Rwanda has demobilized and reintegrated over 2,000 child ex-combatants, new arrivals continue from DRC
Written by: George Kalisa
Wednesday, October 10th, 2018, 5:01
Rwanda has so far demobilized and reintegrated over 5,000 ex-combatants about 2,000 of them are child ex-combatants and the country still grapples with new arrivals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), David Munyurangabo, the commissioner at the National Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) told The Light Magazine.
“We have demobilized and reintegrated over 5,000 ex-combatants since 2001. About 2,000 of them are child ex-combatants and we still receive more on a daily basis,” said Munyurangabo.
“On arrival, the children say FDLR militias lured them into joining by promising a blissful life after removing the Kigali regime. We have two transit centres for children and adults in Musanze District where they undergo short and medium-term demobilization activities,” he added.
“We do our best to deal with both the physical and psychological damage the children come with including varying degrees of trauma. Those who can still go to schools are supported and others receive vocational training to get skills with which they can live normal lives,” said Munyurangabo.
On the source of funds, Munyurangabo said the Rwandan government has been single handedly providing the budget ever since a UN agency withdrew support towards the demobilization and reintegration process.
“Most of them have been helped to reintegrate into normal life though the process is continuous as we continue to receive new arrivals on a daily basis,” he stressed.
The commissioner decries withdrawal of UN funds in December31, 2017, adding Rwanda single handedly grapples with the effects of this human crisis traced to the insecurity in Eastern DRC and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
On September18, The Light Magazine visited Muhoza Child Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) and spoke to the administration and some of the child ex-combatants from DRC jungles who narrated horrific experiences they had gone through after seizure by FDLR militias.
Charles Barisa, the Centre Manager of Muhoza CRC said 995 out of 2, 000 are from the DRC jungles while the rest belonged to Rwanda Patriotic Army (APR) locally known as “Kadogos”.
Child ex-combatants claim they are running away from insecurity, diseases, hunger and several crimes against humanity like rape and murder inflicted on them by different marauding militia groups in the conflict-ravaged eastern region of DRC.
Justin Uwimana,15 joined CRC on May25, 2016 from Karehe territory in South Kivu Province with the help of MONUSCO.
“The FDLR rebels who had raided to steal cattle, abducted us from Kyambobo Primary School to eventually join about 200 militias under Capt. Jean Bosco Nsengiyumva in Kadasomwa jungles,” narrates Uwimana.
“We would be forced to do strenuous work like carrying heavy guns, looted food over long distances besides beatings. A Congolese Tembo ethnic people called Rahiya Mutomboke would raid us accusing us of being Rwandan migrants who steal their food leading to both sides suffering causalities,” added Uwimana.
He says that occasionally MONUSCO officials throw fliers to them showing fascinating sceneries in Rwanda, which elicited their interest to return home. They later reported to MONUSCO which handed them to Rwandan authorities.
The child ex-commandants narrate awful experiences and say they’re happy to receive skills with which they see a bright future.
Since Uwumana was abducted at the age of 12, he has been living with slim hopes of ever meeting his parents Zikamabahari Ntibaganira and Ntabugira Kamana.
All the child ex-combatants that have gone through the CRC are Rwandans produced by mostly Rwandan immigrants who fled the country during and after the genocide before they are forcibly enrolled into armed forces by abduction. Some were children of FDLR militias and there is no Congolese child.
The children claim they are persuaded to enter and live in Rwanda by MONUSCO officials who hand them over to Rwandan authorities at the Rwanda/DRC border.
Jean Claude Masengesho, a child ex-combatant says that he was born in Kawongo of restive Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province. His mother Jeannette Uwazigira died when he was too young while he never saw his father whom he says was called Muhammed Kabandane.
"After my mother died my elder brother looked after me. He only deserted me when a militia group operating in North Kivu captured him" says Masengesho.
Masengesho recalls that life became hard for him forcing him into joining the FDLR militias in 2015 when he was only 15 years old.
“We faced problems in the jungles that are unimaginable. Apart from being beaten by commanders we lived in denial of education and health services. We could take herbs whenever we fell sick,” says Masengesho.
“There was no food and we could walk long distance to go and steal food from Congolese residents. We also lived in fear of being attacked every minute by militia groups who never wanted us to operate in that region. The Maimai and a Congolese militia group locally called “Abanyatura” would occasionally raid our camps. I suffered deaths many times because I was an escort of an FDLR commander,” he recalls.
Rutayisire briefed this reporter about the activities the child ex-combatants undergo when they arrive the children’s reintegration centre.
“When the children arrive, our medical team where I work as a psychologist, engages them in interactive and friendly conversations aimed at discovering both the physical and mental diseases they may be suffering as a result of the hardships and agony they go through under the control of armed militias in the DRC forests,” Rutayisire says.
“After attending to their health concerns we divide them into two groups. One, of those who want to pursue education through normal education, we take them to primary schools, and the second is for those who want to have vocational training courses,” he adds.
They do tailoring, welding, carpentry, mechanics and electric engineering among others.
“When they complete they are helped with basic equipment with which they can start work and thereafter live independently like other Rwandan youth.
Rutayisire said one of the major problems they currently face is renting the children’s centre premises and they are looking for funds to buy land where they can construct the children’s centre.
Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) made the first attack on Rwanda to liberate the country from the genocide regime on October1, 1990 before the top commanders, including Fred Rwigyema, the first leader, were killed on the second at the Uganda-Rwanda border leading to a big setback in the liberation struggle. Every year Rwanda marks this day.
Against all odds the liberation struggle continued until the government forces and allies like the French were defeated in 1994 after close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed.
Mostly during the genocide and after swarms of Rwandan Hutus and remnants of Ex-FAR entered into DRC in fear of retaliation where they have since lived and created FDLR and other rebel groups in hope of removing the Kagame regime through armed struggle. In desperation, they forcibly recruit everyone including children.