A long road to reintegration for Rwandan ex-combatants
Serugendo Deo, who returned in 2001 and is vice chairman of Mathieu’s cooperative, was one of the first to pass through Mutobo. After completing the three-month program at Mutobo, which familiarizes foreign ex-combatants with the current situation in Rwanda, Deo began his reintegration into the community.
There is a name and acronym for almost every step of the demobilization and reintegration process overseen by the commission. There is BNK, Basic Needs Kit, which is basically 60,000 Rwandan francs ($80) meant to pay for travel back to the community and initial resettlement. When they receive their BNK, ex-combatants are also provided with basic documents, including national identification papers, said Jeanette Kabanda, the commission’s social and economic reintegration officer. Later, they receive reintegration grants of 120,000 francs ($120) to start an IGP, Income Generating Project, or to pay for vocational training. Next, if they need it, comes VSW, or Vulnerability Support Window, which includes three options: 400,000 francs ($534) for an income generating project, six months of vocational training, or two years of free education.
Each of Rwanda’s five provinces has a provincial reintegration officer working under the commission. Robert Murenzi is the officer for the northern province. Part of his job is to follow up with ex-combatants to see how they are spending their money – it often isn’t in the most productive way.
“The problem is their mentality,” Murenzi said.
They have spent decades living as part of an armed group not having to worry about paying for food or anything else. Back in the community, he said, they suddenly have to pay for things like electricity and food and have trouble managing.
Ex-combatants like Deo counter that the money is not enough when you are starting from zero. Deo used his money to launch a business buying and reselling sourgum. The business did not do well. That is when he decided to form the cooperative with Mathieu and another ex-combatant. Like Mathieu, Deo is in his mid-40s and says while he was a member of FAR during the genocide, he did not kill civilians. If he had, he said: “I couldn’t come back.” It is a common refrain used among both the ex-combatants and members of the Rwandan government – and one that is difficult to prove. More clear are Deo’s battle scars from years fighting in DR Congo. He points out the places where he was shot as he counts them off: one on his back, one on his forearm and so on, until he has shown all five.
The cooperative, said Deo, began with a brick building and then expanded to agriculture. Both operations are nestled in a green valley surrounded by hills. In the evening, frogs croak loudly and small children push simple wheels near the maize and cabbage fields. Crops were an obvious choice for the group because there is always a demand for food, said Deo. It is an even more obvious enterprise for the commission to support, said Francis Musoni, coordinator of the commission’s Demobilization and Reintegration Programme.
“In Rwanda, agriculture goes without saying, because like 95 percent of the people have something to do with agriculture,” Musoni said.
And having spent many years living in forests where they do not have the opportunity to farm or experience farming on land where crops grow more easily than in Rwanda, they return not knowing how to farm in their own country. The Rwanda Agriculture Board provides training, sending technicians to work with groups of ex-combatants in the fields, teaching them tactics for increasing production, how to protect crops from diseases and how to maintain the soil and use manure, said Murenzi. The commission, for its part, encourages local authorities to supply the ex-combatants with land and the ex-combatants to form cooperatives that include members of the local community. According to Kabanda, the cooperatives have “helped a lot because it takes care of the social part for unity and reconciliation.” The ex-combatants are usually eager to integrate, said Murenzi – the local community less so.
“At the beginning it was hard,” Mathieu said. “There was a kind of suspicion between the different groups.”