during my trips to Central Africa, where I slept alone in a tent, surrounded by the snoring of hundreds of men, where being so far from my family was a physical ache in my chest.

Laren Poole’s voice came through the static of his satellite phone. Laren managed the operations of our mission in the field. His voice rippled with urgency as he spoke the words, the coded phrase we had devised should a moment like this ever arise.

“Boss,” he said, “it’s time to bet the farm.”

My heart leapt and my stomach dropped, some combination of excitement and dread, my mind whirring with the additional resources we’d need to pull together in support of a targeted operation, an unconventional collaboration between the Ugandan military, US Special Forces, humanitarian organizations, and the Bridgeway Foundation, the organization I run. Our cobbled-together alliance of private and public, military and humanitarian organizations was piloting a new way of trying to stop mass atrocities, and Laren’s words were the signal that it was time to go all in on our mission to catch Joseph Kony.

It was 2013, and by that point Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had terrorized the citizens of four countries in Central Africa for more than twenty-five years. The numbers were staggering: more than a hundred thousand dead. At least thirty thousand children abducted and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves. At the height of the conflict, ninety percent of the northern Ugandan population—almost two million innocent civilians—were forcefully displaced and put under curfew by the Ugandan military in their attempts to counter the LRA. Government troops denied civilians access to their land and they were crowded into squalid camps, caught in the midst of a brutal war. Even those devastating figures don’t fully describe the suffering unleashed by the LRA. Their violence was especially brutal, often worse than I’d seen elsewhere in my human rights work. Kony and his army were setting a bar for evil in our world and kept raising it. In 2005, when the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued its first-ever arrest warrants, indictments were handed down against Joseph Kony and four other LRA leaders for crimes against humanity. Three of five indictees, including Kony, were still at large, and the violence against the innocent had only worsened.

For a decade Kony had been like a ghost, invisible except in the stories of those who had escaped from his army or survived LRA attacks. Over the last five years, all the information our shared mission had gathered had made us fairly certain we knew the general area in which he was hiding. But pinpointing his exact location in that terrain was nearly impossible. On bad days, I’d often wondered whether our hope of capturing him and bringing him to justice was nothing more than a moon shot. But now, our target had materialized clearly in our sights: Kony’s nerve center in Kafia Kingi (K2), on disputed land between Sudan and South Sudan, had been identified.

Now, if we worked quickly, if our allies were skilled, and if we were lucky, Kony’s reign of terror might finally come to an end. Laren and I couldn’t talk specifics over the satellite phone; it wasn’t secure. It would be another week before he could brief me on the new intelligence that had bolstered his confidence that this time we could catch Kony.

I sat on the back porch, watching the sun start to rise. I had waited for this moment for almost three years, yet the surge of excitement and enthusiasm was muted by exhaustion. I was tired. And alone. Laren, my sounding board and partner in the operation, was half a world away and not around to answer the many questions racing through my mind. And I was all too aware that history was not on our side. The last time there had been confirmation of Kony’s hideout was in 2008, when Ugandan, Congolese, and Southern Sudanese forces, with advisement from the US military, had launched a joint assault on the LRA camp. The operation had failed, reportedly due to leaked intelligence, bad weather, poor coordination, and resentments among the collaborating armies. Kony and his soldiers had scattered, breaking into small, mobile groups that were able to weave back and forth across borders and evade capture. The failed operation had made it more difficult to combat the LRA, and it had been devastating for civilians: in the weeks that followed, close to a thousand people were killed in a series of bloody reprisal attacks in northeastern Congo.

If this opportunity was missed, Kony would likely slip off the edge of the Earth again, taking his army and hostages with him and perhaps leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. We weren’t only betting the resources and partnerships it had taken us most of a decade to cultivate. Also at stake were the lives of women and children held captive in Kony’s K2 camp and the civilians who might become victims of his vengeance.

Table of Contents

Foreword Howard G. Buffett xi

Intentions xv

Map xvii

Part 1 1

1 To Stop a Warlord 3

Who Do You Love the Most? David Ocitti 9

2 Protection Urgently Needed 21

3 Band-Aids on Bullet Holes 26

4 A Thousand Haystacks 31

5 A Mother's Wish 37

6 Makombo 40

You Could Be Next David Ocitti 47

7 Training and Communications 52

8 The Ones We Were Waiting For 55

Panga David Ocitti 60

9 Zebras 63

10 Red Tape and River Rafts 67

11 A Close Call 72

12 Red Zone 78

13 Leather Shoes and Radios 83

There Is a Time David Ocitti 89

14 Iron Lady from Texas 95

15 Non-negotiables 101

16 Al Dente 104

17 Impossible Terms 106

18 Drone 109

The Face of God David Ocitti 111

19 Black and White 113

Part 2 119

20 In at Half 121

A Dirty Path David Ocitti 123

21 Impossible Cause 125

22 Use the Force 129

23 Operation Viper 131

24 Flight Manifest 134

It Was You David Ocitti 138

25 False Ridge 140

26 Camp Bondo 143

27 Dance for Saint Jude 152

28 Not in Our Interests 156

29 Contact 161

30 Command, Man Down 163

31 Crocodiles and Killer Bees 167

Peace Club David Ocitti 171

32 Father, Daughter 174

33 Jamaled 176

34 Called Out 179

35 The Farmer 182

Gulu University David Ocitti 188

36 Coined 191

37 Kony 2012 193

38 Otukene Means Grace 198

39 Big Fish 201

40 Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich 209

Roadie David Ocitti 215

41 Tracking White Ant 218

42 Okello's Teeth 227

43 Binany's GPS 233

44 Operation Merlin 236

45 What Is Good 245

Part 3 247

46 Cut the Snake off the Head 249

47 Odhiambo the Butcher 256

History Checks In David Ocitti 261

48 Blue-Eyed Acholi 263

Five-Piece Suit David Ocitti 266

49 Let Your Heart Speak to You 269

50 A Son Never Forgets 273

51 Brother, You Are Home 276

The Bitter Root David Ocitti 279

52 Grace's Sun 284

53 He Calls Himself Ali 287

So It Can End David Ocitti 290

54 Evil Has Taught Me the Most 293

Epilogue 299

Acknowledgments 305

Timeline 313

Glossary of Terms 317

How You Can Help 321

Reading Group Guide

1. What did you find most surprising in the book? What scenes were most disturbing or frightening?

2. For David, latwok was a guiding force in his life — an image from his childhood that held meaning as he dealt with immense challenges. What are the guiding stars in your life that you fall back on in the hardest of times?

3. As Shannon wrestles with her actions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells her that justice is rarely black and white. Where in the book are matters of justice clear, and where are they more complex?

4. The objective of the mission goes from stopping one man to something much more nuanced. How do you assess the ultimate success or failure of the mission?

5. How can we bring about positive change in the world? What does this mission suggest are the biggest challenges and obstacles to making change? And what does this mission teach us about ways to overcome those challenges and obstacles?

6. What examples of forgiveness stood out to you in the book? Do you think it’s possible to forgive those who have harmed you or your family members? In what ways do you struggle with forgiveness in your own life?

7. The author mentions that each of us can “hold our share of the night.” To what areas in your own life does this apply, and how can we each strive towards doing our part?

8. There are many examples in the book of children learning from parents and grandparents. What lessons can we take forward about how to address issues of injustice and navigate the complexities of the world with our young ones?

9. At the end of the book, the author notes that, “evil has taught me the most.” How does this concept resonate in today’s world, and what lessons can be drawn from the evil around us?

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